The average person dreams of making a dent in their bucket list by traveling around the world at least once in their lifetime, but a whopping seven times around the globe in one year, even to the most avid traveler can seem far out of reach. Notably, this is reality for Andi, who singularly racked up 300,000 miles alone in 2019.
For the past 12 years, Andi has been leading a passionate career in public health, where she currently serves as program manager for the Biological Threat Reduction Program. Through her work, she is at the forefront of helping foreign ministries of epidemiology and agriculture advance their electronic disease surveillance capabilities and trace pathogens by implementing software and training protocols.
Ironically, when Andi initially pondered switching seats in her career, she dreamt of spending more time at home and less time hauling luggage through customs.
“I began my career at Accenture managing financial systems,” Andi explained. “I wanted to travel less because my kids were younger at the time and a friend recommended I check out this opportunity in public health.”
The biggest challenge she subsequently faced was not the intense travel schedule laid out ahead but the transition from commercial to government services. However, she immediately realized her new role was well worth it, because she was able to make an impact and continues to help usher nations of people into the digital age.
Communicating Across Borders
In many of the countries Andi travels to, before they can get down to business, they have to overcome certain cultural barriers—the biggest one being language.
“English is not as commonly known as you’d imagine,” Andi said. “Speaking from my experience traveling in the former Soviet Union, the older you are the more likely it is you speak Russian. And the younger you are, the probability increases that you have had exposure to English as a second language.”
And even with translators on board, communicating across borders can still present its fair share of challenges.
“When verbal communication is not having the impact we want, we leverage gestures and hand signs,” Andi said. “It always fascinating how sometimes the simplest of actions have the most lasting effects. Emotional intelligence plays an integral role into our interactions and the ability to read a room is an essential skill to possess.”
But, in addition to language barriers, Andi also acknowledges the additional pressures and insecurities she faced while traveling as a transgender female since making the transition in 2017.
“Early on, I avoided going to the bathroom because I didn’t know how comfortable they [foreign ministries] would be. I remember getting pulled back for extra questioning in certain countries, whether it was in transit or in customs coming and going, when things didn’t seem right to them,” Andi revealed.
Fast forward three years and Andi is as confident as they come—channeling her own rendition of Beyonce’s song, Flawless, day in and day out.
“At the start, you don’t have the confidence that you are who you are presenting as,” Andi admits. “As time passes, the more confidence you build and those negative, doubtful and fearful thoughts enter into the back of your head.”
An Ally at Work
Andi credits her leaders and peers throughout the company for being so supportive from the moment she engaged her team of her upcoming life change.
It’s for that reason—combined with her personal experiences—that she is heavily involved in initiatives such as ‘Out & Equal’, Grace Hopper Conference to celebrate women in computing, National Industry Liaison group for equality in the workplace, a Northrop Grumman Diversity and Inclusion Council, and even provides mentorship to transgender employees throughout Northrop Grumman.
“I am passionate about making sure Northrop Grumman is on the leading edge in what they are offering to take care of its people, especially transgender people,” Andi said. “For example, through my work with diversity and inclusion efforts, I have even been able to vocalize areas where we have opportunities to improve, in areas like benefits, to stay competitive with other major organizations.”
And unbothered by the thought of booking yet another flight, when Andi is not working with foreign ministries or spending time with her family, she devotes time to traveling to Northrop Grumman sites throughout the country to support transitioning colleagues.
But, given the travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19, instead of helping in person, Andi is sharing her experience virtually. Late this spring, Andi partnered with the diversity and inclusion team to provide awareness training to nearly 600 employees in Huntsville, Alabama to support a transitioning colleague.
“I am not done. I want to help other people,” Andi proudly declares. “I want to make sure our transgender colleagues, whether they are out publicly or keeping it private, or colleagues who have family members or friends going through the same situation, have a solid foot to stand on and are able to live an authentic experience that is true to who they are.”
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