“Quality work is genderless,” says Annayah Jean (AJ) Fernandez Rivera. “Do not limit yourself to society’s opinion of who you are.”
And when AJ says it, you know it’s the truth based on a lived experience.
Twenty years ago, when Accenture recruited her out of college, AJ asked, “What is the level of discrimination in the company? Is there a place for people like me?”
She still remembers the interviewer’s answer: “The company isn’t bothered about who you are, but, rather, on what you can contribute.”
It was the best answer she could have hoped for, and it’s an answer she shares far and wide.
You see, AJ is no ordinary woman. AJ is an out and proud transgender woman. It took years for her to publicly announce this part of her, but she’s determined to make it easier for others.
Annayah Jean (AJ) Fernandez Rivera
Journey to acceptance
“When I started my career more than two decades ago, the corporate world was a different place. It wasn’t ready for transwomen in the workplace.” She says, “It was easier to have a professional career by hiding that part of me. So, I lived a double life and pretended to be an effeminate queer boy at work.”
AJ started as a software analyst but was soon managing huge projects for companies like Marriott International, AMEX and Bank of America. Over the years, she has worked in our Virginia, Boston, Manchester and London offices. She even spearheaded the opening of a new office in her hometown of Cebu, Philippines.
By the early 2000s, the transgender movement was gaining momentum globally. Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) programs within the company were growing more important. AJ became increasingly active in local, regional and global I&D initiatives, helping to influence the company’s acceptance of gender and sexual identities outside just the gender binary spectrum.
Declaring her authentic self
Still disguising her own truth, AJ moved to our Toronto office in 2014. There, she’s had one success after another, from overseeing an acquisition to leading major engagements for clients like the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
A few years on, she felt it was the right time to declare her authentic female self. With the support of her boss, AJ informed her clients and colleagues about her gender identity. It could have been terrifying. But for AJ, “It felt like hope. I felt more creative, more productive, more energized. I could just breathe freely.”
“In most situations, we are our worst enemy. We limit our very own potential,” she says. “Break free from self-imposed limitations! You might surprise yourself!”
And surprised, she was. Most of her colleagues and clients overwhelmingly accepted and celebrated the news.
To be limitless means having the freedom to test boundaries. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail.
Her career didn’t skip a beat. Today, she’s Managing Director and Technology Products Lead for Accenture in Canada — as well as Technology Inclusion and Diversity Lead for Canada — an outspoken trans woman in technology and a leading 2SLGBTQ+ advocate and mentor at Accenture.
Helping others move past limits
“To be limitless means having the freedom to test boundaries,” she says. “Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail. It matters not how many times you succeed, but how you pick up from failures and then continue to push the boundaries further.”
AJ has led and sponsored initiatives working with Human Resources to review the company’s same-sex benefits and its benefits and guidelines for transitioning in the workplace. She’s developed education sessions about transgender parenthood, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
She’s not just advancing I&D within the company, but among our partners, clients and communities. You will find AJ speaking about I&D in conferences and panels and continuing to be a visible transgender woman in the industry.
Twenty-five years after she asked her interviewer the question, AJ has shown just how big a place there is in Accenture for people like her.