We care about creating an environment that’s inclusive and supportive for our people – a place where everyone can truly be themselves.

Our new Gender Affirmation Leave (GAL) policy is another way that we can demonstrate how Telstra supports everyone to be themselves at home and at work. It means that any eligible permanent employee based in Australia who wants to affirm their gender can access eight weeks paid leave to take the legal, medical or social steps they need to be who they are.

We’re proud to announce this during Trans Awareness Week – a week which brings us together to celebrate the trans and gender diverse community. It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness and help us all learn more about gender diversity and the importance of being a trans ally.

We’re also pleased that Mark Latchford from Pride in Diversity has recognised our policy, saying “Telstra has created a market leading policy for employees who want to affirm their gender. With eight weeks paid leave, this policy is vital for people who need access to this type of support from an employer. This policy affirms Telstra’s commitment to supporting its people and fostering diversity and inclusion.”

Many of us might not know much about what it means to affirm your gender – but this is our chance to listen and learn from some transgender members of our community, and also some people in their teams who have helped them go through the process.

Through our GAL policy, we want to make it easier for our transgender and gender diverse employees to be themselves; part of that is everyone understanding their experiences. We asked some of our people, and their allies, to explain their experience of affirming their gender in the workplace.

Maddie’s story

Maddie Sumner, from our Cyber Influence team, shared some insights about her affirmation journey.

“I remember how frightening it was to come out as transgender – when suddenly my career became fragile and life decisions came with risk. Transitioning is not simple or easy for most … On one hand, the ‘chains are off’ and you’re free to be yourself, but who is that? Your identity, reality changes, and people around you act differently.

“Living as a transgender person would be much less difficult if people had more understanding. I think there’d be less stigma around transitioning and others would speak more responsibly.

“When I joined Telstra, I had already begun wearing feminine clothes, updated my legal name and transitioned socially – so all of the amazing people I’ve met here only know me as Maddie! I did however, choose to use all of my accumulated sick leave to undergo surgery and my close colleagues were very supportive.

“This new policy will help ensure each transgender person who affirms their gender at Telstra can feel more comfortable, supported and not pressured to share personal information. It will also standardise the process to be easier, respectful and discreet.

“It’s very easy to support someone who is affirming their gender. Simply respect their lived experiences (even if you don’t understand) and, don’t be afraid to politely ask someone what their pronouns are (if you’re unsure).”

Amy’s story

Amy Stephens from our Group Internal Audit team shared some of her story, and so did her leader, Hayley and her teammate, Steph Ericjoy.

Amy Stephens, Group Internal Audit

Transition (social, medical and legal) isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a life-long journey. I spent several years trying to work out whether I would welcome my team into my journey, and by the time I did tell them, I was already well into my medical transition.

I had genuine fear that I would be ostracised, that I would be treated differently (in a negative way) and that I would potentially lose my job because I needed to transition.

When I told my friend Steph at work, she was like ‘OK, that’s cool, do you need any help from me?’ my first thought was ‘wait, I can actually be me at work’. It changed everything and gave me so much confidence.

My people leader, Hayley and Steph were both extremely supportive. They were open to listening to what I needed to do, and wanted to be active participants to take away some of the burden, such as updating my name in the systems and communications to the rest of the team.

The GAL policy will make a massive difference because it gives certainty. It says ‘at Telstra we support you, and we want you to be you.

My advice to anyone wanting to be an ally or show support would be to be curious, not make assumptions and give us the chance to tell our story. Be loud and be proud in your support of trans people, listen to what the trans community is saying and amplify our voices. 

Amy’s Leader – Hayley

I felt humbled Amy felt comfortable enough to discuss her story with me. In our first conversation about her transition, Amy mentioned she had chosen this time to tell me (and the rest of the team) about her gender affirmation process to make sure she could introduce herself to new team members who were joining our team in the coming weeks as Amy – rather than have to meet them and introduce herself with her previous name and pronouns. Hearing she was facing this dilemma was an eye-opener was something I hadn’t considered as one of the barriers and challenges faced by those transitioning.

In supporting Amy, I wanted to ensure I acknowledged the absolute importance of this process and gave it all the attention it deserved – but equally, I didn’t want to make too much of a big deal about something that (in an ideal world) should not even require “a process”.

However, I realised it was not about “making a big deal” about Amy’s gender affirmation – it was more about celebrating her and the start of a new phase of her life, and reinforcing she had the whole team’s support.  

Amy’s teammate, Steph Ericjoy

When Amy reached out to me, my immediate reaction was to find out how I could help and make sure they felt well supported the whole time. It was the least I could do to help a team member and friend be who they are at work.

As an ally or someone supporting a person affirming their gender, I’d say be supportive and approachable. This is an important stage in their journey and the next steps should be given the dedication they deserve.