Take a second to think about how others view you. How would they describe your appearance? What do you wear? How do you style your hair? An HBR article written by Dr. Katina Sawyer and Dr. Christian Thoroughgood describes the misconceptions of gender, “Imagine for a moment what it would feel like if you had to conceal one of the most fundamental aspects of who you are as a person-your gender identity- because your perception of your gender did not align with the behavioral expectations of the Trans Health Conference 2016 body you were born into.” I am white, straight, and cisgender (denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex), so why am I writing this article you may ask? I had an incredibly insightful experience at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference and ask that you keep an open mind while I explain.
Take Advantage of Learning Opportunities
One of the tasks I perform as part of my graduate assistant role for the Villanova Human Resource Development Program is supporting researchers, Dr. Katina Sawyer and Dr. Christian Thoroughgood in Industrial/Organizational Psychology research. They asked that I attend the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference for two days with them to help recruit participants for a quantitative research project around coworker allyship for non-cisgender employees. I agreed, not yet understanding how impacting it would prove to be. Walking into the conference, I met people of all ages and a variety of professionals including doctors, lawyers, fellow researchers, teachers, coders, accountants, police officers, all with one thing in common: they identified as non-cisgender. This was my first time truly interacting with the transgender community. I kept an open mind, listened, and asked questions to educate myself. I heard many personal stories, but one stood out from the rest.
“Imagine for a moment what it would feel like if you had to conceal one of the most fundamental aspects of who you are as a person..." -Dr. Christian Thoroughgood
I spoke with Sarah, a female who transitioned from a male, for over an hour. She transitioned at the age of 65. She felt she was essentially living a lie for her whole life and subsequently realized it was time for her to transition. Sarah explained to me that her breaking point was when she finally told her psychologist, who was helping her transition, if she had to wait any longer to transition—she would throw herself in front of a bus. Imagine my shock - I was disheartened to think that she felt so uncomfortable in her skin to think of taking her own life. Transitioning had difficult circumstances, she divorced her wife, was harassed and assaulted and hadn’t talked to one of her daughters in years. However, she still claims she is happier than ever, having support from close friends and other family members. Her younger daughter is fully supportive and they have a wonderful relationship. Sarah now works as an activist for Transgender rights, traveling the country to help share her story and positively impact lives. Sarah’s impactful story compelled me to research for further learning. There are many inspiring Ted Talks surrounding this topic if you are curious to learn more.
Currently, nearly 700,000 in the United States identify as Transgender. That statistic roughly equates to the population of Seattle, Washington, and Denver, Colorado, to put the community size in perspective. Therefore, many employers need to understand how to support employees. SAP, a leading software provider, has addressed some of the challenges transgender employees face. SAP provides enhanced healthcare benefits in the U.S., works on providing access to gender-neutral bathrooms in main locations (already in Waldorf ), distributes Gender Transition Guidelines, benefiting employees through the transition process, and lastly, SAP is in cooperation with the UN for combating discrimination. Ultimately, SAP addresses concerns for Transgender employees, making it apparent that it recognizes the opportunities for companies delivering successful diversity strategies.
"Challenge yourself to open your mind and your heart to people who aren’t exactly like you." -Megan Peiffer
It all comes down to something Sarah told me. She said, “I am still the same person I was as a male. I have the same heart, the same engineering skills, the same ideas, and feelings. I just want to express myself as a female opposed to male.” Challenge yourself to open your mind and your heart to people who aren’t exactly like you. Be empathetic and listen. You may have the same learning experience as I did.
Today's post was originally published to LinkedIn on October 30, 2017 by Megan and is republished here with her permission.
Megan Peiffer is a Graduate Assistant in the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development at Villanova University. She also serves as Co-President of the VUSHRM Chapter. Learn more about her here and connect with her on LinkedIn!
Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash