When I came as a trans at 49 I knew there were a lot of battles ahead of me. I didn’t expect the email to be the clear sign that I don’t belong.
Shortly after my transition, I took up an engineering position at a tech company where I had previously worked. I was excited to come back. On orientation day, I stood in line watching the other new hires get a laptop, find a spot, and set up their accounts. When it was my turn, the clerk checking me in gave me a puzzled look: My email account already existed somehow, but with someone else’s name. “Well,” I said, “I made the transition while I was away. I used to have a different name. The employee, caught off guard, apologized and then went to talk to her manager. on returning she told me that it was not possible to update the name on my account. I should use my old email address with my death name. The system was not designed for someone like me.
I explained that the use of my death name was not acceptable. It would confuse my new colleagues and ensure that my first conversation with them is about my gender identity and not about my new job.
For the rest of the morning, while I waited for a solution, I watched my new hire colleagues receive welcome emails from colleagues and managers and continue their onboarding. The problem was fixed thanks to my persistent manager, but I already felt late and like I was not a priority. No one should feel left out on their first day on the job, and I doubt any organization wants their new hires to feel that way.
The transition was so challenging, from the impact it would have on my family and loved ones to what it meant for my career. Email is the last thing I, or any trans person, should worry about.
Many trans people face similar difficulties in updating the working systems where their names and genders appear. Often these systems cannot be changed, are tied to legal documents, or offer limited options. These limitations make it difficult, often painfully, for trans and non-binary employees to fully focus on their work and contribute to their organizations.
Tech companies are known to be at the cutting edge of technology, for driving impact and change. I have spent my life working to achieve these goals at some of the most exciting companies in the world. Yet even among the most ambitious and forward-looking, fundamental platforms like email and human resources fail trans and non-binary employees. Tech companies, who pride themselves on using technology to solve problems and offer the best possible work cultures, should be the pioneers of the solution.
Many of these companies vocally support LGBTQ + employees and update their logos in rainbow colors every June. Many even offer essential employee benefits and resource groups. But despite even good intentions, their HR systems say something completely different: that a subset of people is an afterthought at best.
Organizations cannot wait to meet their “first” non-binary or transitioning employees to ensure that their HR systems are inclusive and supportive. Can you imagine a benefit package that only allows one child because no current employee has more than one child? Or HR software that can’t support an employee’s date of birth prior to 1990 because no one older has ever worked there?
Systems and software in the workplace need to allow employees to define themselves, rather than being defined by assumptions about gender, pronouns and legal names. Building inclusiveness by default should also apply to authentication systems, communication tools, and productivity software. It should be easy to not only edit personal information and profile photos, but also remove past references to information like pronouns or names.
This problem is not unique to workplace technology. Updating names and pronouns is an extremely difficult process in legal literature, publications, and online accounts. For example, in the coding world, an engineer cannot change the name associated with their git commits (which record the progress of a coding project and allow others to contribute) without rewriting the history of everything. that they built. User IDs must be editable without an employee losing access to their profiles. If the technology doesn’t yet exist to make this possible, it’s time to start building it.