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COMMENT | Trump’s Transgender military ban: How reducing minorities limits team success

The recent decision of the US Supreme Court to continue the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military is an unnecessary limitation on organisational effectiveness.

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What is the goal of the military (at least in democracies)? Overwhelmingly our clients in the defence sector tell us it is operational effectiveness. The question then, aside from any personal prejudice for or against trans people, is, “does their inclusion in the organisation contribute to operational effectiveness?”.

Much to the chagrin of many detractors, the evidence suggests that it does.

Take any organisational ecosystem and analyse its productive potential. We know that a lack of diversity can lead to higher risk, lower resilience and lower productivity. Similarly, extremely high levels of diversity, if not led well, can lead to lack of trust, poor morale and team bonding.

However, the military (in general) is extremely good at leadership. In fact, I would go as far as to say that in my 15 years working with the UK military, it has gone from one of the worst sectors on LGBT+ inclusion to one of the better ones. Look at the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index to see.

Jerry Patterson, a retired marine, argues that Trans people should be banned because a 2015 survey by the National Coalition of Transgender Equality found that “…40 percent of trans-identified respondents had attempted suicide during their lifetime — nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the US population.”

However, like all of us in general, not all trans people want to serve in the military. Good recruitment policies look at individual talent and contribution, not general prejudices.

Contrast Jerry’s view with that of the British Royal Air Force. The RAF Museum has celebrated the contributions of three trans service personnel, Roberta Cowell, Caroline Page and Ayla Holdom, three transgender women who are either currently serving or have previously served in the Royal Air Force at different periods of time over the past 100 years.

Indeed when Trump announced his ban, UK military leaders across the services were unanimous in their condemnation of an unnecessary and politically charged policy of discrimination that would harm the hard-won cohesiveness of the military.

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“When you are a family at sea for 6 months you have to work as a cohesive unit”

When I first started working with the Royal Navy after the lifting of the LGBT ban in 2000, Naval captains were brutally honest with me. They knew they had always had gay personnel in their midst but they were persecuted – bad for them and the overall team morale. They made a conscious decision to include. When you are a family at sea for 6 months you have to work as a cohesive unit. Including difference makes you stronger, not weaker.

And at the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves an even more fundamental question: why does the military exist if not to defend the values we hold dear? Inclusion is one of them.

Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included, a consultancy dedicated to helping people understand diversity and inclusion. His new book Building an Inclusive Organisation, published by Kogan Page, is out February 2019. For more information go to www.frostincluded.com or find Stephen on Twitter @FrostIncluded


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