Even with a perfect score we can still improve.

by John Fredette

(republished from the Alcatel-Lucent blog)

In December 2013, Alcatel-Lucent was recognized by the Human Rights Campaign with a perfect score of 100% on the Corporate Equality Index. As a board member of the EQUAL! Organization for Alcatel-Lucent’s LGBT colleagues and our supporters it is heartening to see our company receive that recognition for the 12th year in a row.

But a score of 100% should not be seen as an indicator that there are no workplace challenges for LGBT colleagues. As I have experienced personally over the last year, there can be room for growth even when one considers oneself fairly advanced in the areas of understanding and acceptance.

Thanks to the participation on our board of a very intelligent, articulate and brave transgender colleague, I have learned and grown a great deal in my understanding of what it means to be transgender. I am not alone in that growth and our board has adopted a specific focus on how we can better offer support to the transgender community within Alcatel-Lucent. I know of at least one instance where we were able to put a distressed transgender colleague in touch with our transgender board member and provide much-needed assistance.

Transgender individuals often suffer in silence and isolation and when they do identify themselves it often involves a potentially painful and awkward process with virtually everyone they know. Being gay does not impact the workplace per se. Wives, husbands, and partners are for the most part just names or pictures which appear on cubicle shelves and in casual conversation but are not necessarily explicit in our workaday lives. However, when someone everyone knows as Chuck comes into work one day as Charlene, then that becomes to some degree, an issue for everyone. Certainly it becomes a major topic of conversation. Potentially it could be a time-consuming distraction or worse, a cause of confrontation.

But with increased awareness and growth in understanding I believe we can make the transition process for transgender colleagues more like other major transitions in life, such as marriage or having a baby, and less an opportunity for awkwardness and insensitivity.

Aside from the progress of internal self understanding that must take place first, transgender individuals go through a lengthy transition process that includes living as the other gender before going through the extensive surgery necessary to make the transition complete. As that process is being undergone in public the individual needs all the support possible.

I am sure that, if we knew, we would be surprised at how many transgender colleagues there are at Alcatel-Lucent. However, like the process of self identification for gays and lesbians which was a requisite for achieving the level of acceptance enjoyed today, transgender folks are becoming more visible in all areas of society including the workplace.

It takes a lot of guts for someone to risk just about everything to make the decision to become the person they know they were born to be. That bravery should be celebrated and supported and until any transgender colleague knows that they will be accepted as who they are in our workplace then there is work to be done. I hope that having a 100% score on the CEI means that whatever necessary changes in processes and attitudes are underway, or soon will be, so that workplace acceptance at Alcatel-Lucent is not one of the challenges faced by our transgender colleagues.