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News & opinion

3 FEB 2020

Samantha West talks about progress being made in the profession

Samantha West, commercial director with Vinci speaks about her experience of transitioning and the impact this has had personally, on her career, the support from her employer and how attitudes have changed in the built environment.

The story of your journey is deeply inspiring. Considering your personal and professional struggles combined, do you have any piece of advice for those trying to succeed in the career?

SW: If someone is trying to succeed in a career whilst transitioning, my advice would be to check your company’s policies with regards to transgender issues, as many will have a policy or guidelines, however many do not.

If no policies are in place,  try to see how they are going about complying with the Equality Act 2010. In absence of anything a discussion with HR or a sympathetic line manager, someone who you feel you can trust. Its important to on board those people around you, your inner circle in the business about your intentions. It helps your confidence that you have support at the most senior level relative to you. In my case it was my MD. You don’t have to do any of this but it helped me hugely and gave me the confidence to move forward to transition. Once you have the confidence to move things forward you can discuss with your line management the support you need, a calendar of events e.g. first day at work, any time off needed for surgeries and health care etc., and have a communications plan that suits you. For me I had to send targeted email to over 400 staff due to the very public nature of my role, this type of communication will vary with your own circumstances. I found that with the right communication, people’s understanding of your position and transition helps improve acceptance, good will and support. Luckily, I was surrounded by a lot of kindness amongst the team.

Prior to my transition at work I needed to be confident in myself, I lived dual lives female out of work male in work for a year. I  had to look after my family’s issues around this huge change, live somewhere new, make new friends, deal with surgeries and the medical side of transitioning. Being confident about being myself prior to transitioning at work was essential to maintain my own mental health.

Don’t be afraid to have counselling if you need it. I found the counsellors at LionHeart to be very helpful especially with more personal issues in life. I have volunteered to be an Ambassador for them re Transgender needs. Also talk to other that have been through a transition at work. Its not easy you should always seek advice!

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Sam West
Samantha West

Once you are at work, tolerance helps. People make mistakes, you get misgendered or called you old name many times, IT systems are sometime not up to speed. My first pay slip was to Mr Samantha Louise West due to someone’s belief that I needed a Gender Identity certificate (YOU DO NOT). These I took as genuine errors and they were corrected quickly. I could easily tell that overall, people in the business wanted to get it right.

Since transitioning, can you tell us about the biggest challenges you faced as a female in the profession?

As a female I have faced all the classic issues of sometimes not being heard or not taken seriously, I have felt ignored at social events, I have suggested things which only got taken on board once a male had suggested it. Some of these issues have genuinely occurred at other times it’s been more to do with my own insecurities about being different. Thankfully now these issues rarely occur as people get to know me and as I have become more confident as the real me. I am grateful to the clients that I have had dealings with as there have been no issues on this front in fact I believe that my interactions are more positive now than they would have been if I had remained my former self.

My key challenge was to maintain my leadership role in the business and maintain professional respect from my colleagues. Making sure that I continued to drive the commercial performance of our business was key focusing on results in terms of profit and cash targets, supporting the commercial team, addressing needs of customers, driving business improvements in our processes, moving forward the digitization of our commercial function, presenting and motivating the wider team at conferences and forums and ensuring we attract new talent to the business. On that last note I have found that candidates are impressed and value  the fact  that my company supports diversity, they can see it right in front of them as I interview them, especially but not exclusively women. 

As this is LGBT History Month, what do you think we can learn from our past to change the future? What are your expectations for 2020?

From my personal experiences, I want to see the time when all companies will  have transgender guidelines or policies to help managers and staff understand how to make this journey easier for people like me. Also, role models are key and provide support to those starting on the journey – which will also be improved with professional bodies collaborating to widespread the message of acceptance and contributing with diversity awareness and transgender issues.

I am lucky, but in LGBT History Month, I expect my experience to become the rule, not an exception.  

Samantha West

I also felt that my involvement in the business and attendance to events were helpful and assisted people on their understanding of the matter, as well as the participation of leaders (CEO/MD) wherever possible to support people’s journeys. I would say that it is important to strengthen counselling provisions to people transitioning.  I want to feel that transgender people are dealt with fairly on all health matters.

When safe to be out at work, people are able to focus on their roles and  people will see them as potentially better than before in many ways as your true self flourishes. There will be some that need to be convinced and sometimes you will have to go the extra mile. But I have found all 3rd parties such as clients and suppliers very courteous, professional in their way of dealing with me – and this is what I want everyone to feel. The people I have worked with have been great too. I am lucky, but in LGBT History Month, I expect my experience to become the rule, not an exception. 

  • Gus Bussmann is Diversity ad Inclusion Co-ordinator at RICS

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