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Transitioning into new jobs, genders

At the first transgender career expo, men and women meet companies that accept them for who they are becoming.

September 16, 2007|Jenny Jarvie | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — The woman pulled her resume from a pink file folder and handed it to a recruiter.

Across the top of the page, in bold type, she had printed her name twice: first as "Mark," then as "(Meghan)." She was not quite sure if this was appropriate.

At the nation's first transgender Career Expo, job seekers were encouraged to use their new gender names on resumes.

But Meghan, 42, a transsexual who declined to give her last name because her current employer knows her as Mark, wanted to make sure prospective employers could find her -- or him -- if they ran a background check.

The etiquette of transgender resumes was just one of the myriad challenges facing job seekers who packed the Atlanta convention hall. For transgender people -- at Friday's expo, they ranged from cross-dressers to those who had changed their gender through hormone therapy or surgery -- the workplace can be a minefield.

Many cannot find jobs. Even those who come out after they have settled in with a company risk losing their job. No federal civil rights protection exists for transgender employees, but 12 states have passed legislation ensuring employment protection. The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this month on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of gender identity.

The Career Expo -- organized by the Southern Comfort Conference, the country's largest annual gathering of transgender people -- drew recruiters from more than 20 major corporations including Microsoft Corp., Deloitte & Touche LLP, Ernst & Young, American Airlines, Hewlett-Packard Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

A number of national and international corporations are developing transgender policies and protections. According to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, 152 of Fortune 500 companies prohibit job discrimination against transgender employees.

In some ways, the Career Expo was like any other job fair: Men and women walked from booth to booth, stopping to exchange business cards and promote their experience and skill.

Some scenes were more colorful: A woman with hooped earrings carrying a glossy platinum wig chatted with recruiters from Ernst & Young.

At the other side of the room, a woman in pearls wiggled her hips playfully as she walked up to a Hewlett-Packard booth. "Am I accepted?" she asked, coyly.

"Totally," the recruiter said, reaching over the booth to shake her hand. Hewlett-Packard, the recruiter said earnestly, earned a 100% diversity rating on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index.

For many of the corporations, the expo was an opportunity to showcase their transgender- supportive policies.

The job seekers, in turn, had questions for recruiters: How did they broach the subject with co-workers or clients? What was their restroom policy for transitioning employees? Did their health insurance cover counseling or hormone treatment or sex-reassignment surgery? How many transgender employees did they have?

But some participants remained skeptical.

"The policies are all well and good," said Jillian Barfield, 50, a transsexual from St Louis, after speaking to a recruiter from the law firm Alston & Bird LLP. "But they don't do any good if they don't trickle down to the recruiters who actually interview us."

Even after she had applied to companies with transgender-friendly policies, Barfield said, recruiters who sounded receptive on the phone were less so when they met her. "They don't say anything," she said, "but you can tell."

The job fair gathering at times seemed to be as much a mass counseling or empowerment session.

Lori Anne Blake, 48, a technical product manager from Atlanta, said her need to find a new job had become more urgent as she began hormone treatment during the last year. She said she was finding it more difficult to control her mannerisms, and it was becoming uncomfortable to strap down her breasts before going to work each day as a man.

Some companies brought transgender employees to talk about their personal experiences to job seekers.

Breanna Speed, a database administrator for the human resources company Hewitt Associates, made her gender transition this year after working for the company for seven years. She was nervous, she said, but after the CEO sent an e-mail to the staff explaining Wendell henceforth would be Breanna, the response was positive.

"I was touched," she said.

Dana Kern, 44, an employee with J.P. Morgan who made her transition from David a year and a half ago, said her human resources department issued her a new e-mail address before she changed her name and allowed her to use female restrooms as soon as she wanted to.

"It takes such a lot of courage," she said, beaming as a woman handed her a resume. The woman, she said, had come back after going to a computer to alter her name to reflect her newfound confidence. "I told her right up front: We will deal with you as you are."

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jenny.jarvie@latimes.com

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