* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Master's degrees in diversity, equity & inclusion can never outweigh the value of lived experience
Precious Brady-Davis is the author of the upcoming memoir ‘I Have Always Been Me’ (TOPPLE) and associate regional communications director for the Sierra Club
Every interaction we have in the workplace has the power to stagnate, empower or change the course of one’s career.
I remember a career-altering moment that has never left me. I was sitting in a shared cubicle, at age 26, as an entry-level nonprofit staffer at an LGBT+ organization in Chicago, working on projects for the homeless, people living with HIV and those facing mental health and substance abuse issues. I was feeling ambitious and inspired about the work I was doing every day.
I had started at the organization as a male-identified person and, while working there, I came to the realization that I was a transgender woman. Although I had the support of many of my colleagues, the organization refused for months to change my name in the email system to reflect my new name.
The microaggressions continued when one afternoon, a person with influence at the organization was cleaning out an office near my desk, preparing for a new manager filling a recently vacated role. As they walked by my tiny desk area, I said, “I can’t wait to have that office one day,” referring to the office space that was being tidied up for a new manager. They paused, looked at me and said, “Oh, that will never happen.” Then they walked away, chuckling, as I heard the heavy door slam.
They were speaking on behalf of the culture of the organization and the message I heard was that a trans woman had no opportunity to lead. Management wanted to cement the thought in my head: “You’ll be stuck at that desk forever. Dream on, kid.”
There was no opportunity for promotion or advancement into management. No salary increases for my position, despite an increase in my workload. After finding out other members of my team had less responsibility and made the same salary as me, I felt undervalued and knew I had to find a new job that would pay me fairly based on my credentials and expertise.
There was also no protocol at the organization to change my name since I was the very first paid trans woman on staff, despite it being an LGBT+ organization. Yes, you heard that right.
What if there had been an inclusive diversity training in the workplace that laid out a policy for a staffer like me at the time? An organization that is fully trained on intersectional topics of inclusion has the power to radically improve the workplace and particularly the lives of marginalized people.
Training is crucial and it requires real commitment to solutions-based work. I recommend empowering people and putting the voices who have been shut out of boardrooms in positions of leadership.
We are qualified. Don’t block the folks whose lived experience rivals many who have master’s degrees in diversity, equity and inclusion. I am proof of that.
But we have also seen enough training and workshops. We need to invest in trans talent too. What does your hiring pipeline look like?
Over the years, I have found myself on countless hiring committees and am tasked with hiring in the management seat I sit in today. When I am recruiting, I think of my own experience of job searching, where I was met with countless systemic barriers.
So I think about how I can put in place new systems that are going to remove those barriers for new talent and how my organization can retain that talent long term.
Companies also need to invest in mental health resources for all their employees, especially given the trauma we all have experienced living and working during a global pandemic.
HR departments need to ensure insurance policies are inclusive and ensure that gender-affirming care is included in those policies.
It’s time for organizations to look at their salary structures and start uplifting and listening to marginalized voices, in order to create a more equitable future for us all.
This kind of forward-thinking, employee-centered approach and policymaking can empower trans people. It will also ensure entire companies thrive.