Trans issues are a mystery for many firms. But at Barclays two transgender champions are paying the bank back for the support they’ve had by transforming its approach to trans customers.
Amy Stanning is 52 and spent most of her life pretending to be something she wasn’t – a man.
She transitioned only four years ago, while holding down a high-profile job as a senior Barclays manager in the mortgage business in the UK.
She says: ‘I knew I was different at quite an early age – six or seven – and knew I was transgender, though I wouldn’t put it in those terms, at 12.
‘You hear the classic stereotype about being trapped in the wrong body. It wasn’t so much like that, it was more a feeling of being very different and that was quite isolating.
‘I had a sense I wanted to escape. But where to escape? So cross-dressing was a part of that and that gave a sense of feeling at ease. There were times when I was quite young when I would pretend my body was different.
‘I buried it a very long way down. I just thought I had to endure it, to try and beat it. I tried to lead the life I thought I should lead.
‘Coming to terms with who I really was and what I needed to do was quite a gradual process. And there was nobody to talk to, no help. In the days before the internet you just thought there was nobody else like you.’
Stanning has worked for Barclays for 31 years but at first feared she may lose her job if she told the bank she was transgender.
‘I approached HR at first and it was a hugely scary thing because it is self-revelatory. It is stripping yourself completely bare, right back to the bones and it’s hugely sensitive and emotional to do that.
‘My colleagues, my boss, everyone around me knew me as a bloke and I was saying “that’s not me”.
‘I talked to my HR business partner and she was absolutely fab. She was very surprised but then said: “Ok, we’ve got to work out what to do to help you.”
‘We met again a week later and she had done her research, talked to the Gender Trust and used the HR community to brief herself.’
As a manager of 240 people, Stanning’s ‘coming out’ was carefully choreographed.
‘We arranged a couple of meetings with colleagues and I had a planned script. I had HR with my boss and me and I told my story and said I was going to transition and change my name. I then withdrew from the room and the meetings continued.
‘I was then away on holiday for two weeks and in my absence we ran a series of workshops which the Gender Trust facilitated, so they could ask all the embarrassing questions to an expert without me being there.
‘When I came back from holiday, the ground had been prepared, my PA had provided me with a new uniform and I had a normal day back at work. There were some humorous moments, the first person to use the wrong pronoun was me….
‘There was a time when it was probably the talk of that part of the business. I was visiting four or five locations each week. The first time I would go somewhere, people were quite curious, what does she look like?
‘But very soon it became old news. And I never had a single episode of people being deliberately unpleasant or rude. There were misused pronouns for a while but that was all entirely accidental and most people were hugely affirming and I got lots of lovely messages.
‘This big secret I was dragging around with me had gone. It felt almost physical. I just felt like I had put this huge burden down. I certainly feel more relaxed in what I’m doing. I find it much easier to relate to people.’
Stanning also drew support and friendship from Spectrum, Barclays’ innovative LGBT employees’ network.
She says: ‘What we are trying to do through Spectrum now is put the T into LGBT. We are working with HR and business leadership to talk about the trans experience and what it’s like for our colleagues and customers.’
Now Stanning helps field enquiries from all over the business about how to look after transgender customers and is working to raise trans awareness among colleagues.
‘I am hugely proud of the organization,’ she says. ‘Spectrum gets a great press and is well respected and is pushing beyond the LGBT and into the T and saying it is a great place to work.’
Sionice-Louise Ross, 32, started working with Barclays a little over five years ago. As a natural people person, she’s made a big impact – particularly for transgender customers.
‘Before Barclays I had flitted from one job to the next,’ she confides. ‘It is quite a common story among trans people they don’t find a career until they have settled into themselves.
‘I had actually transitioned when I was 17. I changed my name and moved to Spain as a trained dancer and spent six months getting to grips with myself. I came back to the UK and from then on have always been Sionice.
‘I started as a Barclays cashier five years ago but I realized it was the wrong position for me, so I became a personal banker and built some fantastic relationships with my customers, which led me into my current role as assistant branch manager.
‘I work with the general public on a daily basis and I am very open and I would say 50% of my customers know I am trans. That speaks volumes.’
Colleagues at Barclays knew she was transgender, but she hadn’t had her surgery.
‘I have a very different story to tell than a lot of trans people. I have always been very vocal and proud of not only who I am but also what I am.
‘When I mentioned to my line manager I was going to be having gender reassignment surgery, he didn’t know where to go for support but said “I don’t know much about this but I’m going to try my best to help you.”
‘My initial expectation was I was going to be off work for three months. But I had life threatening complications on two separate occasions so I was off work for six months the first time, then went back to work for seven months and had a further five months off.
‘Throughout that time I had constant support from my line manger and my team members. I was sent balloons by my area director and was really cared for by my senior leaders.
‘When you are off for a long time and are in hospital, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your career is going down the pan and I actually was promoted into the assistant branch manager role [in Oxford, England] following all that.’
Now Ross is taking the ‘genuine passion’ she says Barclays has for the LGBT community and using it to help other colleagues and customers.
‘Until four years ago I would have said trans men, trans women and non gender-binary individuals almost faced prejudice within the LGB community. But I have had outstanding support from Spectrum, our LGBT network, almost a hunger to improve their knowledge.
‘On 13 November there is going to be a transgender awareness event for colleagues [at the London head office] to get an inside view of what it is to be trans and what it could mean in the workplace.
‘In my eyes every single member of Barclays staff needs to be aware of some of the issues a trans customer or colleague face. Hopefully they will spread the knowledge and be advocates for improving the workplace for the trans community.’
Aside of working on this event with Stanning, Ross has been improving the information available to front-line Barclays staff for trans customers. She helped update their internal digital guide to the bank’s polices and procedures.
‘Whenever I get an email or a telephone call it usually starts with “this may be a silly question” but it is never a silly question because it needs to be answered and the fact you can ask it of me is so crucial,’ she says.
And Ross has been examining times where customers haven’t been dealt with as well as Barclays would like, so they can improve – like changing systems so they can choose ‘Mx’ rather than ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ on an online form.
‘Barclays’ LGBT agenda at the moment is so key and is global. It is really impressive the level of passion and sincerity where they want to get it right,’ she says.
‘We are learning from our mistakes and now are preventing those mistakes by listening and acting on what our customers and colleagues are saying.’
This article was sponsored by Barclays.