How these transgender engineers claim space in tech

By creating supportive environments for transgender employees, the technology industry is cultivating inclusion.

Sloane Perrault, a transgender software engineer, first met an openly trans person at work, of all places. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consultant Tuck Woodstock gave a talk at the office of the New York-based software development company Postlight about fostering a welcoming, professional environment for trans and nonbinary employees.

Woodstock‘s seminar signaled a shift toward trans inclusion at Postlight—and changed Perrault‘s life. For the first time, she felt safe and empowered to explore her gender identity. “I was not out when I started at Postlight, so I started my transition while working there,” she says. “And honestly, it probably wouldn’t have happened for me yet if I didn’t work there.”

Perrault is just one of many trans and nonbinary people who have found a professional home in technology. Though the industry has significant progress to make, a growing number of companies are implementing DEI initiatives and taking steps to make their workplace more trans-friendly. With more trans people pursuing careers in tech and building professional communities, the needle is shifting more and more toward inclusion and acceptance.

An industry in flux

When Daelynn Moyer, (pictured above) a trans software engineering manager at Indeed, entered the tech sector in the 1990s, it was “extremely white-, straight- and male-dominated,” she recalls. “It was unusual to not be all three of those things, and even more unusual to be only one of those things or none of those things.”

Hilary Brenum
Photo of Hilary Brenum, a nonbinary systems engineer. Courtesy of Rachel Cole-Wilkin.

Although the tech industry is still overwhelmingly white and male, there is now a greater emphasis on hiring and empowering diverse employees. According to a recent industry survey from BuiltIn, 40% of tech company leaders plan to report on DEI data in 2022, and nearly half plan to host DEI events.

Glassdoor’s 2022 LGBTQIA+ Employee Experience report ranked tech the second highest-rated industry for LGBTQIA+ workers, right behind real estate. However, the report also noted that the tech sector is trailing behind many industries with regard to how many LGBTQIA+ people it employs.

Hilary Brenum, a nonbinary systems engineer with Tanium, wants to see more trans tech professionals in leadership roles. The BuiltIn survey found that C-suite teams in tech are still extremely homogenous. Of the 223 companies surveyed, only 7% even collect demographic data on their board of directors.

“What I care about is: Okay, who’s the most senior trans person or queer person, or person of color, at your company, and are they the only one at that level?” Brenum explains. “I know so many trans people [in tech] who are just incredible. I would like to see diversity in terms of acknowledging, Oh, these people have things they can bring to the table beside which diversity boxes they check off for us.

LGBTQIA+ visibility in leadership can also be reassuring to more junior employees. Take it from Perrault, who found solace in the early days of her coming-out journey knowing that Postlight’s CEO Gina Trapani is an out lesbian. “Having leadership be queer and celebrate the queer community within the company was really meaningful,” she says.

Fostering a trans-friendly workplace

There are many steps tech company leaders can take to make their workplace culture more trans-friendly. Education is paramount. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that less than half of Americans personally know a trans person. Trans-led DEI trainings, like the talk Perrault referenced, can simultaneously inform cisgender employees and signal support to trans employees. “It really sets the tone and makes you feel welcome,” Perrault adds.

According to Brenum, hiring external DEI consultants can take the pressure off a company’s openly LGBTQIA+ employees, many of whom have witnessed their companies “rainbow-wash” by displaying Pride flags or appearing in parades, only to rely on their trans employees to “educate cis people” in the office. “It’s a commitment to diversity beyond tokenism,” Brenum explains. “You can hire consultants to do that work, but I’m not doing free labor here.”

Moyer agrees: “You hired this person to do a job; asking them to take on a second job without paying them for it is not reasonable or fair.”

On a practical level, companies should ensure that there is a streamlined IT process for changing an employee’s name or pronouns. “In some ecosystems, it’s incredibly hard to do one or the other,” Moyer explains. “Even if you don’t have a single ‘click the button’ way of doing it, you should have a consolidated checklist of which things have to change and how you change them, rather than putting that onus on your employee.”

HR professionals can also check that all company-sponsored healthcare plans cover gender-affirming medical procedures, including hormone therapy and surgeries. For trans people who choose to physically transition, this care is essential.

“It’s really critical that companies examine their health benefits with a critical eye,” Moyer adds. “Not every trans person medically transitions, and that’s okay. But for the ones who do, they often experience a deep disservice by what the company thinks is a pretty good benefits package.”

The power of community

Within the tech industry, there are a number of LGBTQIA+-led groups ushering in a more inclusive future. Examples include Lesbians Who Tech, a networking community for LGBTQIA+ women, nonbinary people and trans people; TransTech Social Enterprises, an educational resource hub for trans people founded by trans actress and entrepreneur Angelica Ross; and Out in Tech, a virtual community and advocacy group for LGBTQIA+ people.

Photo courtesy of Hannah Busing/Unsplash

In addition to her work at Indeed, Moyer heads up Out in Tech’s trans and nonbinary committee. She first got involved with the organization by attending a meetup in her city of Portland, Ore., about six years ago. “I was recently out as a trans person,” she says, “and it felt like a safe space where I could both explore my new public gender and be able to fall back on 20 years of professional experience. I could speak authoritatively about something.”

On an industry level, Out in Tech advocates for equitable professional opportunities for LGBTQIA+ people in tech. Its blog is full of strategic resources for company leaders looking to improve equity in their organizations.

Moyer was so moved by the diverse connections she made via Out in Tech’s Portland chapter that she decided to volunteer with the organization on a more regular basis. As the head of Out in Tech’s trans and nonbinary committee, she has “almost quintupled” the number of members on its Slack channel. Her network is full of other trans and nonbinary professionals, and she is able to provide and receive support from people who share her lived experience.

Perrault has also been empowered by her connections with LGBTQIA+ peers. Early in her gender-exploration journey, she was reassured by watching some of her colleagues come out at work and be accepted with open arms. She is now one of the organizers of Postlight’s LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group.

I was recently out as a trans person, and it felt like a safe space where I could both explore my new public gender and be able to fall back on 20 years of professional experience. I could speak authoritatively about something.

—Daelynn Moyer, software engineering manager, Indeed

Brenum, too, has found comfort in community. As of right now, they haven’t formally come out as nonbinary to their whole company, but they include their pronouns in their email signature and regularly chat with other queer and trans people at Tanium. “I’m out to some people at work because I saw somebody with they/them pronouns in their Slack profile, and I was like, Hey, a fellow queer! Gonna talk to them,” they explain.

“It’s on us, trans people, to support other trans people,” Moyer adds. “And you do that by finding trans people, building relationships with them, leaning on them when you need it and letting them lean on you when they need it.”

Lead photo of Daelynn Moyer, a trans software engineering manager. Courtesy of Pat Synder Photography.