An Emboldened Path

“I’m changing gender. Will Dell support me in this? Will Dell still support me having a customer-facing role?”

It’s been a while since I started working for Dell. It’s been seventeen years, so quite a while, really. Work is an important part of my life, along with my family, and so the ubiquitous “work-life balance” is key. After fourteen years working at Dell, an opportunity presented itself to work at another tech company, and I took it.

After a couple of years away, my good Dell buddies were wondering if I might be interested in returning to the fold, and indeed I was. Other areas of my life were changing too, and issues I’d carried with me for decades were coming to a head. So, when Dell’s recruiter called me and asked if I’d like to come back, I had a whole new question to ask, a question a little different from salaries, roles and benefits.

So, “I’m changing gender. Will Dell support me in this? Will Dell still support me having a customer-facing role?”

There. I’d asked it. I’d actually said it out loud.
One of the scariest conversations I’d ever had. Some of the most important questions I’d ever asked.

For my entire life, some aspects of my identity had been wrong, and I didn’t know what normal was. How do you know a feeling is, or isn’t, “normal”? Inside me, something had finally clicked. It’s not as if there was suddenly a clear vision inside my head, there was no bright guiding light, just the truth, enough for me to say that yes, something is wrong. I saw a direction, but no path. I knew there would be challenges ahead, and that I wouldn’t want to move back to Dell if they were not going to support me in this period of intense change.

So I asked my question, held my breath, and jumped in to the pool.

When I surfaced, I was told that of course Dell would support me, if and when I decided to transition. Of course I would retain my customer-facing role, and that my management and team would fully support my decision, and my transition. Yet I still felt out of my depth. Such deep personal issues are entwined with life itself, with my deepest feelings, with family, with society, and with work. Finding the right answer, the right path was not simple, easy, or quick. There was no “right”, just a varied blend of good and bad, hope and pain. Through it all, prior to any decision to transition, my manager, supported by Dell’s HR team, was there supporting me. Knowing that they would not let the process, or conclusion, affect how I was seen at work provided a fixed point of hope.

Ultimately, a decision was made, one that came at a price, but one that had to be made. Human Resources was wonderful, speaking with me about what I needed, how I’d like to proceed and at what pace. I sat down with their team, and they walked me through a plan to prepare my colleagues and customers for the change that was to come. They helped me plan the transition, and when the time came, supported me through it. On the day we’d set, I came in to work and met with HR and my manager. My name was switched over in the records – and my gender, too. A new badge. A new me.

I met with my team the next day, and, though surprised, they were all incredibly supportive. Some close colleagues had been told in advance, but for most of them it was a day of change. I visited a customer that very week, one I’d met with just two weeks earlier. They too were incredibly supportive, including using my new name and pronouns throughout. Obviously I’ve heard a few accidental “him’s”, but nobody at work ever said a negative thing to me, and did their best to switch over as quickly as they could.

Since then, I’ve presented at conferences and visited many customers across the country. I was doing the same work as before my transition, the very essence of what I was looking for, and felt I deserved. Work has been so supportive, from HR, to my management team, to my colleagues. The support I received made a huge difference to me during a deeply personal, intimate, and potentially traumatic process, a life change that is at once intensely private and incredibly public.

There are myriad shades to people’s lives. No one experience can be reflected onto someone else. I know, though, that one of the threads that supported my life through the process of transition has been my job, and the people I work with. I’ll always be grateful to both.

About the Author: Jody Ellis