Julia Kamper (she/her/hers) is a proud transgender woman and is currently a QuickBooks live lead at Intuit. Raised in Colorado, she lives with her partner, son, and their 4 cats in Missouri.
Grab a pen or pencil and something to write on. Now write your name, but use your non-dominant hand. How well did it work? It may be somewhat legible, or there is no way anyone would know what you wrote. Perhaps it’s somewhere in between.
Now focus on the feeling you had while writing with your non-dominant hand. Was it natural, or was it jarring, stressful, or frustrating? Did you just know that something wasn’t right about it? That feeling of “wrongness” is a small-scale representation of what it’s felt to be a transgender person. Many struggle with gender dysphoria, burdened by the pain and stress of leading an inauthentic life while presenting the characteristics of a gender they do not identify with.
My earliest memory of this discomfort is around three years old. My mom caught me trying on items from her closet. Although I told her adamantly that I was a girl, it was seen as a phase, something that I would grow out of. But I never did. I led a life filled with constant pain and feelings of uneasiness. As you would expect, these challenges extend to the workplace.
Navigating the corporate world and growing your career is challenging, especially for underrepresented and historically oppressed groups. We’ve seen companies take great strides in closing the opportunity gap for these groups as diversity and inclusion become a necessary part of operating a business. But we have a long way to go to build inclusive and safe workplaces. As a transgender woman, I’ve seen the impact of these corporate behaviors and systemic shortcomings. Not just for the transgender employee but for co-workers and families too.
“Writing” with my non-dominant hand
While completing my undergraduate and master’s programs, and even as I entered the workforce, I was still presenting stereotypically male. But the more I got into my work and interacted with those around me, the more I felt like I was trying to force myself to write with the wrong hand.
In social settings, each gender is expected to act a certain way. I felt forced into complying with hyper-masculine ideals, which made me increasingly uncomfortable with who I saw when I looked in the mirror. I retreated deeper into my mind and tried to force myself to embrace what I was feeling. I was not the man I was expected to be or the man I was pretending to be because I was not a man.
I lived as a man, and my output passed, but the act itself, the masks I wore, caused me a great deal of stress. The pain only compounded over time; eventually, I couldn’t pretend anymore. I switched to what I knew was my “dominant hand,” and suddenly, everything just felt right. I no longer had to overthink my hand movements and check for legibility, understanding, or acceptance from those reading my writing; it was simply natural and free.
Transitioning at work begins
My first step to starting my transition was legally changing my name and gender markers. For the name change, I needed a court order signed off on by a judge. Then, to change my gender markers, I needed a letter from a doctor confirming I was completing medically necessary treatments to match my identified gender (these requirements vary by state and federal level). Next, I could update my driver’s license, social security card, passport, and anything else in my old name. Changing your full name (first, middle, and last) is challenging.
Once my name was changed, I came out to co-workers. This hit four months into the pandemic when our workforce worked from home. I first contacted human resources (HR) and made them aware of the change and my plan to tell my immediate co-workers. I then drafted an email explaining that I was transgender and what that meant and outlined my new name and pronouns.
Given my company didn’t have any, I provided resources to help answer any questions. With no policies on handling an employee’s transition, it was entirely up to me to figure out the best way to communicate this to others. I did get HR’s official approval before sending my email, but I didn’t feel I needed it.
I started presenting as a female full-time and slowly began to gain comfort in my own skin. It was freeing to no longer have to fake who I was or live in fear of being found out.
The ups and downs of transitioning at work
Without further context, my story may seem like it has a happy ending, but things are never quite that simple. As freeing as it was to no longer feel like I was being inauthentic, there was a very apparent disconnect between myself and my co-workers. People I had previously been close with became distant, my managers seemed unsure how to treat me, and I slowly felt like I was becoming more isolated.
On the surface, my co-workers were accepting. I was never misgendered (referring to someone as a gender different than the one they identify as, intentionally or not). No one ever used my deadname. And I was met with congratulations when I announced my transition. If anyone opposed it, they were polite enough to keep it to themselves (or at least behind my back). Yet, I still felt like an outsider with no group to fit into anymore.
There were no other transgender people at my firm; I certainly wasn’t “one of the guys,” and I didn’t connect with any of my female colleagues either. It felt as though I was allowed to present as I wished, but I was not seen as a female. Instead, I was seen as “something else.”
Working remotely during the pandemic also added to the feeling of isolation. I felt that I was often left out of invites to virtual events that I would have been included in before my transition, now only hearing about them after they had already happened. It became clear that I was now on the outside and was not truly understood or accepted by my co-workers.
This is an all too common failure of today’s workplace cultures. One of the biggest hurdles for co-workers and leaders is a general ignorance of how to interact with a transgender co-worker. This is a significant gap in many companies’ diversity awareness and training. While they may aim to provide needed support to transgender employees, they often fall short.
