Saturday, 3 August 2013

Transitioning at Work – What Worked, What Didn’t

Several weeks ago I wrote up what I thought has worked and what hadn't when I transitioned at work for our HR department, sort of a lessons learned. I don't think that there's anything confidential in the what I had to say. Today I was reading a post in a forum from someone who was asking what worked what didn't and what would have made things easier. 

Putting a 5 page document into a reply to the post seemed a bit excessive so I've put it here so I can link to it.  I've also removed names and locations. All of this is based on the fact that I live and work in the UK.

Preparing to Transition

What Worked

Knowing the right person to talk to

Although I know that HR have gone through the process of somebody transitioning before it was really useful having P here when I needed to initially discuss my transition. Having someone with the knowledge of people transitioning, the do’s and don’ts and legislation is important.
Having a point of contact who I felt really comfortable discussing things with was key to making things work.

Company Information

At the time that I was preparing to transition there was no company transgender policy. At the moment there is a fledgling policy that is being developed.
Although we have an LGBT network, and also the Diversity and Inclusion website and team, at the time I don’t believe that these were available or in a position to be of real help in working out what needed to be done so that my transition was as smooth as it was.
Our transgender network did not exist at the time either.
The fact that the LGBT and transgender networks now exist means that there are people to contact and also sources of information to help others that may be transitioning.

Planning to transition

Having set a date for transition working out a plan that covered everything that needed to be done and whether it was by the company or by me was useful. Working out what needed to be done and then going over it did allow us to cover all of the important things like personal records, pensions and salary, computer accounts and security clearance. It also highlighted issues like use of changing, shower and toilet facilities.
The regular “catch-up” sessions were useful as a way of keeping the company and myself aware of what was happening. In the run up to my transition date having these on a regular basis was important. Post transition the meetings have been useful as a way to update the company on anything that they should be aware of with regards to my transition and any impact it might have on work. I can see this being important in the run up to my gender reassignment surgery.
Having a specific point of contact within the HR team who was dealing with my transition was extremely useful; especially with it being someone I felt comfortable discussing things with and had known for a long time. It also meant one person knew what was happening with anyone else knowing just the information that they needed.
Although we didn’t have one it would be good to have a checklist that identifies some of the things that need to be done and rough timescales at which they should occur. For example if the person transitioning is going to take some leave before returning to work then notification of a change to computer accounts can be submitted the day that they go on leave or within a day or two of that happening.

Telling the team

Having a prepared letter to be read out at the meeting where my immediate team were told what was happening was good as it meant that firstly I didn’t need to be at the meeting and could finish work early so that people would have time to digest the news and I didn’t have to spend the rest of the day dealing with people’s immediate reactions.
It also meant that the news could be gotten across in the best possible way without someone having to come up with something to say at the time of the meeting.
Although it would have been possible to be in the meeting it was probably better to not be as it allowed people to react to the news without worrying about how I would react to their reactions.

Telling everyone else

Sending out an email to everyone was the easiest way to deal with the issue, especially in light of the fact that I know people at two of our offices. Sending the email to those people that need to know is important which does mean that with all of the secondments that are happening then with people who will come back on site at the end of a secondment need to be aware of the situation in order to avoid awkward moments or them finding out second hand.

Telling the customer

It was left to project management to inform the customer and for them to pass the information onto only those people that needed to know. This included the engineers that I was dealing with as well as their IT departments in order to get my user accounts on their systems updated.

Dress code

One of the biggest expenses when transitioning is to buy a new wardrobe of clothing, unless you’ve been building one up over time and have something suitable for wearing to work.
For me the dress code was really useful as it took a lot of guesswork out of putting together a wardrobe of work clothes because I knew what the company deemed suitable for work and so could make sure that what I wore complied with that.

