Watercare “moving Beyond Diversity” with new trans policy
Following SBC’s 2021 Thriving People ‘Moving Beyond Diversity’ series of Hui, SBC speaks to Watercare’s Larisa Kamysheva about how this important mahi is continuing to thrive within their organisation.
In 2021, SBC ran its Thriving People ‘Moving Beyond Diversity’ series of Hui, where participants created experiments focused on building authentic, inclusive workplaces in which everyone feels a sense of belonging.
SBC spoke to CLC Signatory Watercare’s Larisa Kamysheva and Max Lawson about their ongoing mahi in this area, and their work to enhance the sense of belonging at Watercare through the development and implementation of a Transitioning Policy. A Transitioning Policy is a document that outlines an organisation’s approach to supporting employees who are transitioning or intending to transition genders. For Watercare this was not simply a policy process but rather an organisation-wide engagement that has positively influenced the culture for all Watercare staff.
Larisa you were involved in SBC’s Moving Beyond Diversity Hui last year. What was your experience of the Hui?
The series of workshops was aimed at building authentic and inclusive workplaces where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Through this Hui, we were introduced to the concept of design thinking and were given problem framing guidelines and an empathy plan, based on which we had to conduct empathy interviews with selected user groups. I was keen to interview our Diversity Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) committee members, as we have a wide range of gender and ethnically diverse staff members. Most of those people have been with Watercare for a long time. The process was to test ideas and define what would be a game changer for them in the workplace.
As part of the design thinking process each participant engaged in an empathy interview. What did you hear from your empathy interviews?
As my empathy interviewee, I chose Max Lawson who was a member of the DIB committee at the time
(Currently the Chair) and who has also been with Watercare for 9 years as Digital Support Manager. I was curious to get his idea of our current cultural environment at Watercare, and whether he felt a sense of belonging. Max is transgender and transitioned many years ago while working elsewhere.
Max indicated that having a Transitioning Policy would be beneficial for him but also all gender diverse people who choose to come and work for us. He wanted all Trans employees to feel supported and acknowledged so that they never had to experience what he went through when he first transitioned.
I asked Max questions such as, ‘Tell me about the last time you felt like you belong”?
To which Max replied, “I feel like I belong- always. I came to Watercare as a trans man, and I am very grounded and resilient. However, there is no support for trans people in the workplace. There are a lot of ignorant behaviours here.”
This conversation really inspired me, and I wanted to challenge our current status quo and implement Gender Transitioning at Work Policy. I drafted the Policy in August 2021, after weeks of research.
It included medical transition guidelines, information for People Leaders, dress code and use of bathrooms guidelines.
Even though it was not perfect, it was ours. Max helped me refine the Policy and it was presented to the GM of People and Capability (P&C). While waiting for the sign off, Max and I created a clear communication plan and additional content for education sessions.
One day before the Policy was officially signed off, we had a manager reach out to P&C asking for some direction on this topic. One of their reports was transitioning and the manager had no knowledge of the subject and what the first step would be.
This prompted me to reach out to the GM of P&C and enquire on the progress of the Policy. The very next day we received the news that the Policy was officially ratified.
It was a monumental achievement for Watercare. We could sense the shift that came with this Policy sign off. I do believe it was the catalyst that we all needed.
Since then, we have held an overview session with P&C Business partners and seven sessions attended by over 80 People Leaders.
The intranet story on our Transitioning Policy implementation was a huge success and neared 500 views.
Our external stakeholder update newsletter specifically celebrated Watercare’s Transitioning Policy implementation and its rollout.
Max, you and Larisa have truly changed the culture of Watercare and the experience of trans people. Where to next?
The policy rollout approach has really set a new precedent for Watercare, we have illustrated the positive power of taking the time to explain policies, we believed that to ensure that the organisation ingested this policy effectively it needed to be conveyed to the organisation in a way that explains WHY the policy is relevant and HOW it might be brought to life for staff, teams and leaders of teams.
One of the unexpected positive outcomes of this journey has been the genesis of a Watercare Parents & Caregivers of Gender Questing Young People group. Through the outreach of the education sessions multiple caregivers shared their stories within the sessions and/or contacted me. Aware of the lack of support networks for caregivers to share the joys and challenges of loving and supporting gender questing young people, I saw this as an opportunity to bring these people together. Everyone joins the network with two shared connections, working for Watercare plus caring for people who are navigating the complexity of gender identity in a western society. The group has formed and is now on the journey of discovering what and how they want to learn, share and connect.
Through sharing our journey across various forums, we have had requests from a few D&I specialists from other workplaces to connect and share our policy and approach so that they can learn from our experiences and implementing their own Transitioning at Work policies.
For Watercare, this is a positive step forward and we will continue our work on embracing diversity, inclusion and belonging and embedding this into our overall organisational strategy.
For me, this is definitely the work of my life, without a doubt. I feel like the stars aligned and I am meant to dedicate my future work to supporting trans people in the workplace nationwide, across New Zealand.