Living Authentically

For transgender employees navigating work and life, PrIDA’s Gender Transitioning Program offers a helping hand.

By Nora Strumpf

When Jenna joined the Air Force in 1995, everything seemed to be going great. Stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, Jenna worked on weapons systems for the F-16 and spent the next four years excelling in her duties, even earning airman of the month twice.

But behind the surface, there was a much larger internal battle taking place – because Jenna was suppressing her true identity as a woman despite being assigned male at birth.

“There was a lot of keeping it inwards and not letting it show,” said Jenna, who is now a senior principal test engineer in Mission Systems. “There was an undercurrent of anger that you wouldn’t recognize was there. It was like a constant background noise that never ends up going away.”

Although Jenna knew that she was a female since she was eight years old, for many years she felt that she could not live authentically, in large part because she felt that the media negatively portrayed the transgender community.

But when she joined Northrop Grumman in 2015, Jenna decided to inform her supervisor that she was considering the possibility of transitioning, which was then followed by several years of self-exploration.

“It was something that had been bothering me for a long, long time. As I hesitated more and more, it got to a point where I had to do something about it.”

Then, in 2018, Jenna knew it was time — she was ready to come out to her colleagues as her true self.

A New Beginning

Through Northrop Grumman’s Gender Transitioning Program, an initiative established in the early 2000’s, members of the Pride in Diversity Alliance (PrIDA) as well as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Council assist employees alongside every step of their coming out journey.

“We work at the pace of the employee — however fast or slow they want to go,” said Heather Pray, MS HR business partner and sector chair for PrIDA, an employee resource group that supports LGBTQ+ employees and allies. “It’s personal and can be very heavy for a lot of people, because you don’t always know how it’s going be accepted.”

Just before Labor Day in 2018, members from the DE&I Council, along with a licensed therapist, met with Jenna’s teammates to explain her intent to transition. The meeting provided Jenna’s peers with a safe space to ask questions and to learn about the best ways to be supportive of their colleague.

Though Jenna did not attend the meeting, all of the information that was presented was thoroughly vetted by her ahead of time, as is the standard for anyone going through the process.

Jenna at Hershey Park on Northrop Grumman family day before she was full-time as Jenna.

“It was nerve-wracking wondering how everybody would react,” Jenna recalls of the day. “My anxiety was through the roof.”

Following the long weekend, a new name plate sat on Jenna’s desk upon her arrival and all her identity information was updated on the company network. For the very first time, Jenna was at work as her true self.

“That was one of the most nervous days I ever had, but at the same time, one of the most amazing ones. I had nothing but positive experiences,” she said.

“It was a great weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Making an Impact

Jenna isn’t alone in finding solace through the Gender Transitioning Program. Heather, who has now assisted more than 10 employees through the process, credits the program with helping well over 100 transgender and gender-nonconforming people as they navigate the day-to-day challenges of living authentically at work.

For employees like Jenna, coming out as transgender in the workplace can be daunting. But Heather, a member of the community and a non-binary individual who has spent the past four years facilitating the program, understands just how liberating that process can be.

“It brings me so much joy just to see the physical and emotional change that this person goes through,” she said. “The smiles and the tears of joy, honestly, that’s one of the biggest reasons why I do this, because it’s so impactful to somebody’s life. And if you can make a difference in someone’s life, that’s all we’re really here to do.”

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