Why I chose to be a trans role model
March 30, 2021
Accenture Master Technology Architect, Sarah Weaver, came out as a trans woman to half a million people and has used her leadership platform to show it’s possible to be trans and still have a senior career. Read her inspiring story.
As a child, I knew that something about me was different. Everyone around me thought I was a boy, yet in my heart, I knew that I was a girl. I didn’t have the language to describe how I felt, or what I knew. It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I heard the word transgender, it was the mid ‘80s, I knew immediately that it applied to me. The context of that usage was not positive – it drove me to bury my secret even more deeply.
Even through the ‘90s I had no positive transgender role models, I had transgender friends, and I saw how much they struggled to affirm their own identities (I look back now and realise how powerful those women truly were). So I made a conscious decision to “perform masculinity”, I threw myself into all the things that I had been taught that men are supposed to do.
Fast-forward 20 years, and while I had ticked those boxes and built a successful career, I wasn’t happy. I was depressed, I suffered from anxiety. I knew something had to give. In the end, my only choice was to accept myself and to do something about it.
Towards the end of 2019, I came out to some of my closest friends and colleagues and started the terrifying process of a medical transition. For months, I met with medical professionals who had never worked with transgender people, I felt like I was going around in circles. Finally, after recommendations from the trans community, I found a new GP. Within weeks I had found a good psychologist and started hormone replacement therapy.
Hormones are weird, when they’re doing what they’re supposed to, our bodies and emotions behave exactly as we expect. When they are low, or high, or out of balance, they can effect everything that we understand about ourselves – our emotions, our physiology, our brain chemistry. Getting the levels right takes time. Within weeks of starting, I was depressed, I cried a lot, I had no energy. I was scared and confused, and I went to a very dark place in my head. At the same time, COVID hit and Melbourne went into lockdown, adding another layer of turmoil to my life.
At first, I had planned to transition with stealth. The scariest thing as a trans person is the fear of being rejected and losing everything. So, I’d planned to wear baggy clothes for a year or two and hide my personal journey from my professional world. I’m a Master Technology Architect – one of only 170 in Accenture’s 500,000-strong workforce. As a leader with a reasonably high profile, my immediate instinct was to hide what I was going through.
Hiding who I was became more difficult, I found I needed support from Accenture. I started by reaching out to our local Australian PRIDE network, which led me to a global trans and gender diverse support network, and finally a late night call with an MD in Canada, a Senior Manager in London over a glass of Pinot Noir. These two amazing trans women were out and confident and so inspiring. Within minutes in that conversation, they became the first people that I told what I’d always known was my real name: Sarah.
They also helped me to see that, as senior, visibly trans people in Accenture, we had the influence and the networks to make a difference for all the other trans people in the business. By being visible I could show our junior staff that you can be trans and still have a career, and be respected in our organisation.
In July 2020, I came out on Facebook to my friends, completely forgetting that my boss – ANZ Technology Lead, Scott Hahn – was one of them. Scott sent me a fantastic message: “I read your post. Whatever you need, I’m here from you.” In a later phone call, he reiterated his support and told me I was the sort of inspirational leader he wanted to be. It meant a lot.
I agreed to speak at a global Trans Awareness Week event under the name Sarah Weaver. I realised no one would know who that was! I sent an email to my global leadership network – 40 senior managing directors – telling them my story and my intention to transition in plain sight. The responses were amazing. Adam Burden, global lead for Intelligent Engineering Services, wrote “Your experience personifies why we love this place… let there be change indeed. I am filled with pride and hope today, 2020 may yet turn out to be a good year.” Other supportive emails asked about my preferred name and pronouns.
I’d updated the leadership team, but now I urgently needed to change my email and name inside the company. Everyone rallied round. An MD in Europe set up a team to make sure it went smoothly – we’d just changed a swathe of our internal systems. In Accenture speak, “My go live date had moved forward, and we, as always, were going to deliver.”
Eight hours before the global panel that launched transgender awareness week – and my coming out in front of half a million people – I officially became “Sarah at Accenture”.
That week, I shared my journey with a global audience, helped run transgender 101 sessions for ANZ and led a Town Hall for the people in my part of the business. (So, not as stealthy as I’d imagined!)
Along with all of this, in April I’d taken over running our Analysts program, 200 young people in the business have watched month to month as my body has changed, my hair grew out and my confidence increased. They’ve proved to be an incredibly accepting and supporting bunch of people.
The whole process has just been amazing! I haven’t had a single bad reaction from the people I work with.
My client has also been incredibly supportive. I started with them in October 2020. Six weeks later, my name changed. There was a weird time where Accenture people were calling me Sarah internally but the same people were using my other name in external calls. It was painful being called by the wrong name and pronouns.
Our Pride network worked with theirs, we helped them run transgender awareness training, and we soon had full support from their senior executives. I took annual leave in December, by the time I got back to work, the client team had changed my name, email and login details and shipped me a new laptop. It was a really positive experience.
I started this process feeling lost and alone. I knew that I may need to give up everything that I have built in my life, as so many transgender people do when they come out. Now I realise, I work for an amazing organisation that lifts up trans people, supports them through the transition process and gives them opportunity.
At Accenture, I can be myself. I’m a little over a year into my journey – and I’m feeling better and better about where I am every day. My colleagues have supported me every step of the way, through the highs and lows while I found my authentic self.
In the last six months, I’ve taken massive steps in my transition and now present as female full time. I have a new birth certificate, drivers license and credit cards. Having this incredible organisation behind me has given me the confidence to come this far.