When I first came out as a transwoman, I was already in an established role. I had been with my then employer for around 20 years and was in my comfort zone. I’d built relationships with colleagues that went above gender and, although coming out meant putting myself in a scary and unknown situation, after some adjustment actually very little changed in the workplace.
Outside my comfort zone
That all changed when I decided to take redundancy. Despite having a good skillset, and knowledge and experience in retail, I now had the added hurdle of my gender identity to deal with. Although my family and previous colleagues were comfortable with this, I had to think about any additional prejudice that may come from potential employers’ thoughts and perceptions around trans people.
Our world is constantly changing and evolving. Sadly, some people find it difficult to keep up with these changes. I was worried that some might see me as a “freak” – not wanting to employ me as they wouldn’t want a trans person serving their customers. Would they worry that my gender identity might be a barrier to integration with an existing team? I could think of so many reasons that they would think twice about hiring me.
On the other extreme, I was also concerned about positive discrimination. Would I be selected to tick a box? That wouldn’t be good for me or their business. I might not be up to the job, and someone else who was better suited would be excluded. That could lead to resentment and animosity within any team that I worked with, as well as damaging my own mental health.
Eye opening interview experiences
Those were all thoughts that were running through my head as I applied for various roles in retail. I got an interview for a customer assistant role with a large supermarket, and I was delighted to be offered the job on the spot. I gladly accepted the offer, and it was then that my interviewer said: “I notice that you have… changed” and asked how I would deal with anyone who had an issue with my gender identity. Luckily, I am comfortable discussing my transition openly, and I politely told him that I can hold my own. A different person could easily have been offended or upset though. To be called out as a trans person, even with the best intentions, can be humiliating for some people.
About 4 weeks later I was offered an interview with the Co-op for a store manager role. As excited as I was about the opportunity, the same worries started going through my mind again. However, my experience with the Co-op was refreshingly different, and I realised very quickly that I had nothing to worry about.
From the moment I entered the building, I was treated appropriately. The customer team members who greeted me, the team manager who walked me through to the office, the store and area manager that interviewed me – they all treated me with respect, professionalism and kindness. They never questioned my identity, they never asked about my past or my transition. I was accepted for who I was without question.
A place where I can be myself
I was delighted to be offered the Store Manager job! During the hiring process I had to make multiple calls to head office in Manchester, and it’s on the telephone that I most frequently find myself being misgendered. But throughout all my dealings with the resourcing team, they never questioned who I was. I was not singled out, simply made to feel welcome. I felt that I had been validated as Natasha – that I was joining a business that respected me for my abilities, not to tick a diversity box.
I’ve been in the job for around a year and a half now, and I would recommend the Co-op to anyone as an employer. The diversity of the colleague population, and the inclusive way it treats all its employees sets a great example for other employers. Having heard so many stories about exclusion, bullying and harassment of trans people in other businesses, I’m so pleased to have found a place where I can be myself, always.