Information Age is pleased to bring you this Diversity and Inclusion series, celebrating the glorious fabric of professionals that make up the IT sector.

This week, Jeanene Williams, Deputy Manager of Software Development at IT Vision, discusses her experience coming out as a transgender woman in her workplace.

IT Vision is a Western Australian business that has been developing Digital Enterprise Solutions for local government and similar industries for 30 years.

Jeanene is sharing her story to show that even smaller organisations and their staff can embrace the benefit from good diversity practices without the resources and budget that larger companies often have.

I started my career in software development back in 1987 in what was a very male-dominated industry.

All developers were expected to be the stereotypical scruffy haired guy who sat in the back room and put in 80 hours a week, only coming out for pizza and beer.

I don’t think I even heard the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ used in conjunction with our industry for the first 25 years of my working life.

By 2012, I was working in executive management in a public company in charge of all development and IT operations when I started to realise things weren’t really right in my life, so I decided to go out on my own and start a contracting and consulting business.

For the next 4 years I did very well and won a number of contracts, but I was still not comfortable with my life in general.

I started coming to the realisation that I had spent most of my life being someone who I wasn’t.

I finally decided that I needed to come out as who I really was and started the slow process of discovery which would eventually lead to my transition.

This was a very stressful time – being a contractor in a male-dominated industry with little diversity didn’t seem like the right career option for me.

I decided to apply for a more permanent and less stressful job, even though it meant a backwards step in both pay and position. This is where my journey with IT Vision began.

Whilst I had not yet come out publicly, when applying for jobs and going to interviews I was very conscious of how the organisation looked and how they would react when I eventually came out.

When applying for jobs, I looked closely at the organisation and didn’t bother applying for positions when I didn’t get “good vibes” about a company.

In the instances where I did apply and was offered an interview, I noticed mainly white male employees and management – so I turned down any offers.

I later learned that this is a very common reaction where women and people in underrepresented groups actively steer away from organisations where they do not see people like themselves.

Perfect match

The first thing I noticed about IT Vision was the difference in its job ads.

Instead of multiple “essential” criteria, they showed they were interested in candidates with more diverse experience, even in areas that didn’t match exactly what they needed for the role.

This gave me enough confidence to move forward in the process knowing they weren’t completely rigid like many other organisations.

From here, I applied for the position and was given a phone interview, followed by an in-person meeting with the Development Manager.

Both experiences were very positive and while waiting for an interview in its offices, I was able to see staff coming and going to the break room – a large percentage were either women or of different ethnicity.

This showed me two things: firstly that they were diverse in culture, and secondly that they weren’t “scared” of outsiders seeing the staff.

I would later find out that almost half their staff were women which is almost unheard of in our industry.

From there I had another meeting with the CEO and was offered the job.

IT Vision also had a few simple but very effective policies that made diversity a lot easier as well.

One of the biggest of these was flexibility around working from home (long before COVID-19 times!).

Several staff would work from home on set days of the week, allowing them to share care of dependants.

This opportunity was used by both male and female staff and by those who had children or elderly dependants.

In some special cases, staff have been allowed to work from home permanently where they are a sole carer, and some staff only work 4 days a week or reduced hours.

Initiatives like this are particularly supportive for allowing people with children to stay in the workplace, and by making it gender independent, does not discriminate against same sex partnerships, single parents or where both parents share care.

IT Vision also has a very active social club that is run by employees. Events hosted by the club are very family orientated and targeted at all ages.

Even those who don’t want to be direct members of the social club are able to participate on an ad-hoc basis.

By having family-orientated events, it encourages social interaction and support for all staff rather than just those who want to go out for a drink after work.

Coming out at work

One of the biggest impacts for me personally though has been by the supportive nature of management and staff during my journey.

This started when I first went to my direct manager who was very supportive and asked what he could do to support me.

From there, I spoke to my direct team members one at a time letting each of them know.

The reaction from all was again entirely positive, with offers of support and a lot of hugs.

After this, COVID-19 hit and we went into lockdown.

This slowed my journey for a bit but also gave me the time to sort things out personally, change my name and be ready to come out to the rest of the organisation and the world.

When it looked like we would soon return to the office, I spoke to our HR team to update my name and details formally and they asked how I would like to handle telling the rest of the organisation.

They were very supportive and wanted to work with me to minimise any stress or anxiety on my side and reiterated that I had their full support and to talk to them if there were any issues at all during my transition.

We decided that the best way would be to introduce my changes to the entire organisation at once just before we all returned to the office. That week our CEO put a nice paragraph in our weekly newsletter introducing me under my new name and offering the support of the organisation.

I will always remember one simple line from that paragraph: “We are pleased to support Jeanene’s choices and manner in which she chooses to live and celebrate her life.”

With that as my introduction to the wider organisation, when I came back to work after lockdown lifted I was accepted by everyone and haven’t had a single negative experience at work at all.

Everyone made a huge effort to get my name and pronunciation right and occasional minor slips were immediately met with apologies.

This experience and level of support received was so positive that it gave me a great deal of confidence to share my story outside the direct work environment.

I have since been appointed to the Australian Computer Society’s (ACS) National Diversity and Inclusion Council and have been included in the Outsystems worldwide software development community as an Outsystems Champion.

To this day, my experience at work is still super positive and I believe it has worked for both my own benefit and also that of IT Vision.

This experience is something that I try to share to show what organisations of any size can do to support diversity in their staff regardless of gender, orientation or beliefs.

About my employer

IT Vision is a Western Australian business that has been developing Digital Enterprise Solutions for local government and similar industries for 30 years.

Over 200 customers use IT Vision’s flagship ERP software, SynergySoft, and more recent Altus cloud solution, to assist with the everyday needs of council staff.

Software developed by IT Vision supports day-to-day business processes such as payroll, procurement, records and customer service.

Other software systems are tailored specifically to local government processes such as rates, ranger services and tourism.

When IT Vision began in Perth in 1991, the company consisted of just four employees. The organisation has grown steadily over the past three decades, with a team of 80 staff located in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria.

Many small to medium scale business are unsure on how best to promote diversity in the workplace, with more limited resources and skilled personnel than large corporations.

For IT Vision, the focus is on culture and fostering an inclusive, flexible workplace.

IT Vision’s workforce is very multi-cultural and currently 46% female, well above the 29% average for technology-related positions Australia-wide (ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse Report 2021).

This Diversity and Inclusion series is brought to you by the ACS National Diversity and Inclusion Council (NDIC). The role of NDIC is to provide strategic advice addressing challenges related to diversity and inclusion within both ACS and wider technology community.

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