I was originally going to call this post “Working Girl”, but then realised that particular phrase might suggest that I was a lady of the night, which is not what I was intending at all. No, this post is about a few things that have been going on in my professional life.
It’s tricky to blog about my work because under my employee code of conduct I’m not supposed to write about my work on social media. This is why I only ever refer to the “company” which is in the financial services sector. I can’t really be more specific than that. I don’t suppose it’s like I’ve ever been particularly critical of the company, quite the reverse in fact. It’s a decent place to work, I like my job, get on well with my colleagues, and they have all been extremely supportive of my transition. I think the part of the code of conduct to which I refer is probably more geared to the sort of people who might otherwise go on Facebook and call all their colleagues a right shower of bastards. Which is not something that I do, because by and large my colleagues are all good people. So much so good. But for now I want to talk about some more specific things that have been going on.
I work for an organisation with over 10,000 employees, mainly in the UK and Ireland, but with some satellite offices in the USA. In fact, it’s an Irish-owned group and I work for the UK subsidiary. As I have noted before, I manage the relationships with over 80 businesses throughout Northern Ireland, and continue to do so as a woman as I did before. In the months leading up to me commencing life as a woman, anyone who read this blog cannot fail to have noticed two names; Beth and Kelly. Beth is my line manager and Kelly is the HR manager who worked along with Beth and me in planning my workplace transition.
A couple of months ago the company announced that it would be seeking nominations from staff for colleagues deserving of recognition at an awards ceremony. The awards themselves are grouped into three regions of the UK business, all of roughly equal size in terms of staff numbers; Northern Ireland, London, and the rest of Great Britain. There would be three awards ceremonies, one for each region. In the main, these awards were recognising excellent customer service, spectacular sales figures, the usual business-ey things that businesses like to reward. However there was one of the seven categories that caught my eye. It was termed the “Inspiring Partnerships” award, and they were seeking nominations for individuals or groups who had delivered a project that brought together many different strands within the company and externally with our clients. I wasn’t sure if it was exactly what they were looking for, but I really wanted Kelly and Beth to receive recognition for the sterling work that they did in preparing the way for my return to work as the woman I am. So without telling either of them, I submitted a nomination. I reproduce my nomination here:
“In January 2017 I became the first person (to the best of my knowledge) in [Company] to announce my intention to commence a gender transition. Making this declaration was something that had worried me greatly, because I just didn’t know how this news would be received. From the second that I informed her, Beth was never anything other than accepting, encouraging and positive. A few weeks later Beth introduced me to Kelly and over the next five months we planned how my workplace transition would work. I am in a client facing role, with internal relationships within [Northern Ireland head office], as well as in regional offices throughout Northern Ireland, and most importantly with 80+ businesses whose accounts I manage. Despite the size of the task and the fact that we were often in completely uncharted territory, Kelly and Beth took on this task in a positive and sympathetic manner. Kelly brought in an external charitable organisation to provide awareness training to staff, and they both engaged with senior management within [UK Company] to agree a detailed communication plan to staff and clients. Everything was organised so that during my three weeks’ leave my name and logon ID for all IT systems were changed, new business cards and a company credit card were ordered, even right down to the name displayed on the internal phone system. In consultation with local managers, they rolled out a client communication programme, ensuring that during my leave all of my clients were informed of my transition with a phone call from someone they knew, with an opportunity for questions and feedback, followed up with a letter. When I returned from leave everything was done, systems were changed, staff pass was changed, and every client knew, meaning that I could pick up with my clients right away without having the worry and awkwardness of having to inform them myself. The amount of work that Beth and Kelly put in on my behalf over those five months is staggering, and never with anything other than the best possible attitude. I think the best tribute I can pay is this; I know many other trans women who have gone or are going through something similar to me, and I have no hesitation in saying that my workplace transition has been the most positive, best organised, best supported and smoothest that I have ever heard of. I will always be grateful to Beth and Kelly for what they did for me, and I would love for their amazing work to be recognised.”
It was an online nomination form, so I hit submit and off it went into the ether. I received no acknowledgement of receipt, so I didn’t even know if it had been received.
It was about a month ago when the list of nominees was released and yes, there they were. Since their names were listed together as being jointly nominated, they both worked out pretty quickly that the nomination had come from me, and so they asked the question and I replied in the affirmative. They seemed rather touched. However there were a lot of nominees. In one of our offices in particular, everybody seemed to have nominated everybody else, which seemed to make a bit of a mockery of the whole thing. But just because someone had been nominated didn’t mean they were going to win. The email containing the list of nominees then added that the shortlists would be released a week later. One week later, Kelly and Beth were on a shortlist of five nominees for the Northern Ireland award, with the awards ceremony to take place on Thursday 9th November, at which time I would be in transit to Pete and Nicky’s house in Essex (see previous post for further details on that).
