Question: From your personal experience, what have you found to be the top factors in determining whether you were successful or not in a new workplace environment? Give an example.
This question arrives on a very emotional day for me. Today, I leave my job as head of product marketing for Toshiba Europe to take a couple of weeks off for some decisions and then a new career path (the details of which I will share here when the time's right!)
I think there are some very basic aspects to build a good foundation for a transperson in the work environment. I agree with a lot that has been said in this blog toss... One needs to be open and one needs to be strong. One needs to show others that being trans doesn't detract from ones professionalism (in fact, as another life experience to add to my CV, I think it adds).
I find that humour is an important way of the way that I've handled the situation of being a fairly prominent transsexual manager in a very conservative company. At the start, I joked that I would give people 30 days to get used to using the right pronounds with me otherwise I would get the right to kick them every time they get it wrong (and as a transsexual woman, I get to wear very pointy shoes). That helped to break down the barriers to the pronoun story and gave me a light-hearted way to handle a very serious issue when they got the wrong pronoun after that 30 days (and I did kick them!!!) After that, I've used humour several times to break down barriers (especially with the Japanese)... It can be a very powerful way to point out the absurdity of some peoples' thinking.
It's also been important to let people know that I'm no different from them... I've used humour here too, but that's just my personal style, but more importantly, I've used openness... I've spoken about my transition, about why I am as I am and about the path I've followed and people have warmed to that. Unfortunately, it's still the case that we need to educate people about who and what we are, but that's a given for the time being, and I think that as an open transperson in a work environment, it's normal to take that role on in this situation.
Beyond that, however, I've just proven that I do my job well. That's nothing more than any other woman has to do in a management position, but I've also had to prove it to the women! I've shown my strengths and been open about my weaknesses and I've shown who I really am. I've done this in my relationship with the team here, but also a great deal with the Japanese senior management who had concerns about me coming back to the company in my real identity.
I will leave today with tears in my eyes and with an armload of presents from colleagues who I have got to know. I've pushed my colleagues world-views beyond their previous boundaries and am leaving knowing that I am leaving friends and colleagues who respect who I am, not because I'm the transsexual manager, but because I did my job properly and didn't let that stand in the way.
Being open, ready to laugh, clear about who I am and what I'm doing and, above all, clear that I am not anything but a woman who has some physical transitions to do, I feel I'm leaving a good image for transpeople behind me. But what I think is better still, I think I'm leaving as a woman, not a primarily as a transsexual woman.
Feel free to post a reply of your own by going to “My Page”, clicking on “My Blog” and then “Add New Blog Post” at the top right. I now toss the question to Jillian Weiss, who will post a reply tomorrow