Meeting up with boss before returning to work

The week before I returned to work I met up with one of my bosses to touch base and also to get a second opinion on what I was planning to wear when I returned to work. It also gave me the chance to discuss people’s reactions to the news of my transition and also to go over any last minute details of my return to work, things like what time I would be arriving at work and whether I wanted someone to meet me at reception. This was really useful as returning to work in such a different way is always going to be stressful and so anything that makes walking through the door for the first time easier is good.

Time of for appointments

Since I’ve transitioned I’ve had appointments roughly every 6 weeks to see my counsellor at the gender clinic and every 3 months to see my doctor there. In addition to this I’ve had appointments with a speech therapist every month or so. The projects I’ve been on have been good about me taking time off and I’ve not had to rearrange any because it didn’t fit in with project deadlines. Some of the time I’ve had off has been taken from my annual leave, the remainder has been take either as time off in lieu which has been built up with the projects knowledge while working towards deadlines or has been built up by working my hours up during the week.

What Didn’t

Misplaced trust

I made the mistake of telling someone that I thought I could trust about my plans. This was well before I'd even talked to HR. I found out subsequently that they had told several other people that I was planning gender reassignment. As a result both HR and also one of my bosses ended up with people asking them if it was true. In the former case they denied any knowledge which they would have to do on the basis of staff confidentiality and in the latter case because they honestly didn't know at that time.
Of course nobody actually came and asked me directly.
The fact that HR and I were trying to keep everything under wraps so that we had control of what was happening and when seemed to work despite a number of people either knowing or suspecting. I know that was the case because of the number of people that were surprised by the news.


Post Transition

What Worked

Working at other sites

Although I usually work from one of our offices I have had to travel to and work at one of our other sites. Quite a few of the staff there knew me from pre-transition. Like my normal base of operations there was no fuss when I turned up there to work. The atmosphere there is different to my normal office so it was good to have the change.
Staying in a hotel and living in a town where people didn’t know me was a really good experience as it gave me the chance to see how I faired in a place where I had no history that people knew.
The staff at the hotel were brilliant, very friendly and helpful.
The obvious difference between working at the the two sites, and in fact would be more so if visiting other company sites or even customer sites where you weren’t known as the gender you presented would be the issue of toilet facilities.
At my normal office we agreed that I would either use either the disabled or single occupant facilities. At the other office there are only disabled and ladies or gents facilities. After discussion with the office manager it was agreed that I’d use whichever I was comfortable with, disabled or ladies. In the end like the rest of the women there I made use of both facilities depending on which was closest.
If working or visiting another site (company or customer) then looking for disabled facilities could raise eyebrows so making the obvious solution to this is to use the ladies facilities unless there are obviously unisex facilities available.

Working with past colleagues/customers

While working at the other office I had to deal with someone that I used to work closely with on a past project. As they would not have known about my situation I decided to contact them. I could have left project management deal with this but decided that it would be better to contact them myself. One simple email later and things were sorted.

What Didn’t

Working with the customer – the phone voice issue

The biggest problem I have after transitioning is my voice, particularly on the phone. On one occasion I had a phone call from a customer engineers about a problem report I’d written. He asked for me by name, we talked through the issue and that was the end of the conversation. A short while later an update to the problem report came through with the phrase “spoke with Jenna and he…” To be honest it was actually quite funny seeing that and a “Doh!” moment but did highlight the fact that voice is really important with jobs like our where we have to communicate with people where we can’t give them any visual clues as to gender.


Conclusion

My transition has been fairly good. In part I put that down to the time that was taken to plan what had to be done and when before I transitioned. However, my transition being so uneventful has to be done to the fact that I work with a lot of intelligent and friendly people who, for the majority, I’ve known for a number of years.
There are a number of things that I think would be useful both for someone that is planning on transitioning and also for HR departments that are supporting that person.
  • A Transgender Policy
  • Awareness of LGBT and transgender networks if the company has these
  • A checklist covering things that anyone transitioning within the company would need to sort out or have sorted out by HR. E.g. pensions, security clearance, payroll, tax office.
  • Perhaps an informal guide to transitioning at the company could be produced that covers all of these things.




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