by Rhonda Smith, Reporter, Bloomberg BNA | Erica M. Deuso holds two jobs at Johnson & Johnson: lean deployment analyst for strategic business improvement and gender transition liaison, an unpaid, though equally important, role.
As the liaison, Deuso volunteers as the ‘‘go- between’’ to assist line managers, human resources, and all other employees—about 129,000 worldwide—when a coworker transitions from one gender to another.
Deuso herself underwent a gender transition, with her first day at work as a female on Nov. 1, 2011. ‘‘I facilitate meetings with other people and guide the transitioner through the process,’’ she explained Oct. 31, during the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Baltimore.
‘‘There’s a process you go through in communication, telling other people and working through different problems that arise.’’
Companies such as Boeing and Google have gender transition liaisons, Deuso said. For a majority of employers, however, it is a relatively new concept.
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, an organization based in San Francisco that focuses on ending employment discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, sponsored the conference.
Gender Transition Guidelines. Deuso, who is based in Radnor, Pa., is updating Johnson & Johnson’s Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines, a 17-page document that outlines what is involved in the process, what health benefits are available through the company, and definitions of various terms. The guidelines, which have not been released publicly, are geared toward employees who are undergoing a gender transition as well as those who are not, but might have questions.
Jenna R. Cook, a manager in Johnson & Johnson’s regulatory medical writing division, began working at the company in 2005, and decided to transition from male to female in 2009. Cook told a human resources representative about her plan in early 2011.
‘‘My immediate manager, a member of the company’s Gay and Lesbian Organization for Business and Leadership (GLOBAL) affinity group, introduced me to Erica,’’ Cook said during her presentation with Deuso. ‘‘We started following Erica’s transition guidelines.’’
Meetings, Followed by Announcement. After Cook and Deuso met, various meetings took place with other managers at Johnson & Johnson, which operates 250 companies in 57 countries. The company, based in New Brunswick, N.J., makes consumer products, prescription medicines, and medical devices.
‘‘Working with management and HR, plans were made for staged announcements,’’ including to Cook’s colleagues in various countries. With assistance from her managers and HR, Cook made the grand announcement to her immediate co-workers Jan. 25, 2012.
‘‘I introduced myself as being transgendered and then illustrated why I was transitioning,’’ Cook said. ‘‘The response and support I received was unbelievable. I didn’t get chastised—no hate mail or anything.’’
Some of what Deuso and Cook experienced was similar, they said.
‘‘We both started out with HR being our ally,’’ Cook said. ‘‘We both told management long before actually transitioning.’’
But their experiences were not identical.
‘‘I did face a little bit of dissent from people I knew on a casual basis,’’ Deuso said. ‘‘There are three distinct groups: those who immediately accept, those who are indifferent, and those who are against it.’’
Nonetheless, neither Deuso nor Cook seemed to have any regrets.
Deuso noted that New Jersey’s law against employment discrimination includes protection against bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also, she said, Johnson & Johnson provides transgender employees with comprehensive medical coverage, through Aetna and Cigna, for care related to their transitions.
‘‘Every transition is different and entails different challenges,’’ Deuso said. ‘‘The key to a successful transition is not disrupting the business and keeping your end of the bargain.’’
Also, she said, ‘‘The most important facet to any transition is open, continuous, and visible management support.’’
Reproduced with permission from Human Resources Report, 30 HRR 1202 (Nov. 5, 2013). Copyright 2013 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033)