Joan Westenberg, the founder of agency and creative capital fund Studio Self, is a transgender woman, and developed transgenderinclusion.com, an open source trans inclusion policy, which is now used by hundreds of technology companies and venture capital funds globally.
With almost two thirds of Australians saying they conceal parts of their identity when at work, and recent research finding 61% of queer employees hide their sexual orientation at work, the broad uptake of Joan’s initiative should come as no surprise while many employers are still navigating how to become truly inclusive for transgender employees.
In this interview, Joan shares what the response to transgenderinclusion.com has been like so far, and how she has noticed changes in corporate views towards transgender issues in recent years.
- What kind of feedback have you been receiving since launching transgenderinclusion.com?
The support I’ve had honestly took me by surprise. People from some of Australia’s largest tech companies have reached out to talk about how they’ve drawn from the policy, and how it’s helped to inspire the work they’re doing in diversity and inclusion; and we’re talking about billion dollar unicorns. The feedback I’ve had is that this is making a difference. It is a way for people to reach the levels of support in their career that they deserve. But it’s also an opportunity for companies and workplaces to stand up and be the best version of themselves.
- Was this expected, or did you expect a different response? Why?
It’s always frightening, launching a new product as a marginalised person. And to be honest, there was a little bit of a negative backlash from transphobic trolls. I received the usual death and torture threats from various insecure bigot types. But overall, I think the positive response I had is what I both expected and hoped for. I am a firm believer that most humans are good people, who want you to be yourself, and will love you, whoever you are.
- How are you seeing views around transgender issues evolving in corporate settings?
I think we’re reaching a point where people no longer feel like coming out as transgender in a workplace means the end of your career. And that’s a monumental shift. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I know there’s often complaints from various folks about rainbow capitalism or corporations being involved in pride, but the reality is that shift in the workplace means there are opportunities for trans people who might not have had a job or a way to live and feed themselves a couple of decades ago.
- What do you see as the biggest misconception about transgender inclusion in the workplace today? Is this different to misconceptions around transgender inclusion in recent years?
I think the misconception is that trans inclusion is hard. But it really isn’t. It’s just about offering folks the basic levels of human respect, love, care and dignity that we all deserve.
About the expert
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian PR director, contemporary writer, angel investor and creative. Joan is the founder and CEO of PR and communications firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, sharing notes on growing as a creative, a founder, an investor and a human being.
Image description: Joan is holding and speaking into a microphone on stage in front of a projector screen. She is wearing a black blouse, has curly, black, shoulder-length hair, and is wearing black-rimmed glasses, a gold, heart-shaped necklace, and a black watch.