June 30th, 2009 | 6:00 am

LGBT in the Workplace: One Executive Woman’s Story

filed under Office Politics

As women in the workplace trying to break the glass ceiling in Corporate America and professional services, we certainly have our challenges. But, imagine if, on top of those, you felt like your brain was out of sync with your body and you had to hide that fact from co-workers and friends. Today, as our last piece covering LGBT issues in the workplace, we share with you the challenges faced by a now-female executive who transitioned from being a male executive while trying to maintain a high-powered IT career.   

 

austin_chronicle_headshot1“Transitioning in the workplace is much like a chess game,” explained Meghan Stabler, an IT executive with BMC Software who transitioned from male to female while working for the company. “You are already laying out multiple game plans based on the planned results and things that are happening today.  In other words, you have to think to yourself:  I want this down the road and, to make that happen, I need to have these conversations with these people and this policy in place.  On top of that, it is like the dominos configuration. The objective of the transitioning individual is to lay that domino pattern out so that when they need to, they just tip the first domino and everything falls into place.”

 

The decision to transition from male to female was not a simple one for Meghan, although, as a young boy living a very happy childhood in England, she had always felt trapped in the wrong body.  “It was one of those things as a child – I didn’t quite know what it was but I felt there was something different about me. It wasn’t until about 10 or 11 when I saw a newspaper article about a tennis player called Renee Richards [who had transitioned from male to female] when the proverbial light bulb went off over my head.”  Puberty was even more difficult for Meghan because she felt that her body was changing in ways her brain was telling her was wrong. “I was going to bed at night praying for three things – I would wake up a girl, that my parents would still love me and that my wardrobe would change.  And then I would wake up in the morning in tears because nothing has changed.”

But it took Meghan many more years before truly understanding what it as all about.  She fell in love and fathered a child.  “I thought that love would cure me. I never communicated that I felt the way I felt. I thought to myself that this is just something to deal with that genetics has thrown my way, that God has given me to deal with and that I needed to just get on with my life.”

 

So Meghan threw herself into work to silence the voice in her head.  “I moved up the corporate ladder [to a director-level position] and used the momentum and focus on work to hide the true me.  The more that I worked, the more that I was involved in things, the more that I traveled on business, the less I had to think about the true me.  I would be in Moscow one day and Singapore two days later.  Structuring deals with customers, meeting with the press, giving presentations;  a busy, busy schedule. And the only time I thought about the true me was when I saw myself in the mirror getting dressed in the morning.  I continued to use work to suppress the higher me but it was eating me away from the inside.  The more that I used my energy towards work, the more the real me was fighting to come out.  It is like having this inner voice that is saying ‘I’m here.  Please acknowledge me.’”

 

“I could have gotten an Oscar for my acting [to fit in as a man in the workplace].  I tried to do that ‘let’s go play golf, have a cigar, and drink a lot of beer’ stuff and hated it. You can’t say it out loud that it is revolting because you are trying to be one of the guys.  But it was really like the hokey pokey-I had one foot in and one foot out.  So it was a very difficult 20+ years in business because I truly didn’t want to let friends or co-workers get close.”

 

And then, she reached a breaking point. “9/11 happened in 2001. People that I’d known either lost their lives or families were impacted.  It is when I realized that many people didn’t get a chance to say goodbye or to say they truth about their lives.  And I felt because I had been successful in a business career, I wanted to feel comfortable as to who I was and not live a lie.  And so I found a therapist – I had never talked to anybody about this, it had always been in my head. I talked about my concerns fears, potential impact on my career and family.  Just saying out loud was an incredible relief.”

 

But there were still a lot of things to consider before making the decision to transition.  “I had to figure out how could deal with [the missing piece] but keep the career that I love…And that is one thing that a lot of people who transition are concerned about – it is not just THEIR transition.  It is everyone’s.   While most people recognize that family members that are going to be impacted by a transition, they may forget that it is co-workers too.  It is the business situation.  It is customers and your clients.”

 

Meghan continued, “Transitioning is not the same as just saying ‘I’m gay or I’m lesbian’ because people don’t have to out themselves if they don’t want to.  When you transition, it a physical transformation that people will absolutely begin to see over a period of time.  The risk/stakes of this game are extremely high.  You are really assessing the pros and the cons because there may not be a wealth of understanding.”  She added, “I was facing a very dire challenge.  I was an executive at the company dealing with very, very personal issues: loss of my family, my home, my friends and fear of losing my career and my job.”