Despite being committed to diversity and inclusion, my company had no policies to navigate a transgender employee’s workplace transition. With no guidance to be found, HR drafted a policy based on my experience and the steps I took to ease future employee transitions. In addition, I provided my own resources to co-workers and answered questions about my experiences. While I was happy to spread positive awareness and accurate information rather than risk anyone finding potentially biased and incorrect information if left on their own, this could be a significant concern for many transgender people.
Making it the individual’s job to ensure their own safety and comfort by educating the company (leadership and co-workers) is a burden many don’t want, and shouldn’t have, to carry. This could also be highly inhibitive to employees that, even with clear policies and guidelines, already face a large amount of stress, pressure, and fear when coming out in the workplace.
What companies can do (right)
The increased acceptance and visibility of the transgender community has created space for more transgender people to accept themselves and come out. But, it’s naive for an employer to ignore these issues and assume they will never encounter them. On the contrary, proactively increasing access to informative tools and visibility of the transgender community fosters the inclusive business’ culture that is essential in the modern work environment.
I’ve found an employer that pushes the envelope. They’re committed to belonging and encourage all employees to bring their whole selves to work. Intuit has invested time and energy here and has instituted mandatory annual diversity training with additional training required by management-level employees. There are also resources for addressing a co-worker that has recently come out as transgender for both co-workers and managers.
We have an employee resource group (ERG) dedicated specifically to transgender employees and those with transgender family members to seek support and community from each other. In addition, we’ve created a transgender advisory board that actively participates in workplace decision-making to look out for the interests of the transgender community.
Intuit’s CEO, Sasan Goodarzi, is passionate about creating an inclusive environment for the community. He’s gone on record acknowledging the value of fostering a work environment inclusive of the full LGBTQIA+ community, saying, “This is a must because it’s good for our employees. If we want to deliver great products, we have to have an environment where we have a diverse workforce, and it’s an inclusive workforce. And by doing that, our employees will do great work. They’ll build great experiences for our customers. And it’s good for business.”
Our annual trans summit is leading the way in our industry as a chance for allies to promote positive awareness in the workplace and enables the company to address concerns we face in the current world and political environments.
Because leadership is committed to this work, Intuit provides training and visibility for community allies. This includes establishing baseline knowledge of the community, such as addressing terminology and definitions, hearing experiences from transgender people in both individualized and panel settings, and showing how to encourage and celebrate the diverse perspectives that trans employees can bring to the workplace.
Starting fresh at a new company
While I’m predominantly analyzing the experience of transgender employees here, it’s exciting to be a part of an organization that goes to great lengths to ensure everyone feels welcome. Intuit’s actions on this topic build my confidence in how they treat other underrepresented groups. Having confidence in bringing our full, true selves to work is an amazing opportunity that is all too rare.
I started my job at Intuit with no intention of telling anyone that I was transgender. My name had been legally changed, so no one would mistakenly call me by my deadname. I was automatically assigned the correct pronouns, and no one questioned me about my gender. I saw it as a fresh start and went stealth. I identify as and present female, so I was assumed to be a cisgendered female.
Over time, holding back part of my story started to weigh on me, and I felt disingenuous about myself. As much as I liked being seen as “one of the girls, “ a part of me felt that I was being dishonest. This was especially exaggerated once my son was born, and people assumed that I was the one that carried and gave birth to him. The truth is, there are experiences that cisgendered women have that I, as a transgender woman, will never have. It felt dishonest to myself and my identity to continue to live in stealth mode.
Intuit’s culture made me feel like I was able to open up and express my true self without fear of being judged or facing negative consequences. As a result, I’ve found new confidence, am incredibly proud of who I am, and get to express myself fully with those around me.
My manager and fellow leadership team members have shown their support for me privately and in front of our team. They’ve promoted the trans summit and encouraged our team to attend to support the trans community and me. Our last summit brought together more than 940+ people from Intuit and other organizations.
They also value my unique experience of being able to assess situations from both sides of the gender spectrum due to my lived experience. Through their support, I’ve come to feel safe enough to tell them about upcoming gender-confirming medical procedures that I am planning. It feels natural to be able to make jokes about “when I was a teenage boy…” and “my son prefers my cow noises since they are much lower than his other mother’s.”
People bring their best selves when they don’t need to worry about hiding who they are and can fully embrace their unique identities. Providing a framework for employees to create a sense of community and belonging is crucial in helping people from diverse backgrounds overcome feelings of isolation. While an employer cannot force people to participate in these spaces, providing numerous outlets is a necessary first step in promoting inclusivity.
Simply stating that a company supports a community or group of individuals isn’t enough. Tangible effort, providing proper resources, and committing to continual improvement based on feedback will provide safety and promote respect for not only transgender employees, but for us all.