This iteration of Practical Inclusion – a series of conversations with leading Diversity and Inclusion practitioners working to create change – is on a topic close to my heart: gender affirmation. I speak with Michelle Sheppard and Luke Futcher-Daniels, who worked on the terrific Victorian State Government Department of Transport’s gender affirmation resource.
After working in the IT industry – where she was unsupported during her own gender affirmation – Michelle became a trainer and public speaker, connecting with Fortune 500 companies as well as companies on inclusive lists to improve their policies.
Michelle says, “I wanted to know how I could make a change when it comes to employment because nobody’s talking about employment in the [LGBTQIA+ communities]. We always focus on things like mental health, GPs or where we can get support for changing our gender. But when I transitioned eight years ago, it was: here’s your blockers, your pretty blue oestrogen pills and may the force be with you, you’re now a woman. I was like, what do I do? Who do I talk to? Where do I go? How do I get my life moving forward?”
She notes that most organisations had very few resources on gender affirmation, or, if they did, they would centre around sexual diversity. Often, these resources were very difficult to understand and disconnected from the very people they were designed for. Working with Luke on the Department of Transport’s gender affirmation resource, Michelle says, “I wanted to bring [this material] back down, make it more one-on-one […] and create an emotive response.”
“By the end, we had so many amazing pieces of feedback from all of these different parts of the industry. And Luke and I created this guide together, not just for the company we’d created it for, but for an entire industry. It’s a small love letter from me to the community,” she said
“[Michelle and I] started talking about the fact that we have an obligation to try and bring all the letters of our community back together – to do something that’s inclusive for all of our community,” Luke said.
“From a manager’s perspective – I’m a people leader and really invested in my people – what I found to be the most important piece of the puzzle [in the resource] were the practical steps. How to talk to your team, to HR, to changing your pronoun, etc. I think that’s a wonderful start for both managers and the person who is affirming their gender,” Luke said.
He continues: “But the other part that’s important to me that we called out was that nobody’s journey is the same. So, we need to make sure that, while you’ve got a checklist and you’ve got these plans, that might not be what the person who’s affirming their gender needs and so you need to be as open and respectful as you can as they move through that process at their pace.”
Whether you’re an employer or employee, LGBTQIA+ allyship is crucially important to shaping a safe environment for people to feel comfortable sharing their plans to affirm their gender within. And as both Luke and Michelle point out, it’s also about more than simply showing up at a Pride march – you need to be actively working towards change.
Michelle says, “Make sure you’re highlighting things around your [employee’s] rights and things around your company’s internal policies on leave.”
“As a manager, you need to be really open to your people coming to you for support, so you need to be the best ally possible for that person. The person who’s affirming their gender needs to know their rights and where to start. And then there’s also building the capability of our HR and people and culture teams to make sure they understand how best to support people going through what can sometimes be a really difficult journey. It’s a different experience for everybody,” Luke said.
Michelle says, “[Reach] out to someone like myself or Luke and [ask what you can do]. The first thing is seeking to ask the question, seeking to understand. Then once you do, and you have potential material that relates to your workplace, bring your managers in to have that conversation and start putting together a pathway from there.”
“We create this space for people to go to Pride marches or whatever, but what I say to you is: challenge yourself. What did you deliver and do throughout the year to celebrate Pride? […] I’m sick of rainbow flags. […] I want to know what you’re doing. Don’t just show up – I need to see what you’re doing.”
Luke adds: “You can’t do any diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives or feel like you can make a difference by yourself. While one person has a voice and it’s very powerful, you need to seek out and find those allies. You’re not going to know all the answers [yourself].”
For more information about Practical Inclusion, follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to my YouTube channel for updates. You can also revisit past conversations on my Practical Inclusion playlist on YouTube.
25 February 2021
08 May 2022
03 August 2020