Avanade Voices: What it’s like to come out as transgender in the workplace
- Posted on November 15, 2021
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
“Avanade Voices” is our series in which we sit down with people from Avanade’s various Employee Networks. The series will serve as a platform to amplify different perspectives about meaningful societal and cultural issues, from racism to education to mental health. As a global company, there are so many different backgrounds at Avanade, and we have an opportunity to learn from each other by bringing our different viewpoints and passions to the table in dialogue.
This entry in Avanade Voices is authored by Erika Vonderlinn. They are a member of the Prism Employee Network global board and a senior consultant in ERP infrastructure engineering at Avanade.
Coming out as trans is different than coming out as a different sexual orientation because it’s a lot more visible. There is a “before” of how people knew you, and then often there is a hard switch to a new you that people have to get used to, and that you yourself have to get used to because you can suddenly be yourself. And that’s something new even to you – you don’t yet know who you can be.
It is an interesting process, but it’s also a very challenging and scary thing. I came out five and a half years ago at my former employer, and at the time, I had to talk with my manager, with HR, and global HR leadership to ensure that I was supported in that process. It wasn’t something I could simply choose not to share at work. At the end of the process, I stood in front of 35 people to tell them what was going on, what I was going to do, and how they should address me going forward. It was going to be quite a difference to people. It was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life.
It becomes a lot more difficult when a company or when surrounding people are not as accepting or experienced in dealing with this. That’s something that Avanade does really well: trying to support everyone in being themselves. At Avanade, in Europe and Australia, we’ve created a gender transition leave policy and guidelines to support HR and the whole organization in how to do this. And in Europe, this was important because support for transitioning varies a lot by country. In some countries, you can get medical leave paid for by insurance, some you get it but only if you jump through 15 hoops and get medically certified, and in other countries, it’s just not possible. There’s not even legal name change recognition.
What we’ve done at Avanade across Europe is to make one policy where we’re going to give the possibility to everyone to find the support they need, no matter what their country provides as legal guidance. That is a big step forward, and one that is very important to provide opportunities for all of our colleagues here – and it was an opportunity for more progressive countries to leverage their privilege to serve everyone.
The more people know and are familiar with the process and experience of coming out and being transgender in the workplace, the more we can all do to create a safe, supportive environment. For example, there are things around terminology that should be avoided. It’s not anyone’s “preferred pronouns” – they are simply pronouns, just like cisgender people also have their pronouns. People have said things to me like, “Now you look like a real woman,” and that’s especially hurtful because “real” applies that you’re trying to fake it. Not commenting is sometimes the better option. Or you could just say, “You look great today.” A lot nicer, and applicable no matter the gender identity.
A major difference for me was being included where I wasn’t before. When I was read as a guy, I was never included in women’s spaces. And then suddenly I was, which felt so great and validating. And something that always feels helpful is when people actually correct others’ misuse of pronouns instead of me having to do this all the time. That says to me, “Here we have allies who will stand up for you.” And for people who haven’t come out yet, they’re able to see that as well. Seeing visible and vocal allies makes people feel safe to start the coming process, or even consider that this is possible here.
Although we are making progress, transgender rights and equality is still an ongoing struggle that requires a lot of activism. As I said at the start, when you first come out, you don’t even know yourself or who you will be. It’s only through life experience that you develop yourself, and it’s hard to do this before transitioning, when you’ve never gotten to be yourself. I have had to relearn a lot of stuff. But for me, things are getting better because I am getting better, and because I am more myself each day.