I came out as trans while CEO of my company. My only regret is not doing it sooner.

Wynne Nowland, trans CEO
Photo: Provided

Wynne Nowland is the CEO of insurance company Bradley & Parker.

I knew that what I was about to do was going to send shockwaves through the office, but I hit send on the email to my 70-person staff anyway. It stated, “I plan to begin working as Wynne starting this morning.”

Prior to that morning in 2017, people at the insurance brokerage firm where I am CEO knew me as Wayne. At the age of 56, a few months after being promoted to my new position, I decided it was time to live as my authentic self and begin my public transition.

That morning, I arrived at work in a woman’s pantsuit, pearls, and full makeup. The hair I was growing out was styled in a chic, tousled pixie. Though I was met with some raised eyebrows, the majority of the response was — and has remained — overwhelmingly positive.

While approximately 1.6 million people in the United States are transgender, an incredibly small portion of those are C-suite business leaders. I was well aware that with my announcement, I was placing myself in a position where I had very few peers with whom to commiserate. 

However, years later, I look back on those initial first days after sending that “coming out” email and feel a sense of peace. By coming out at work, I felt that I had fully and completely come out.

The lead-up to that day was fraught with an emotional tug-of-war within myself. The courage to transition was a slow progression. Even though I’d known that I was a woman since I was a child, it took nearly a lifetime to gather the strength to say “I can do this.”

I knew that I was controlling my own story by coming out the way I did. I had already been living as Wynne outside of work, but I still had concerns that if I were to run into anyone from the office at a restaurant or another public venue, I would no longer be in control. Word would spread, and the announcement wouldn’t happen the way I would prefer it to.

Insurance can be a very conservative business, so it’s been encouraging to witness my transition journey’s impact on my colleagues, coworkers, and clients. Some of my long-time business associates may have struggled at first with my pronouns or my name change, but through asking questions and being open and honest with them, many have had their eyes opened to the transgender experience. One coworker even came to my defense at a work conference, where someone who heard about my coming out decided to poke fun at my transition. 

In a political climate where literally hundreds of bills are being introduced that directly target who you are as a person, it can be easy to feel that the entire world is against you. Stories like that make me feel supported and give me hope for my community overall.

Yet, that isn’t to say everyone was overjoyed at the announcement. In fact, there were a couple of women at my firm who had concerns over my use of the ladies’ restroom, believing that with my tall stature, I would be able to see over the stall walls. After explaining that yes, I would be using the ladies’ restroom, but no, I wouldn’t be taking the opportunity to peek at them over the bathroom stall, they relaxed. 

As my announcement hit social media, there has been some negativity thrown my way. In all honesty, it’s to be expected, however unfortunate. It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that not everyone is supportive of the trans community — and many are very bold behind their computer screens — but, overall, I’d say that my coming out has been a positive experience. 

The impact my transition has had on me as a leader is palpable. I feel I can be far more effective and engaged now that I’m not struggling to juggle two personas. I can place all of my authenticity and abilities towards business, and my employees and team members can rest assured they are getting the real me. 

This is who I always was. I’m just living as that person out loud and unhidden. 

Now that we’re a few years removed from the initial shock of my announcement, my team clearly understands that I’m the exact same leader I was before. In fact, several people have told me that they feel more comfortable opening up to me than they did prior to my transition. By allowing myself to be vulnerable and honest with my team, I hope I’ve inspired them to be the same.

As for wider impact, I’ve had people in my same position — leaders struggling with whether to transition — reach out for advice. I tell all of them the same thing: don’t delay. Waiting until I was 56 to transition is one of my biggest regrets. I feel I wasted so much time when I could have been this “at peace” all along. 

I realize that my position is one of privilege, especially within the trans community. My coming-out story will differ significantly from that of a 20-year-old person of color, but every transition story is important and deserves to be told. 

The more people from all walks of life who feel comfortable sharing their stories, the better. When things become normalized, the more accepting others outside that community become. The trans community is under attack, and every positive transition story serves as needed positive exposure. 

It’s my hope that by being open, honest, and authentic, I can help others better understand the transgender experience. We are just like everyone else. We want to succeed at work, have friends, and enjoy our lives — all while comfortable in our skin and in an unabashedly joyful way.

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