When i came As a 49-year-old transgender, I know there are still many battles ahead of me. I did not expect that the email would clearly indicate that I did not belong.
Soon after the transition, I held an engineering position in a technology company where I worked before. I am very excited to be back. On orientation day, I waited in line for other new employees to receive their laptops, find seats, and set up their accounts. When it was my turn, the employee who checked in for me gave me a puzzled look: My email account somehow already exists, but it has someone else’s name. “Well,” I said, “I transitioned when I was away. I used to have a different name.” The employee was caught off guard, apologized to her, and then went to talk to her manager. When she came back, she told me that the name on my account could not be updated. I will have to use my previous email address and my dead name. The system is not designed for people like me.
I explained that using my dead name is unacceptable. This confuses my new colleagues and ensures that my first conversation with them is about my gender identity, not my new job.
For the rest of the morning, while waiting for a solution, I watched my new employee receive welcome emails from colleagues and managers and continue onboarding. Thanks to my persevering manager, the problem was solved, but I already felt lagging behind, as if I was not a priority. No one should feel excluded on the first day of work, and I doubt that any organization wants their new employees to feel that way.
The transition brings so many risks, from how it will affect my family and my loved ones to what it means for my career. Email is the last thing I or any transgender person should worry about.
Many transgender people face similar difficulties in updating their workplace systems for names and genders. Often, these systems cannot be edited, are associated with legal documents, or provide narrow options. These restrictions make it difficult for transgender and non-dual employees to fully focus on their work and contribute to their organization, which is often painful.
Technology companies are known for cutting edge, driving influence and change. I have spent my whole life working hard to achieve these goals in some of the most exciting companies in the world. However, even among the most ambitious and visionary, basic platforms such as email and human resources are failing transgender and non-binary employees. Technology companies that pride themselves on using technology to solve problems and provide the best work culture should be the first to propose solutions.
Many of these companies verbally support LGBTQ+ employees and update their logos in rainbow colors every June. Many even provide supportive benefits and important staff resource groups. However, even out of good intentions, their human resource system expressed a completely different view: some people are at best an afterthought.
Organizations cannot wait until they encounter the “first” non-dual or transitional employee to ensure that their human resources system is inclusive and supportive. Can you imagine a welfare program that only allows one child because the current employee does not have more than one child? Or the HR software cannot accommodate employee birth dates earlier than 1990 because no one has ever worked there?
Workplace systems and software must allow employees to define themselves, rather than being defined by assumptions about gender, pronouns, and legal names. Inclusiveness, which is the default setting, should also apply to authentication systems, communication tools, and productivity software. Not only can you easily change your personal information and profile photos, you can also easily delete past references to information such as pronouns or names.
This problem is not unique to workplace technology. In legal documents, publications, and online accounts, updating names and pronouns is a very difficult process. For example, in the coding world, engineers cannot change the name associated with their git commit (this saves the progress of the coding project and allows others to contribute) without having to rewrite the history of everything they build. The user ID should be changeable, so that employees will not lose access to their personal data. If the technology that makes this possible does not exist yet, then it is time to start building it.