California are once again fighting the good fight, and now they have setup the nation’s first ever large-scale program to help transgender people find jobs. Since trans people have double the employment rate of the general population, this is a hugely important move.
This is all thanks to Michaela Mendelsohn, a transgender woman who has been employing trans people at her restaurants for years.
Michaela said: “The word’s just gotten out that I’m a trans owner supporting trans people.”
Michaela’s tale began back in 1988, before she transitioned, she bought her first El Pollo Loco franchise – just because she liked their menu. By the time she had transitioned in 2004, Michaela had bought several more stores and now owns a total of six El Pollo Loco locations in Southern California.
In 2012, she hired her first transgender employee, who told her of the struggle to find a job. As was mentioned at the start of this article, transgender people have twice the unemployment of the general population, due to workplace stigma and transphobia.
Hearing her employee’s tale, Michaela was moved and she started to reach out to other trans people looking for work.
She said: “Currently, we have 8 to 10 percent of our total workforce is transgender, out of about 150 employees.”
Her thoughts then turned to how to implement something similar in other restaurants. When attending a California Restaurant Association conference, she met up with an old friend, Jot Condie, who just so happened to be the head of the group.
Jot said: “I considered myself, as a person, somebody who had my head in the sand when it comes to what they’re really going through. This is a civil rights issue.”
He decided to back Michaela’s idea, which was a simple one: start a program to connect restaurants looking for employees with transgender people looking for employment. With the backing of a 22,000 strong association, Michaela had quite the backbone behind her idea.
Michaela went on to host a seminar, where she spoke on the new California Transgender Workplace Project. She told people how to join the project, and how to earn a trans-friendly certification, and even incentivised it by saying that a state grant will pay for the employee’s first 60 hours of work.
Of course, there was some skepticism, but according to Michaela, the customers who have been served by her transgender employees have been overwhelmingly supportive. But of course, her management teams are ready to step in if that isn’t the case.
She said: “You know, you always hear the thing, ‘The customer’s always right’. In my restaurants, the customer’s always right unless they attack you personally.”