Writing the policy to transition on the job

Transitioning on the Job

This article originally appeared on The Cincinnati Enquirer.

When she steeled herself for her gender transition, Henderson first went to her employer to see what kind of policy was already on the books. Finding there wasn't one, Henderson decided to write one.

Two years ago, Jen Henderson, 44, of Anderson Township, got a tech job at the marketing company POSSIBLE in part because she sensed the global firm would be welcoming. Two weeks after she started, she confided in her boss, the company’s chief technology officer for the Americas, that she planned to launch her gender transition.

“He was dead silent for a second, and I was frightened. I thought I had made a big mistake,” Henderson said. “Then he grabs my arm and says, ‘That is freaking awesome. We need more women in technology.’ So I knew this was the place for me.”

Henderson then discovered that POSSIBLE, with local offices in Downtown, didn’t have a policy to guide employees and managers about an on-the-job transition. So Henderson wrote one. Today, her policy is used in POSSIBLE offices in the Western Hemisphere.

Henderson, POSSIBLE’s regional director of technology, talks about drafting a human resources policy. “The way I wanted to go about it was: It’s more than just about me. It was going to be for people who might do this in the future.” The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: How did you define the problem?

Answer: Something like a transition on the job is an extremely rare event, even for the biggest HR groups. If you go to somebody at a company, they most likely have not dealt with this situation. Or they may have taken one small class or read about it. But they really haven’t dealt with it. Even in a company as large as ours, I apparently was the first one, at least that they could find. . . . But the problem really has been: How can you work with your local leadership, get them up to speed and say, this is the proper way of doing it while at the same time, honoring the fact that every transition is different. … Especially since transition is not just the individual. It’s also the people around them, the office. How to deal with questions. How to deal with what are our values, what are our goals are as far as an organization and supporting our people in something as delicate as transition.

Q: In the last month or so, we’ve had this whole bathroom debate reappearing. How did you address that when writing this policy?

A: The official rules are is that you use the restroom that you identify with. That being said, there was some concern when we were talking about it, and so we essentially did a transition period for that. I used one set of restrooms on the seventh floor. But everybody was cool. In fact, some people were like: Why are you keep going down to seven? It was a non-issue.

Q: How did you approach this task of writing the policy?

A: We gathered some material from some other Fortune 500 companies to see the general legal framework, and then we broke it down. … Some of them were sort of dated in their language and their terminology. Some of them were quite legal oriented, which is not what we were trying to do. What we were really trying to do is create a framework for both the managers and the individual. I was working with HR. We were starting to come up with some sort of semblance of a time frame for me (to transition on the job). I was informed that my boss had actually, my local boss, not my boss in Seattle – somebody from outside the company had told him, had outed me, and I wasn’t quite prepared for it, but we went ahead with it. In my next one-on-one with him, I let him know that I knew that he knew. He’s very much a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, sons played football for the University of Cincinnati, and his background is in farming. Very neat guy. But he said, I don’t really know what this is, but I’m willing to learn and I’m definitely here to support you, so let me know what I need to do. …

When I finally did transition, he said to the whole group, we are a family, and this is an obligation of our family, to support Jen in doing this. So, I was really pleasantly surprised at how well it was accepted.

Q: How did you execute the solution?

A: Some drafts of the policy were completed, probably December, January 2014. We started sending those to the global HR team (in Seattle) to start looking at it. It was essentially finally blessed. Somebody said: We expected this to happen someday with our company. We just never guessed that Cincinnati would be first. I was like, yeah! Gotcha! Cincinnati isn’t as backward as you think.

Q: What was important about developing the policy before you made your transition?

A: I wanted everybody’s buy-in. I wanted to know what to expect, and I didn’t want it to go sideways because it was both very important for me personally and extremely important for me as to how it shows that the company respected a personal event like this happening in our company.

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