Despite progress made in achieving LGBT rights in the past two decades, for Rochelle Pattison, Director at Chimaera Capital Limited, there is still much work to do to eliminate bias and to ensure LGBT persons feel welcome in the workplace. As a transgender entrepreneur, who transitioned three years ago, she has shared her experience and discussed the wider topic of diversity and inclusion in her home country of Australia and around the world.
Fiercely commited to making change toward a more inclusive work environment for the LGBT community, Pattison offers the following perspectives and advice for organizations and employers trying to create a more inclusive work culture.
Acknowledge and encourage the spectrum of diversity in your company
Particularly for medium and large organizations, Pattison advises taking account of how many LGBT personnel they have as that will reflect how inclusive their workplace actually is. “The reality is that we know there is a certain percentage of the population, around 5% to 6%, that is LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual). So in larger organizations, if you aren’t aware of a number of LGBT employees, customers or stakeholders, it’s because they are there, but they are hiding because they do not feel safe to be authentic.”
According to the latest research, concealing one’s sexual orientation can lead to significant mental and physical health issues, which Pattisson believes will eventually reflect on job performance. “Coming out is extremely hard because you are so personally vulnerable. There is economic vulnerability involved as well … unless the organization is explicit that it is OK to be different, many LGBT don’t want to out themselves and be the person who is the odd one out and will tend to hide themselves at work.”
Pattison acknowledges that her position as director and co-founder of the company did not shield her of that stress. “I found the time whilst I was transitioning extremely difficult because it was so distracting, and I had so much fear.” Now she can clearly see the benefits. “I am a calmer person than I was prior to transitioning,” she says. “I am a better leader now, not because I have suddenly embraced a female mode of leadership, but I am more at peace and that is reflected in my work and leadership. I am able to talk and listen more to people, and I have become more approachable than I was before. That cannot be underestimated. It is very hard to lead others when you don’t know where you are going.”
While Pattison co-founded Chimaera Capital Limited and is proud of its gender and racial diversity mix, she admits, “looking back, the thing we did not do well was celebrate diversity more; talking about it more. Not only accepting it but demonstrating our commitment to diversity through participating in particular events, for example Pride Month or LGBT international awareness days. My business never did that. I think that it was an error.”
Pattison adds that celebrating diversity can be in some ways be more difficult in smaller companies because larger organizations can throw resources on policy and training, and they also have a dedicated human resource department to implement these measures. “Also, people are always watching in a small organization, and you do not know what sensitivities people may have. Every word is heard. You need to be genuinely committed to being an inclusive company and take serious steps to understand the everyday experiences of diverse people so that everyone can be comfortable in the workplace and perform at their best.”
Support employee transitions
While Pattison opted for a “big bang” approach when she informed her team at work of the transition three years ago, she took time for inner reflections and planning. “It took about 29 years of being together before I spoke to my wife to tell her how I felt and start to work on what we could do. There were a lot of decisions to make; it took two years to prepare to tell the children.”
Moving away from a monoculture means embracing differences, letting people know it is safe to be different, be it of a different race, sexuality, relationship diversity, or gender identity. ”
— Rochelle Pattison, Director, Chimaera Capital Limited share
When she was ready to announce the transition at work, Pattison had prepared a complete communication strategy, contacting staff, suppliers, clients and other stakeholders all in one day.
“Within a day or so I was presenting as a woman. There were no halfway measures, and it was presented as a fact that people had to accept,” she says. “Nowadays, I believe the most important thing is to be visible and unapologetic for who I am. For a long time, if I was going to meetings I used to call to ‘warn people’ that I am transgender. Then I realized this was a wrong approach. I am always happy to talk about it, but being transgender is a minor part of my identity. They can take me as I am, or they don’t.”
For employees transitioning, Pattison advises organizations offer support in planning more seamless workplace transitions. This includes being proactive and having policies and procedures in place as well as training and awareness sessions to open eyes and assist people to see the issues that marginalized persons can face.
“When you look at how to deal with your team and your clients, check if you have the correct transgender-inclusive employment policies, that the staff understands them, that correct gender pronouns are used,” she adds. “Using inclusive language and avoiding misgendering or assumptions regarding lifestyle and relationships creates a culture where everyone feels comfortable and is an important signal to employees and the outside world about what your company values.”
Ensure access to bathroom by gender identity
“For transgender persons, one issue in the transition process, which seems simple but is an enormous issue, is bathrooms,” says Pattison who, as a co-owner of the company, found the adjustment simple to do. “In larger organizations, transgender employees are sometimes asked to use the disabled bathrooms or bathrooms that don’t match their gender identity or expression. When you first transition you are euphoric and willing to accept compromises, but 18 months later when you are still stressed out about which restroom facility to use, it is humiliating. It shatters people’s confidence.”
These unecessary bathroom restrictions can also result in people avoiding restrooms entirely at work, for fear of confrontation. “For transgender and gender-nonconforming people, this makes their job harder than they need to be,” adds Pattison.
As she continues to raise awareness of the need to be proactive in creating a welcoming organization for trans-employees and any other marginalized group, Pattison is mindful that social change takes time.
“Moving away from a monoculture means embracing differences, letting people know it is safe to be different, be it of a different race, sexuality, relationship diversity, or gender identity,” she says. “Diversity still has a long way to go. When I travel globally, I am always reminded how diverse Melbourne, Australia is. My story would be different if I was not based here.”
Learn more about Pattison’s transformational journey in this video.