Q&A: MVP Karen Payne Talks With Us About Being A Transgender Woman In Tech 

If you were at last year’s MVP Global Summit, you might remember Karen Payne. The VSDT MVP presented at the Summit’s very first Diversity & Inclusion Reception about her experience as a transgender woman in tech, and how she mentors others to meet their full potential. Her story has also been featured on The New York Times

We had the chance to speak with Karen about her success and challenges at work, the impact of her presentation at the Summit, and how she advocates for women and people who are LGBT.  

You wrote in your blog that your perspective allows you to advocate for women,  as well as the gay and transgender community. In what ways do you advocate?   

In the company I work for, they have “work out of class” positions. [This can allow] a business employee to work in the IT section for a six-month to one-year rotation. This provides me the opportunity to encourage employees to apply. I tend to focus on women, as they are less likely to apply than men. Encouragement in some cases is not enough, so I will inform them that our company offers to pay for schooling in full if they receive A grades. 

I’m the only transgender person in my company - unless they are good at keeping this to themselves - so I have not had the chance to assist them. If they have worked for our company in the past two years, they would know who I am. I elected to send a company-wide email informing all that I had undergone surgery. 

Outside of work I belong to two local crossdresser/transgender/gay/lesbian groups. I advocate for them...with many forms of support. [Many of these people] are low income...and take low paying positions to keep a low profile. I encourage them to research for grants that offer a way to obtain a decent paying job. For those who appear to have the aptitude for working in IT, I’ll entice them by telling them about...the rewards of working in IT.  

You spoke last year at the MVP Summit about diversity and the inclusion of women andthe LGBT community. What were your top three takeaways from the presentation?  

I first eased into the topic of transgender by talking...about the challenges for women in the workplace. In my position, it seemed I was being treated no different than cisgender women. For instance, the male co-workers will do things together and in some cases, exclude women.  

About the third [question], I mentioned that I had fully transitioned in the workplace and had surgeries. [I] explained to the audience that by taking proper steps, I’m proof that not only myself but others can follow in a similar fashion. I think the majority of the audience clapped after that. After the session was over I was asked by a handful of people various questions that were not asked in the session -  along with many congratulating me.  

Statistically speaking, I can’t imagine I’m the only [transgender person in the program] so hopefully another might come forward. Yet, I don’t blame them [if they don’t] - the average transgender who has transitioned typically does not want to be known as someone who has transitioned, but instead simply blend in.  

What success have you had in your work? What about challenges?  

I’m called upon to do tasks that I’m deemed to be proficient at. Most recently, [I collaborated] with another developer to completely remove Azure security...from a very large business solution [and move to] to Azure B2C, which had a hard deadline and was hit on time.    

Do you have anything else to add?   

Overall, I believe my transition in the workplace is a success for the most part. I laid out my plans months prior...to coming out. Out of 1,000 employees in our company, I have interacted personally with at least a quarter of them. And out of them, perhaps five were biased to what I did surgically. 

People who were biased simply stopped talking to me. So I felt the best course of action was to...say hello if I passed them by - 90 percent of the time they said hello back, that’s it. One of them did finally come around. My number one tip is to expect one or more [people] to be biased. Some are open to change, while others are not open to change. 

If there are others like me out there in the community, [I’d like them to be] aware of me and have someone to ask questions to, no matter what the topic - like ‘how can I transition in the field of technology?’.  

If I had it my way I would travel, setup sessions to speak to LGBT communities in regard to technology as a career. Yet with a full-time job, that is not possible. So I advocate locally whenever possible. 

This post was edited and condensed by the MVP Award Blog.