 

As a first step, Meghan reached out to some people she knew in the HR department to put in place EEO and sexual harassment policies that addressed gender identification. “I found that people were warm to me although not necessarily warm to the idea that I needed to change gender from male to female transitioning in the workplace. So focusing on the personal story and the personal message was key to the transition. And then things went from there.  We put a plan in place, making sure that when the time was right and I was ready we could move forward.  We also had to make sure the administrative policies and procedures were in place to make sure things like changing the name badge, changing the security ID, changing healthcare to reflect the new name and the new gender were all set to go.”  

 

“Transitioning is about the transitioning employee’s timeline.  We had put the policies in place nine months to a year before my actual ‘at work’ transition.  So just because you have a policy in place doesn’t mean that employee is ready to officially transition because of all the other things they have to deal with on the personal side, legal side, and surgical/medical side of transition.”

 

She continued: “Companies may have great policies but they often have very bad methods of fulfilling those policies. So we needed to make sure to clearly communicate that people had an opportunity to vent their concerns or moral beliefs that it is wrong and worries as to the impact, addressing key things that would come up in transition such as the proverbial bathroom issue.” 

 

Meghan decided to move forward once the effect of the female hormones she was taking began to show. “I picked a Monday [on which I would start presenting as a woman.] And then I sat down several weeks beforehand and met with the executives. My CEO was wonderful and said to the staff, ‘I fully support Meghan as she goes through this. I expect you and the organization to continue to interact with her the same way you are interacting with him beforehand.” 

 

“The Friday before, HR checked with me to see if I was ready.  I said, ‘I’m nervous as hell’, but went home and purged all of his stuff over the weekend, knowing that there was no going back.  I walked into the office on Monday as Meghan. Because we had the policies and practices in place, the ID badge ready,  I just had to sign a couple of documents for security and HR and life continued as usual.” 

 

And, while there were a couple of “wild stares and sideways glances,” Meghan said she was surprised at the people who came up to her and said, ‘I admire you for your courage.’ “It was not only those that I would consider friends but also some people who I would consider were acquaintances who I stayed clear of because I had presumed that, since they were fairly religious individuals, they would react adversely to what I was doing.”

 

But there were some repercussions.  Having seen both sides, Meghan is particularly aware of the difference in the way men treat her in meetings.  “I went from being the Alpha male leading the meeting to being viewed as a b***h when I speak out too much. I’ve been in meetings and watched how they interact with me and the other women. I notice that now, when I try to enter a comment, while it is not always shot down, it is now viewed more skeptically.” 

 

Meghan’s career trajectory has been somewhat altered as well. “My career has certainly gone down a few ranks. I used to speak a lot to customers globally but don’t do that anymore. Some people here feared that if I went to meet with the customers and they figured out that I am a transsexual, they might not want to do business with us.  So some people in management here decided not risk it and assigned me to a different job.  And, I got reassigned and reassigned and went from being a director level to senior manager level with the commensurate pay adjustment.  But the benefit of not being a senior director is that I do my job and get measured by my ability to perform the job but I get to have a very healthy balance between work and home life.  I now have had the time to do all those things from an advocacy/advocate role. Since the transition, I have additional passion, energy and time that I can now start fighting on LGBT issues.”  As part of this new advocacy role, Meghan has spoken before Congress on LGBT issues and, last year, participated in then-Senator Obama’s policy committee on gender issues.  “I had proven myself with people that were already in the mainstream of LGBT policy and I could use kind of a no-nonsense business approach and bring it to the world of policy and LGBT issues.” 

 

Despite the change in roles at her company, Meghan is quick to point out that she is one of the lucky ones.  “Companies sometimes don’t believe that they can support somebody who is going to transition.  And that person is very quickly ousted from the company.  Surgery is all out of pocket so the loss of job is the loss of income [which will have an impact on the surgery and transition as well.]”

 

Meghan adds that there is a business case for supporting transitions in the workplace as well. “Upon completing the transition, I found a lot of inhibitions removed and stress removed.  Once you remove that stress and remove that from the workplace, we are more productive.  And, we are much more committed to a company that helps us transition.” 

 

3 comments

  1. Roisin

    OMG that story could be mine. I so understand what Meghan is going through and this article may be the one that helps me break the news to my mother. Thank you.

  2. Ryan

    This story is amazing, It’s inspiring and encouriging.

    Congratulations!

    Despite of the fact thatI am comfortable with my gender I think that this is great advance in policies for business and for people but, however, I do think that She did not have to change her level!!!

    BUt anyway, This is progressing :)

  3. Mauricio

    Simply wonderful…I admire companies like this one, that go several steps beyond and understand current state of affairs with gender choice and sexual orientation.

    Hopefully things like this will start spreading!