Article

Living Authentically: A Journey to Yourself


WORK180Jun 30, 2020

Charlie Patchett never wanted to be the poster person for diversity at Programmed. But by choosing her authentic life and deciding to proactively deal with people’s potential misconceptions, she now does transgender awareness sessions at work and talks openly about her experience.

After years of highs and lows in fulfilling her self-identity, Charlie now has a job she loves, a happy family life and lives as her authentic self.

Achieving Career Success

Charlie has a varied, interesting background. She joined the UK postal service at age 17, then went to Bosnia with the army reserves, then took part in a management training plan and worked in project management. She completed an Open University degree while working full time with two small children, and said,

“I got sick with stress and chronic pain, all linked to not being able to live my authentic self and internalised stress. Due to the increasing amounts of pain medication I was on, I became addicted to them. This was taking such a toll on my health and wellbeing, I medically retired so I could focus on looking at ways to live authentically as my true self.”

After working through getting better, Charlie took roles in Project Management at a gas utility and a financial services company. She them moved to Australia with her family and joined Programmed as a Mobilisation Coordinator. Four years later she’s the National Mobilisation Manager.

“When Programmed win a new contract it’s my job to go and set that contact up. It usually takes around three months to recruit the leadership team, transition incumbent employees, organise trainings, uniforms, systems, tools, equipment, and setting up new offices. It’s like setting up a brand new business every time!”

“It’s a very diverse role and I like that. Nothing’s ever the same. I’ve managed to travel all across Australia and mobilise contracts across Western Australia, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and ACT. It’s been really fulfilling.”

When I asked her what tips she would offer to someone wanting to follow a similar successful career path to leadership, Charlie recommends,

“Just be open to new experiences and learn from those who know the particular environment. It’s also important to listen to people and recognise that mobilisations are a very stressful occurrence. Therefore being approachable, understanding and recognising when the health and welfare of both yourself and the team requires particular attention."

A particular focus of Charlie’s during new team recruitment is to use her position to affect change,

“I’m always trying to push for a diverse mix. In facilities management there can be a lot of men, so I try to bring women into the business, especially into leadership roles - it is very important. However in order to get through the initial stages of a new contract it’s also important to have people who can quickly gel and work together.”

Programmed pride themselves in creating a diverse workforce, so Charlie’s efforts are generally supported.

Deciding to Transition

Having settled into her job, with her wife and children enjoying living in Australia, Charlie was “99% happy". “We came here to make a new life for ourselves and the final 1% was impacting my quality of life. I wasn’t enjoying being me. When you’re not living authentically you don’t have authentic relationships at work.”

She first discussed transitioning with her wife fifteen years ago, and four years ago Charlie decided to commence medical transition. Charlie explained that transitioning is a staged process. Hormones and laser therapy gave her more of a female look, but,

“You can’t just go one day from saying ‘I’m male’ to ‘I’m female’, there has to be a process in between. That’s when I built a network of support with colleagues I trust across the business. Then when there had been enough changes, I could tell everybody.”

Charlie vulnerably shared,

You have gender dysphoria. You see a reflection of the shell that you walk around in and know it’s not you. Once that changes and you do start seeing the real you in reflections it can be quite euphoric. I used to cry because I didn’t look right, and then I started crying for a whole different reason. One day I thought, ‘Why am I crying? It’s because I’m happy!’ I’d never had that before.

Encouraging Authenticity

Programmed created an environment where Charlie felt safe being open about her transition. To foster an environment where authenticity is encouraged, Charlie has a few suggestions;

  • Nurture an environment where people can be open.
  • As a leader it’s important that you develop an environment where people can share their vulnerability. Building a supportive atmosphere is invaluable as we spend a large chunk of our lives at work and we don’t just turn off a switch and leave it at the door when we start work each day.
  • It’s a journey that one person doesn’t take on their own – everyone else needs to transition too.

On her own journey, Charlie she says openness has played an important role. “People have seen that I’m vulnerable, and I’ve had so much feedback from the [awareness] sessions that people have questioned what part of their own journey they are on and how they can live authentically.”

She also shares, “It’s not inspirational just to be yourself, it’s really a matter of being honest.”

Building a Supporting Environment

Charlie leads transgender awareness sessions at Programmed offices and client sites, to help people understand how they can better adapt their environments and work culture. Increasing understanding and awareness will result in better support for the next person who decides to transition at work.

In the sessions she talks about the transition timeline, what it’s like to be transgender, identity and self- perception, guidance for providing a better environment, questions you should and shouldn’t ask (for example, asking preferred pronouns is ok, but asking sexual orientation is not).

When creating strong work cultures, Charlie recommends focusing on:

  • Inclusive behaviours (eg. at Programmed people have the opportunity to display their pronouns in their email signature).
  • Being attentive and understanding people have diverse identities and genders.
  • Treating people as individuals rather than a label.
  • Recognising that everyone is different, and therefore all transition journeys are different.

At this stage in her journey, Charlie shares,

“It’s been amazing, I’m really happy where I am and I’m very comfortable with the skin I’m in now. It’s not just the people at Programmed who’ve been on the journey with me it’s the clients as well, which is why I’ve started running the awareness sessions at client sites.”

“Programmed have great people and a great culture. That’s why I ‘m still here and why so many people love working for Programmed.”

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