I’m going to park that one for now and move on to some slightly different activity. The company has recently launched a staff survey, which I completed a couple of weeks ago. In the main part it was exactly what you would expect from a corporate staff survey, so I won’t dwell on that content. However on the final page of the online survey was the section asking for “a few details about yourself”. Question one was “What is your gender?” There were five options;
- I identify as transgender
- Prefer not to say
You could select one and only one. I selected female. And then I got annoyed, which progressed to anger, which progressed to, well you get the picture. The problem is this. “Transgender” is not a gender. It says “F” on my passport, not “T”. So I clicked on female because that is how I identify. I am female. The fact that this survey only allowed the subject to click one option was implying that it was not possible to be both female and transgender, or indeed both male and transgender. It was saying to me that the writers of the survey viewed trans people as neither male nor female, but something else. Now if you’re a gender fluid person, then you probably do view yourself as neither male nor female, but something else, but that is certainly not the case for me. To me the whole thing read like it was written in an attempt to look inclusive, but in reality was done in such an inept way that it would have been better to just state male/female/prefer not to say. And not only that, it was also counterproductive. If the object of the exercise was to track numbers of trans people taking the survey, it fails in that regard because I clicked on “Female”. If they want to know my gender history they need to ask a separate question, something along the lines of “Do you identify as a gender other than that which you were assigned at birth?” I would certainly answer yes to that, I could still click “female” as my gender, and the survey data would be complete.
I wasn’t really sure who to direct my ire towards, so I put my ire in an email and sent it on to Kelly, asking that she forward my ire to someone who could take action. I sent that at around 4.30pm one afternoon around a fortnight ago, and got a quick reply from Kelly that she would send it on to the right person for me. By 9.15am the next day I had a call from the head of “Inclusion and Diversity” for the company all the way from the group head office in Dublin. She apologised profusely for any offence caused, and assured me that the survey had been changed so that instead of saying “I identify as transgender” the option now stated “I identify as a gender other than that which I was assigned at birth”. Talk about missing the point! I told her that that didn’t address the core issue at all, and that I would still be clicking on “Female” and so the survey data would be flawed in relation to trans people. (I would make the point here that while I know I am the first trans woman to transition within our company, there may be others who had already transitioned prior to commencing employment with the company, albeit I am unaware of any).
She did acknowledge that my key concern hadn’t really been addressed, but that once the survey was out in the wild they couldn’t change the code to add in the extra question about gender history. Hmm, maybe. But I had said my piece and she promised that the same mistake would not be made again. She thanked me for speaking up about this, and went on to say how important it is to get the view of a real trans woman into the company’s equality and diversity programme, and would I be interested in speaking to the chairman of the company’s LGBT network. Er, OK then. His name is Kevin. I walked into that, didn’t I?
I got an introductory email from Kevin that afternoon, and we arranged a time a few days later when we would both be free to talk for half an hour or so on the phone. When I got the call we had a good chat, and he explained that the LGBT network was only set up in May – in actual fact Kelly had previously advised me that it was set up as part of a slew of actions precipitated by her turning up at Head Office in Dublin asking what she was supposed to do for this person in Belfast who was going to transition and she didn’t have a policy for that?!? So in a way, the network exists as a consequence of my transition. And it isn’t called the “LGBT network”. At first they considered adding all the relevant letters, but when they got as far as LBGTQIA+ they just thought “sod this” and called it the “With Pride” network instead. I like it! So as there wasn’t currently a trans voice on the With Pride committee, Kevin asked if I would consider joining. Oh go on then. So that’s it, I got an email inviting me to join and I accepted. I’m on the closed Facebook group for committee members. I’m the voice of trans people in the group, and as the only committee member from Northern Ireland, I feel I am the representative of all LGBTQIA+ staff in our wee province – well since I am both trans and lesbian, I cover at least two bases.
Now I will return to the matter of awards ceremonies.
Last week while I was on my shopping trip in Essex with Nicky, I remembered that the internal company awards ceremony had been the previous night. The one for which Beth and Kelly had been shortlisted off the back of my nomination. I broke off from lunch with Nicky and pulled out my phone to text Beth to see how they had got on. The answer? They only went and won the award! Go girls! I then got a text from Kelly too saying how thrilled they were to have won, and how grateful they were for the nomination, how they were only putting my plans into action etc. I was really delighted for them. But it got better, for me anyway. I mentioned that there were three regional awards ceremonies. Well the winners of those regional awards then go forward to a UK awards ceremony to take place in a swanky hotel in central London on 5th December. Except on that date Kelly will be on holiday (in Colombia of all places!) and so she has nominated me to take her place! Meaning that Beth and I, as well as a couple of other people from our section, will be flying over to London, be put up in the hotel hosting the ceremony (the 5-star Conrad London St. James) and have a big night out at the awards dinner with time for a bit of Christmas shopping in London the next day before flying home that afternoon, all expenses paid! Amazing! Beth also mentioned that although she hadn’t seen the nomination that I had written, some of the people on the awards jury had told her that they had found it very moving and a wonderful tribute. Which was nice. She told me I had to get myself a new frock – thankfully not, as I had already purchased one for the Mid-Ulster Business Awards, which took place last Wednesday.
