We're delighted to share this conversation between Simon Woodcock and her boss Toby DuPont.
Simon is a trans woman who is out to her immediate team at IBM, but not to her clients and chooses to present as male at work; using a male name and he/him pronouns. However, this conversation used she/her for Simon for clarity. Toby DuPont's pronouns are he/him.
Simon: Hi, I am Simon Woodcock, long standing IBMer working in Cloud and Cognitive, been working with Toby for the last 8 years or so and I am trans.
Toby: Hi my name is Toby Dupont and I've been Simon's manager for 7 or 8 years within IBM. During that time, I'd like to think that, as well as a good working relationship, we've developed a friendship. Simon is one of the finest, most reliable and frankly nicest people on my team and it's a privilege to work with her.
I was delighted when she asked me to have this conversation because she has taught me an enormous amount and has helped me develop in my growth as a manager, as an ally and most importantly my growth as a reasonable human being
Simon: Thank you - I'm embarrassed now! You've known about me right from the start, because when we first met I told you that I was trans. I immediately felt that there was no issue or no concern about my gender - you immediately made me more relaxed about being who I am right from day one, thank you.
Shortly after I came out to you, you said you'd noticed my fingernails were a bit longer and more shapely than you might expect. I had taken to keeping my hands clenched to keep the nails hidden as I was self-conscious and after that I felt I didn't need to keep them hidden anymore.
Since then, we've talked a lot about the energy it takes to be someone who you aren't. Being able to talk to you about it, to work out a work pattern that allows me more space to be myself: working from home and not having the pressure to have the camera turned on during Webexes – little things like that make a huge difference from my point of view.
Toby: Yes and from my perspective as a manager, they are small changes which are not difficult to accommodate.
Both of us recognise the value of diversity within teams, whether that be diversity of age, gender, race, educational level, specialisation etc. You, as well as being a very strong professional and technician, have a perspective as a trans person that allows you to bring an understanding to many situations which I very much value.
You've been able to talk about your gender and the understanding it gives you of people in general has really helped when we've brought new members into the team who are from a younger generation.
You are an amazing person at bridging that gap and forming a much better integrated team than we might otherwise have had.
Simon: I've certainly enjoyed the times when the team has been more varied, in lots of different ways. In fact, because of the cross-BRG work we are doing with the hidden disabilities team, I'm now learning more about diverse abilities. Diversity in terms of how people work and relate to each other, going beyond age, gender and race and having that diversity of all types really makes for a vibrant team.
Toby: Very much so. I think it is important to touch on the value to the wider team when you took the step to actually announce yourself to the team as a whole.
We'd talked some years ago about your gender and you had shared it with some friends at Hursley. But it wasn't until a couple of years ago that you actually announced to the team as a whole. What really delighted me was the 100% positive response that came out of that conversation. One of the loveliest things was that a colleague shared that his nephew was also trans and immediately there was a bond there.
It highlighted the importance of communication and how sharing stories actually make topics like this much less of an (I hesitate to use the word) issue, because these things are not issues, but to make them less of a hurdle.
Simon: Thank you for your support at that time - Yes - that was actually a direct result of the Ally programme - I had been through the ally training and at the end of it you make your commitment to make the workplace more free and open. I felt that sharing my story with a team of people that I knew and respected was a way of doing just that.
Your support as we led up to that was fantastic and the response from a few people on a one-to-one level was very touching. It may not be an issue, but certainly for
people of my (and a lot of our colleagues') generation, there are things that you tend not to talk about. Opening that door and getting a completely positive response, that was a great moment for me.
Toby: I think your decision to share with the wider team and to be open about your gender made you more available to support others as well. Another colleague who joined the team more recently came to me, to share that one of his children had come out as non-binary. It was delightful to be able to say that you were open about your gender and could give an interesting perspective on the situation and help that individual understand what their child was going through. It just demonstrates that by sharing and being open with each other in the workplace, we can help each other outside of work in the wider community.
Simon: I know this level of acceptance hasn't always been the case even at IBM, but we've moved on and I think we are lucky to be in a company that fosters this kind of behaviour and openness.