When I sent my coming out email, I started with the comment “….I would like to share some personal information. I know that this will come as a surprise to many of you and that this may take understanding, patience, and compassion to fully process. I have identified as a woman my entire life, since before kindergarten, since before language, and during all the years you have known me.” I wrote that for a reason: there is a general misconception that transgender people simply wake up one day and say, “I’d really like to try a different gender today,” and that’s where the problems can start. It’s not only a false assumption, but it can be a dangerous one.
Trans people may take a different path to their gender than others, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. That’s what I want everyone to realize.
Before coming to PwC, like so many trans individuals, I faced discrimination once I transitioned: I was encouraged to not use the women’s bathroom and many colleagues refused to call me by the right pronouns. I like to think that I am someone who contributed to my former organization’s success, but I found myself feeling fearful and stigmatized at work every single day. Public accounting is hard enough and no one should have to feel uncomfortable on top of it. As my time since transitioning grew (I use transitioning here loosely because I am realistically never done) I found myself more and more inclined to not share my whole self with people that I met.
A 2015 study from the National Center for Transgender Equality of 27,715 trans individuals in the US showed that 77% took active steps to avoid mistreatment at work, such as hiding their gender identity, delaying their gender transition, refraining from asking their employers to use their correct pronouns, or quitting their jobs. Although progress may sometimes be slow, it has become my mission (and a select group of other trans folks at PwC -- shoutout TransFam) to help make sure no one else ever has to go through that.
I share all of this to contrast where I am, and where the profession is, today. Thankfully, I have always felt emotionally and professionally supported by PwC and those I work with. Because my line of work is so niche (and people talk), my new colleagues already knew about my past before I came to the firm. And they never treated me any differently. It seems so simple, but that is one of the most meaningful ways to show support.
It is crucial that organizations recognize the tremendous emotional weight that comes with suppressing one’s gender identity—and that they have trans-specific policies to support them. I’m grateful to have had advocates at PwC uplift me in more ways than I could have expected. I am in an environment where I can be my true self, and I’d like to share some of the things that have helped me along the way.
Three ways companies (and individuals) can be an ally now
In many ways, I consider myself an accidental advocate. When I transitioned several years ago, I had not planned to become an advocate or an activist. I wanted to get through transition as quickly as possible and go about my life. But my journey has made me realize how much work there is to be done and how important it is for leaders and allies to stand up and help others down their paths. We aren’t there yet, but take a few minutes to listen to others’ experiences and we will be there sooner than we think.