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Not a transgender woman engineer, not a woman engineer, but an engineer

For transgender people starting a new job or reentering the workforce, in addition to the usual challenge of getting up to speed of a new job, there is also the challenge of still having to learn the nuances of social and professional interactions in their new lived gender.

Transgender people, especially those who grew up in a different time and transitioned later in life, lack the life lessons and experience that cisgender people have, having been socialized while living in a different gender. Upon starting their transition to live as their innate gender, transgender people would have to take a condensed accelerated course in social norms, expectations, and mores that align with their new gender. They have to learn in short order what cisgender people have had a lifetime to learn.

Even though we know our innate gender, we don't have the socialization and experience that come with a lifetime of living in that gender. We certainly lack that experience in a professional setting. A lot of interpersonal interaction is common sense and simply about being a good human being, but there are nuances that one can only learn by trial and error. In my case, I think work environments have played a significant role in shaping my progress.

When I came out and transitioned to live as a woman, I was a software engineer at a medium size start-up company. Soon after my transition, I had the opportunity to go work for a fashion designer. Tailoring and pattern making had been one of my lifelong interests, so when that opportunity came along, I jumped at it. I worked for the designer for a couple of years, being their pattern maker as well as managing their tailoring operations. Along the way, I also did some runway modeling.

As it was, I had had very little experience as a woman working in tech by that time. And I have to say, what little experience I had wasn't entirely favorable, being a minority, older, woman engineer in a start-up company where the employee demographic trended toward the younger end of the spectrum.

When I decided to resume my software engineering career, I was fortunate enough to land at IBM via its Tech Re-Entry program, a program designed for professionals seeking to reenter the workforce after a career hiatus.

My group at IBM consists of seasoned engineering professionals, many with doctorate degrees in their field. Maturity and experience might equate to more entrenched ideas and viewpoints. In my group, it also means more grace, more respect for colleagues' skills, experience, and viewpoints. All that afforded me generous guardrails within which I could acclimate to being a woman professional. Nonetheless, I still had to learn and relearn a few things.

I think the most important lesson I learned was to be grounded about who I am, to not think of myself as a transgender woman engineer, not as a woman engineer, but just as an engineer. My skills, knowledge, and experience didn't change just because my life changed to align with my gender identity.

Additionally, I had to learn to practice self-care. Problems and challenges will be there regardless of whether I take care of myself! Additionally, self-care is a practice that can benefit everybody, not just someone in my situation. The sooner it's learned and adopted, the better off one will be. My self-care might be spending time with those I enjoy spending time with or putting aside some time to do my sewing or to do fashion design.

For me, being grounded about who I am, and valuing myself and my wellbeing by not neglecting self-care, had the most positive impact on the relaunch of my career.

Read Anna Nguyen's iRelaunched Success Story here and listen in to this interview with Anna at PowerToFly's June 2021 Pride at Work Summit about her amazing career journey!

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