Last year I attended the wonderful occasion of the Mid-Ulster Business Awards, at the Glenavon Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. Sarcasm aside, it was a pretty good night, although as I was attending as Bob, I have a strong memory of putting on my tux in my hotel room and feeling quite ill at the sight of myself in that get-up. It so wasn’t me. Fast forward a year and the company had again taken a table at that ceremony and I was invited again to represent our section. Except this time, I would be going as me. I had to go and get myself a nice formal dress, a very glittery one, with an appropriate pair of killer heels and all that goes with it. I was thrilled to be able to go as me, and I was very much looking forward to it. I might only get to wear the dress once, or so I thought when I bought it (from Quiz, incidentally), but I knew I would feel so much better about myself than I had a year previously. And indeed I did. I felt fantastic all night, mixing with the local leading lights of the business community and feeling completely a part of the event. I even managed to feel fully part of the female group, and we all sat together at one side of the company table, tweeting away with photos of each other in all our finery. It felt like something of a work-related coming out party and I loved it. Plus I won a £50 voucher for a homeware store in the charity raffle.
Back in the office the next day and Kelly asked me if I could spare her an hour to run through a policy matter with her. Of course. You may recall that when I advised Beth that I was trans back at the end of January, we quickly established that there was no company policy for transitioning staff because I was the first. I had noted at the time that in parallel with my particular transition plan, Kelly would also be formulating a policy for those who come after me. Well that policy was just about ready to be launched for real. However before it could be launched Kelly wanted me to see it, to run my eye over it and offer any last suggestions for how it could be improved. What, if I were starting this process again, I would like to see and how it would feel reading the policy. It was excellent. In fact, if I could have written it, that’s pretty much what it would have said. For all that, there were a handful of amendments that I suggested. Most were of the window-dressing variety, but two were short but corrected what I felt were quite significant matters – not omissions per se, but things which could be misinterpreted by a person considering transition and fearing the worst. Kelly took my suggestions on board.
There was something else that Kelly needed to ask me. The organisers of the UK awards dinner in London had asked if they could quote from my nomination on the night, and indeed they want to reproduce parts of it in a glossy programme for the evening. Of course I agreed.
My first “With Pride” committee discussion also took place on Thursday, although as it was in Dublin I had to dial in. And the main item on the agenda for my first meeting? Trans awareness week culminating in International Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November. Which of course meant that yours truly was going to be a prominent part of the discussion. After all, if you’re planning trans awareness events you’re going to ask the only trans person on the committee for her input aren’t you? It was all good stuff and I’ll not go into the detail here, but very positive. Then on Thursday night the draft article on Transgender Day of Remembrance was circulated among six of us from the committee, the rest of whom are all pretty senior people within the organisation, and they were actively seeking my input. And they got it. The final draft was agreed on Friday, and it will be posted on the day itself.
Then the final version of my company’s first ever official policy on Transgender Staff and Transitioning in the Workplace arrived later on Friday, still not yet circulated beyond HR and the With Pride committee. It is a fantastic document. I read through it and the changes that I had suggested to Kelly are in it. I wrote part of it. But not only did I write a small part of it, the entire thrust of what it says is my template. My initial proposals for dealing with my transition. Lessons learned from planning my transition. The importance of everyone’s transition being unique to that individual. The fact that it states explicitly that the company does not view any medical treatment for transgender people as being either cosmetic or elective. But the most important thing is the fact that this document exists at all. Nobody else out of the 10,000+ staff in my company will ever have to endure the long period of fear and doubt that I had because of lack of information. Nobody else need worry that they will have to change their job because of their transition. Nobody else will not know who to turn to within the organisation for advice. There is a plan, a programme, an easily-accessible, well written, well thought out, sympathetic and consultative template for them to follow, with confidential points of contact for that initial discussion when you feel that the world is about to cave in. And it’s being launched on Monday 20th November. It is being launched, of all days of the year, on International Transgender Day Of Remembrance. This is happening because of me. I did this. I feel for once in my life that I am really making a difference.
And I have to stop now because I’m in tears.