“Fare is a fee I pay to get on a bus. Fair does not exist at work.” I said it without even thinking. I wish I had come up with the phrase, but it was from the show Weeds. I started watching it from the beginning recently. A few days later, there I am on a webinar repeating it, this time about DEI.
While I find all those statistics about exclusion unacceptable, I know those are numbers that represent millions of hopes, fears, and prayers. They represent people who walk into every hiring situation wondering if they are seen as equal. They represent people who so badly want change but fear for their safety and well-being.
I met another reminder that these statistics are real this week. Her name was Sarah. Sarah grew up in the MidWest in a military family that sounded like mine: very Catholic, military, and narrow-minded. She hasn’t spoken to them since the first time she put on a dress for a family function. “They’re just jealous of how good I looked,” she said with a smile and signature sarcasm I instantly recognized as a broken heart.
I know. I have a joke like that, too.
After getting to know her by drafting the LinkedIn summary, I asked if I could answer any questions about the job search. I wasn’t expecting what she said next. She broke my heart.
“What do I do when they see me?”
She explained that while she has flown through every assessment and assignment, she keeps getting to a video interview, then nothing. “I know it’s because they see my long hair and hear my deep voice. They don’t know what to make of me.”
I felt this pressure in my chest because I know what she means. It’s the sum of all the weird looks, the pronoun mess-ups, and the questioning comments. A million signals that you can’t belong, and you should assume the worst - not because everyone is terrible, but as a safety mechanism. It is hope performing a disappearing act when hope is all you have left.
Simultaneously, I know she’s watching the same headlines I am. State laws are trying to edge trans people out of equality everywhere - at work, in healthcare, sports. How do I help her keep going when the headlines are so full of hate for her simple existence?
Tell me the right answer. I’ve spent the last four days trying to find one, and I’m still speechless.
There’s nothing I can say that justifies people deciding every day that another human is not enough because they exist outside the binaries of their expectations. I hate how knowing who you are is defined as wrong if knowing who you are means understanding gender on a dimension that’s not outlined in the popular books or belief systems.
Unfortunately, all we can do is keep living, praying for people to come along that fill us with hope and offer opportunities where others have considered our existence a risk.
You have a place in creating this hope when you work on talent and HR teams, but it doesn’t start with pride month or celebrating Trans Visibility Awareness Day as we did earlier this week. It starts with training hiring managers. It begins at addressing bias head-on, having hard conversations, and being uncomfortably honest.
Most people aren’t trained to take on hard conversations or to tell the truth in the hiring process. This week’s blog is about how you can coach your managers to have those conversations honestly. It is important. It can open doors for people who walk this earth with a constant fear of not fitting in, not because of their egos but because statistically, they have never been given an advantage. Even more so, I hope every day we will do what it takes to open the door a little bit more for someone.
I promise I’ll hold that door open until they get here and use the blessing of Three Ears Media to invest in them. I have faith that they’ll pay it forward and hold the door open for someone else. Then someday, we’ll bust that door down. We’ll make this world a safer place to live, to love, and to exist - at work and everywhere else.