Inclusion & Belonging Specialist, SEE Change Happen
1. If you could write a brief note to your 13 year old self, what advice would you impart in it?
In all seriousness I would say don’t change a thing. But looking back, some things I reflect on are: try not to sweat the small stuff, be kinder to people, don’t prioritise work over family – the kids will grow up and you will regret the time you didn’t spend with them when working away.
2. At what age did you become an adult? What happened, and how did you know?
I’d have to say at around the age of 20. I joined the RAF at the age of 16, straight from school and – due to some really poor life choices – left 3 years later. It wasn’t until I understood the impact of those choices and had the chance to reestablish employment did I understand what it is to have something and to have lost it.
3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?
Over the past couple of years I have developed the habit to embrace empathy – to be willing to try and walk in the shoes of another, to be slow to judge and quick to listen. I changed the fundamental underpinning of my life through my gender change and this has made me realise the need to be embraced by the world, and, if I can, to return that back.
4. When was the last time you changed your mind about something really important? What was it and what lead you to change your view?
I’m always learning. I recognise that I have biases but that doesn’t stop me having them. I had to do a lot of research to understand the fundamentals of #allblacklivesmatter and not try and say ‘but I matter as well’. This was only through reading experiences from those impacted, looking at history and then reframing that this wasn’t about me in this instance. My campaigns are not at the expense of black lives, not instead of black lives but right now it’s important to amplify and be an ally to those whose moment is now.
5. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ for how people should interact with you, what would be the top three things that would be useful for them to know?
Haha…. (1) I think in pictures and visions, most of my consciousness is about mapping out and trying to predict outcomes and likely outcomes – sell me what you are looking for in a picture or with richness and let me share that vision and I will be able to. (2) I am soft on the inside, I love to be loved, I love to be embraced and valued. (3) I don’t suffer fools gladly – it takes all of my calmness sometimes to avoid poking some people in the eye 🙂
6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?
These days I understand that people form a first impression and see me a transgender woman as my primary persona, it’s ok I get that. It is human nature to judge, group and categories people as “like me” or “not like me”. What I find is that people tend to assume that I am a trans person who wants to talk about being trans all the time, hang out in queer spaces and talk about Ru Paul. In reality, whilst it is what I do a lot of in terms of training and speaking, I would much rather be recognised as a professional person, someone with nearly 30 years experiences founding and running businesses in IT. This is a not an insignificant life experience coupled with the fact I am a parent to two children and have also be the National President of a Club which is part of a global organisation.
“People tend to assume that I am a trans person who wants to talk about being trans all the time, hang out in queer spaces and talk about Ru Paul”
It makes me chuckle when I am in the queue at Sainsbury’s checking out, to be asked by the well-meaning person behind the till “Did I see that programme on telly the other night about transgender people” – why? Do they ask every person that question, or just me because I look trans? So being recognised as a trans person first and foremost is frustrating, but its ok – I know that some people want to do the right thing and start a conversation – I would much rather that than have some one run away from me on a train when the heard my voice when buying a coffee from the buffet trolley, but that is a whole different story. Being underestimated can be a superpower – it allows me to surprise people!
7. Have you always had the same political beliefs? If so, why do you think you have held them so long? If not, what event caused you to change your view?
My political beliefs tend to evolve – I am not sure I am comfortable with binary politics. I would much rather have consensus politics than opposition politics. There are some many great concepts in Socialism, Capitalism and Humanism that we need to pick a bit of each and blend them harmoniously. I really struggle when there are strong polarised views that seem irreconcilable – my instincts is to discuss and find a workable outcome, not flame or criticise – often democracy wins over personal views.
8. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What did you learn from the experience?
One moment stands out – I was in a bar after an all day conference and I became acutely aware that the men in the group were becoming more lecherous and flirty towards the women the more they’d had to drink and I could observe much of this behaviour unfolding – I was feeling left out because I realised 1) I didn’t actually want any attention, but most frustratingly 2) I wasn’t being chatted up – I felt an outsider, not sure of my part to play.
9. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?
