Aoife Martin of MasterCard explains why every company should have a clear policy to help employees who wish to gender transition in the workplace, and how the support of her colleagues got her through.
“It was as if nothing had changed, but of course it had. Later that afternoon I arrived back at my desk to find a bunch of flowers and a card from all my colleagues saying “Acceptance matters to us”
When did you first decide it was time to go public with your gender transition?
I suppose it was in 2016 when I first started going public. It started off with me telling a few close friends. At that point I had started living and socializing as Aoife. Working from home meant that it wasn’t a big issue workwise, but it meant that when I did go into the office I was jumping from one role to another. As you can imagine, after a while this became stressful and I decided that I no longer wanted to do that and the only way around that was to speak to my company and tell them that I wanted to transition in the workplace.
How did you approach it with your employer, Mastercard?
In October, 2016 I sat down with my HR Business Partner, Ann Marie, and told her that I was transgender and that I wished to transition in the workplace. After the initial shock, Ann Marie immediately gave me her full support and said that she would do anything help me in this journey. At the end of the meeting she gave me a hug and I left her office feeling as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
How was the news received by your manager?
I work on a global team, so my manager is based in the US. I had just moved teams so Ann Marie, my HR Business Partner, offered to inform my manager. I didn’t have any worries about how the news would be received and, indeed, a day later my manager rang me to offer her full backing and support.
I looked upon it as something that I had to do. Another step in the journey towards being me. Yes, it was nerve-wracking but it was also liberating to finally be able to be myself and to be out as a trans woman.
How did you prepare yourself for that first day back as Aoife?
Having told HR in October we had had weekly meetings to make sure that all the ground work was covered. We discussed things like who to tell, when to tell them, name changes, email address changes, building access badges, toilets, etc. So by the time January came round, much of the hard work had already been done. It was just a question of me showing up to work as usual (or not as usual, if you know what I mean).
We had decided not to tell the entire office – after all, it was no-one’s business – but we did tell a few select colleagues and, of course, team members. Needless to say, word did leak out which was fine. I was happy to let the grapevine do its thing. On the day, however, I was very nervous. I came into the office early and sat behind my monitor and kind of hoped I would be left to my own devices. I don’t think it took any more or less courage to do it than it does just to be transgender in the world today. I looked upon it as something that I had to do. Another step in the journey towards being me. Yes, it was nerve-wracking but it was also liberating to finally be able to be myself and to be out as a trans woman.
How was the news communicated to your colleagues and what was their reaction?
We decided not to make a grand announcement. There really wasn’t any need. I had told the people that I thought needed to know. Everyone else would find out sooner or later. Sending out an office email would just have made it seem more like an issue than it actually was. We wanted it to be something that was completely natural and not such a big deal. I don’t deal with external client so that wasn’t an issue.
My colleagues were great. Those that knew came over to wish me well. Those that didn’t know probably heard about it soon after. Mostly I was left to my own devices. It was as if nothing had changed, but of course it had. Later that afternoon I arrived back at my desk to find a bunch of flowers and a card from all my colleagues saying “Acceptance matters to us”. It was incredibly touching and I still get emotional just thinking about it.
I realise just how incredibly lucky I was to have a HR Business Partner who was incredibly supportive and understanding. That made what could have been an incredibly difficult process so much easier.
Is there anything you would change about the process, either in how you handled it or how it was handled by your employer?
To be honest, I don’t think my employer could have handled it any better. I almost wish that I’d made the decision sooner but I probably wasn’t ready to do it until I did it, if that makes any sense. I was pretty much guided my instinct. I knew when the time was right and I was psychologically ready to make such a big step.
What advice would you give to anyone going through, or considering the same thing and looking for the courage to do what you have done?
First of all, find out what your company’s policy is. Do they have a policy? Have they got a PRIDE committee? Is there someone on there that you feel you could talk to? Is there someone in HR you feel you could open out to? I realise just how incredibly lucky I was to have a HR Business Partner who was incredibly supportive and understanding. That made what could have been an incredibly difficult process so much easier.
It takes a lot of courage to be yourself but it is so worth it. I know that it’s a very difficult step to contemplate but it’s made me a much happier and more outgoing person than I was before all this happened.