What it takes to make a “meaningful investment” in transgender inclusion

Cybersecurity lead Danielle Wood shares some of her experiences as a trans woman in the industry

Modern-era cybersecurity may have only been around since the 1970s with the advent of computer security, but Danielle Wood‘s career has taken her through nearly half its lifespan already.

Boasting over twenty years of industry experience, she has worked for the US Government and Fortune 500 firms as an incident responder and digital forensics examiner. Today as Senior Director of Partner Service Delivery at Boston-based Cybereason, she helps clients defend against nation-level cyberattacks.

Furthering female participation in cybersecurity is an ongoing discussion, but as a trans woman, Wood’s intersectional experience makes her a much-needed advocate for diversity and inclusion in the sector.

She speaks to DiversityQ about how firms can be more inclusive of transgender people and why fostering a supportive culture is as important as supporting the individual.

A recent UK YouGov/Totaljobs study about trans employees found that 50% had received “good to very good” HR support when they were transitioning. What was your experience like?

Transitioning is a long-term effort. In many cases, trans people find themselves passing through more than one job during the process. In my case, I began my transition at a previous employer, but I can say that they handled it with aplomb.

They asked me to craft an introductory email sent out to the entire company as part of an HR update to all employees. It included my own words and was word-smithed for brevity and clarity by the HR team. As part of this update, they also included a reminder about the company’s non-discrimination policy.

There was a second update to my local department when the day came for me to begin presenting female full-time. In general, the HR staff was positive and supportive. They helped make it a positive event in my life that I will never forget. Our CIO sent me flowers.

How can HR managers support trans employees in their transitions?

It is important for leaders to embrace such events wholeheartedly and vocally support them. Support for transition isn’t just about the employee; it’s about the culture. Any company showing even nominal support for such things as Transgender Day of Visibility and Transgender Day of Remembrance, and Gay Pride Month will make the transitioning employee more comfortable and supported. It will also allow LGBTQ+ workers to be themselves and feel welcome and supported in the workplace.

What are the most impactful forms of workplace discrimination the community faces today?

I have witnessed several types of discrimination against trans employees, setting aside outright dismissal for being trans, which is now considered illegal in all 50 US states. There’s ‘constructive dismissal’, namely, treating the employee in a way that is not outright discriminatory but is designed to ‘get the employee to quit’.

There’s also ‘usage of dead names’ and ‘misgendering’; I will caveat this by saying that official documentation generally must reflect the employee’s legal name and generally cannot change until the employee changes their name legally. But there is no reason that the company cannot enforce the usage of the preferred names and pronouns within the company operations.

‘Dead naming’ is referring to a person by the name associated with their previously identified gender. ‘Misgendering’ is not using the preferred pronouns of the employee transitioning. For example, calling a trans-woman he/him when they have identified their pronouns to be she/her.

Trans women often find themselves suffering suddenly from the same discriminatory practices that their cisgender co-workers do. I recall when I started my transition and began presenting female full time, I was suddenly called ‘overly emotional’ by a male colleague. I was stunned, to say the least.

Have you had other trans employees approach you for workplace advice?

I have been fortunate. In my current position, I work for a company that treats me as an equal with dignity and respect. I have experienced no workplace discrimination on the basis that I am trans. It is well known at Cybereason that workplace equality is of the highest importance, and discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees won’t be tolerated.

So, I wouldn’t expect them to come to me. If they do, I expect it will mirror the handful of people from other companies who have come to me asking for advice. Most of the questions I am asked focus on what my transition in the workplace was like. Where should they start? With their manager, HR? What should they expect from the departmental staff? What should they expect from their manager? Often, I’ll research the organisation in question to figure out how best to answer them. In general, my advice is to always start with HR, in writing, and email is fine.

If you could sit down with an employer who says they want to increase diversity and inclusion for the transgender community in their business, what three initial steps would you tell them to take?

First, make sure that all their policies are updated to reflect inclusion of LGBTQ+ employees in their language and that employees know this is important to the business. Next, they should check with their vendors and business partners to make sure they are administering similar policies. One of the worst things that can happen is for the LGBTQ+ community members to find out their employer partners with organisations that have a history of discrimination of any kind.

Finally, we care about businesses that really care about us. Public support of the transgender community in advertising, outreach, charity, and representation is important. While transgender representation in the workforce is steadily improving in the United States, public representation in television, film, and even written material is woefully behind.

What are the biggest things employers and managers get wrong about supporting transgender people at work?

It all comes down to one thing: walking the talk. It is quite easy for managers to say they support the employee and will not tolerate poor treatment. But it is important to reinforce that position with the staff and other employees constantly. Putting non-discrimination language into policy documents is one thing but fostering a welcoming environment takes actual work and resource investment. It needs to be a meaningful investment.


What can make transgender employees feel discriminated against in an office environment?

My current employer is fantastic, and I generally find it hard to remember what it was like before I came to work here. Generally misgendering or sudden negative changes in perceived quality of work are things I have seen in the past at other places.

How inclusive an environment is the cybersecurity sector for transgender professionals?

I can’t speak for trans men, but I can say from my own experience and the things I hear from other trans women that finding a cybersecurity company that really embraces women of any kind, transgender or cisgender, is rare.

Can you tell me about some of the obstacles you’ve encountered in your professional journey?

At a previous employer I was pushed into a dead-end position that was outside of my career path. Over the years, I have had co-workers dismiss my ideas, talk over me, or interrupt me in meetings in ways they never used to. After I left my previous employer, I had impeccable qualifications, yet it took quite some time to find a job. While I am not certain it was because I am transgender, I suspect that it played a role.

How can colleagues and managers be effective allies to transgender employees?

The answer to this is the same regardless. Treat your fellow employees with dignity, respect, and decency. Give them a platform to express themselves as they see fit without discrimination. Encourage others to do the same and try to remember the following; we are transgender or transgender people, not “transgenders” or “the transgenders”. No one likes to be objectified.

Also, do not defend bad behaviour. I see this way too often in many contexts. We as humans want to be right, but there is no shame in honestly saying ‘I’m sorry’ and moving on. Remember, you do not get to decide what should offend someone else. We have a word for that; it is called projection and use the person’s preferred pronouns.

Are people still fearful of causing offence?

Most people at Cybereason know that I am not easily offended and that if I am not comfortable answering a question, I will just tell them that I am not comfortable answering it. If someone asks an inappropriate question, I will tell them that it is inappropriate. I use my best judgement on how to handle each situation. But curiosity should not be treated as a crime.

What has your organisation done to include transgender people?

We have a core value at Cybereason encapsulated in the slogan “UbU” (you be you). It is a value that encourages us to be diverse in our thinking and comfortable in our persons while maintaining professional execution. One year, we lit up the entire office for LGBTQ+ pride month. I have personally represented the company on CNN, NBC, and in other major web and print outlets. The details matter to many people and I am no different.

At Cybereason, the bathrooms have signs that say, ‘Male & Non-Binary’ and ‘Female and Non-Binary’. Every year we decorate the office for Pride, and during pride week, we have pride-themed events. But, beyond that, all of this is driven from the top-down by our CEO and other senior leaders. Most importantly, though, I am treated as a person on my merits, period. As such, I know the company values my personal stake in the company’s success, and the company realises it plays a big role in my personal success.

How can employers attract more transgender talent?

Inclusive companies should have no problem promoting themselves as an LGBTQ+ supportive organisation, which they can do by using social media and other media platforms to promote their activities throughout the year to show that support.

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