Easy – I have found a love for OBS (software) and Video/Streaming production – to be able to look good on camera, produce my own professional looking content and also help others get to grip with it. It’s become quite obsessive and I am spending hours on YouTube learning and researching
10. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?
A comfy pair of shoes… I seem to have so many pairs that don’t quite fit, leave blisters or generally leave my feet feeling tired. New purchase of a memory foam soled pair of sketchers are a dream to walk in, like floating on air!
11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?
It would have to be a one like in Cheers – where everyone knows your name. A place where you can just turn up and be welcomed as an old friend, meet new people and they become your people… Long bar, plenty of people serving, clean toilets, comfy sofas and snugs to chill with friends, easy listening/country music in the background that you can sing along to if you so wish – plus a free to use duke box for singalong nights!
12. If you were to survive the zombie apocalypse, what role would you play in the new society that would follow?
I’d like to thing I would be the problem solver, the one that brings together people to look at ways to reinvent society – not having all the answers but able to give a voice to all to bring out the best in people.
13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?
It will take you at least 2 years to get your new venture off of the ground – keep on keeping on and stay laser focused
14. Tell me about that one project that was a total off-the-rails disaster? What was your role in that shitshow?
I was a co-organiser of a three day conference back in 2010.
On the final night (Saturday) there is traditionally a Black Tie gala dinner. The sh1t job is sorting the seating plan, no one really wants to do it. For some reason a friend – Dave – said he would do it. We all knew that Dave is as Flaky as F’ck and not to be relied on, but still it was a sh1t job and Dave said he’d do it. Normally we’d post the seating plan a few hours before so people could buy their wine and sort out their evening. Time passed… nothing… a phone call to Dave… “yes – just working on it won’t be long”…. time passed… a phone call to Dave… “I’m having issues, my computer crashed and all the plan has been lost, but I am still working on it”…. time passed… nothing…. 30 mins before sit down and we ended up having to keep the free bar open for longer – basically we chucked £2K at this to avoid a riot. Eventually Dave admitted he hadn’t done anything (he had some excuses equivalent to my dog ate my home work) – but we knew it was outside of his skill set. So we had to just tell everyone it was a bun fight to grab a table. The function was split over two rooms and early bookers had been promised to be seated in the “main room”… needless to say we had lots of really unhappy people, only mildly appeased by a free bar, complaining about their seating arrangements and how their friends were all over the place!
We’ll talk about “Dave and the seating plan” 10 years on and no doubt we will for another 10 or more years. My part was to trust Dave, and then to take the brunt of the unhappy feedback and to try and smile through it. Lesson learnt – avoid “Dave’s” or people who have beliefs greater than their capability
“For some reason, a friend – Dave – said he would do it”
15. Who was the best person you ever hired? Why were they so good?
I have run several businesses over the years as well as a career in corporate banking – I have hired and fired a fair few people. I value self starters, people who exceed expectations those who really thrive and shine – those are the ones you have to hang onto like a rodeo horse or they’ll be off if you don’t find the way to motivate and keep them fed with knowledge and learning opportunities – I hired this guy back in 2003 called, funny enough “Dave” – yes another one. He was a chef, a pissed off chef, he hated being a chef and wanted to get into IT Support when I ran my IT Support Company. He had zero experience in IT other than having a passion and thirst. I hired him and within weeks he got it, he really started to absorb everything – he was a great find. 10 years later he came in for an interview for role at another company I ran and I wanted to basically “just rehire him” – he turned me down, he had grown beyond what I could offer…. fair play to him and good luck!
16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? What was the situation?
I have certainly been in teams where I felt out of my depth… my technique is to recognise what skills I can bring, look for things that others can’t or don’t want to do and see if I can pick those up. Be happy to help… learn quick and be flexible and available. Importantly know my limits, but be willing to stretch (see previous answer about “Dave)
17. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?
I love people, but people scare me – the randomness, the difference of people, the fact there is no one right answer, everyone needs to be valued as an individual – it can be scary, you can’t always get it right – but some times you just have to make a decision and do it with the best of intentions.
“I love people, but people scare me”