Returning to work as a Trans woman in today’s recruitment market.
3rd July 2019
I’ve recently been seeking a new role now that I am ready to return to work and it’s been interesting to say the least. I thought it worth a few words as it’s a journey I never expected to have to go on.
It makes sense that I start with a very brief background so that my comments later have some context.
I was once known as David (Dave) Evans. I’ve been in the tech industry since I left the Royal Navy, let’s just say that it was over 20 years ago where I have worked for some amazing companies such as Microsoft, Vodafone, Bank of America and a few others. Along the way I picked up numerous industry qualifications, a business post-grad and I was the first non-Muslim, non-Arabic speaking graduate of a research masters in Islamic Finance. I’ve worked across the globe learning a lot about cultural differences, challenges and the art of negotiation. It’s been an amazing ride so far, I love it.
I stopped work just over 18 months ago when too much work, overtraining for a charity cycling event and living with gender dysphoria left me with a stroke at work. Rather than rushing back to work and in all probability, repeating the exercise, with the advice of my medical team, I opted to treat the root causes. Hence, I’m now much more relaxed, fitter and most importantly, me. It’s time to look at returning to the workplace.
As David, finding work as always easy. A few phone calls and the next contract was arranged, it was as it should be. Now, after transitioning, it’s like a ghost town. I make calls, send off my CV, apply for jobs and nothing happens. Zero, zilch, nada. Times have changed. I know I’m in trouble when recruiters look at my LinkedIn profile as I know that radio silence is going to be the result. I’ve learnt that there is a lot of rhetoric and positive marketing by companies, especially during the pride period about how inclusive they are. But things could not be further from the truth.
I felt uncertain in my stance and so I decided to run a test. I changed my profile back to David, used an old photo and applied for jobs. Almost immediately I got positive results. It was very strange. Now the innocent amongst you might think, ‘why didn’t I proceed through the process as David?’. I’ve spent a lifetime being someone I’m not and I want to secure my next role as myself. Pretending to be David unravels the first time they see me. I’m clearly not a male (I know some evangelicals out there will disagree) and pretending to be someone else is a lie. I’ve never been comfortable lying. So, I changed everything back and re-ran the exercise. Yep, the old status quo immediately returned. It validates that there is a lot of bias out there.
Recently I had an issue with an ex-employer who wanted to talk about a possible role. I wrote to them (they will remain anonymous) explaining my change in identification and suggested a quick call to discuss that I was no longer David but was now Rachael. The call took place during which they constantly referred to me as Mr. Evans and even wrote to me afterwards referring to me as Mr. Evans again. So, a call to discuss a gender transition with one of the major claimants of having a diverse and inclusive environment resulted in persistent misgendering and an ignorance of the point of the conversation.
I had a consultancy who rejected me on learning that I was Trans on the basis that their clients would not be comfortable hiring me. Another rejected me because I didn’t speak German, yet they never bothered to ask if I did. I then spoke to them and I got a sheepish apology.
Now my identity is not who I am professionally. Professionally I am a highly qualified and experienced individual who was managed programs of over $60 Million, teams exceeding 150 internationally dispersed members, I have numerous qualifications and yet I appear unemployable the minute that they find out I am Trans.
In the workplace there is an accepted behaviour where individuals hire based on the candidate being ‘just like me’. That could be white, male, in a specific age group, share university backgrounds, the list goes on. This unconscious bias is talked about a lot, but nothing seems to change. Unfortunately, there are not many companies where the recruiters of the hiring managers are even a bit ‘like me’ and so that bias is a significant issue.
We hear often that it’s about the right candidate for the job however that’s far from the truth. Discrimination takes place because of colour, religion, disability, language, age, gender, for example. It’s not just limited to individuals in the Trans community. I get that.
So, my experience is that diversity and inclusion is very much like the Corporate Social Responsibility exercises in the 2000’s. It’s a buzz word, a craze, the next thing. Good words are said, but actions never really meet the rhetoric. In the next few years there will be another craze that captures the attention, that’s our reality.
I know of those who believe they can make a difference by being a public advocate, a speaker, a representative of minority groups. Good luck but this is a multi-generational issue where any fix will take tens of years and not two or three. Malcom X had a dream, most of the African American community is still waiting for that dream to be realised. What’s needed are not words but actions, not focus groups, but jobs, not conferences but tangible change. Unemployment and underemployment is a blight on modern society, a point of shame for our perceived intelligence.
It’s a simple equation. There are over 8.1 billion people on the planet as you read this. We share a DNA chain where the difference between one person and another is less than 0.1% of that sequence. We have diversity and equality issues because we focus on the 0.1% that makes us different. Why aren’t we looking at the 99.9% that makes us the same as each other? In business we would celebrate a 99.9% customer satisfaction rating, we’d celebrate less the truth be told. If our manufacturing output was at 99.9%, we’d be happy (for the fellow six sigma black belts, I know there is an argument for more improvement) but why can’t we celebrate the 99.9% similarity? The maths don’t add up do they?
I’ve accepted that it’s going to be tougher to return to work now, I’ve dumbed down my CV looking for Project rather than Program level roles, I get that my salary/ rate will undoubtedly be lower than if I was David. It stinks, no one can deny this, but it is reality. Pretending it’s not sets false hopes and distractions. The constraints have changed, and I have learnt to adapt to them. It’s the only option.
I’m writing this on the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall for a reason as I’m aware than after 50 years we still have a very, very long way to go. Our Pride demonstrations are fast becoming corporate adverts and the message of equality is being lost. We are living in a world where currently the climate has changed and it’s ok to voice opinions of racism, homophobia, gender discrimination, of hate. The modern politicians are driven by the populist vote rather than progression of humanity, times are getting harder for minority groups.
So, how do I summarise my experience of looking for work as a Trans woman? It’s hard, very hard, harder than it needs to be. It’d full of rejection, emotion and negativity from others. But I will not give up. I’m not going away. I want my career back and I am willing to fight for it. Elton John released a perfect song that describes my current status ‘The Bitch is Back!’
If you are finding job hunting hard, if it feels impossible, if you’re fed up of rejection, I can only say that the companies that have rejected you are not worth it. There is a job for everyone, for you. Fight, fight and don’t give up. Believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one will believe in you either.