When you think about going to work, your mind might automatically imagine offices, managers, projects, collaboration or deadlines. But for some, it’s not that simple. They may feel a sense of uncertainty, fear of judgement or even discomfort.
Though not always discussed, discrimination in the workforce is a real issue faced by many. While a key factor in your ability to produce your best work is a safe work environment where you feel comfortable and can be authentic to yourself, finding these environments is not always easy or clear cut.
Ellie Webster is a proud West Michigan native, an IT systems administrator, a lover of vinyl records and a vintage motorcycle enthusiast. She has built a Tesla coil and has traveled internationally. She is, and has accomplished, many things worth telling. Yet, what she calls the “least interesting thing about her”—that she identifies as being transgender—is something that she was not always comfortable sharing, especially in the workplace.
Webster found a passion for her career early on in life. In high school, she discovered a love for computers during a basic technology class. She showed advanced skills, leading her teacher to pull her from his class to run as a teacher’s aide instead of using the class for extra study.
After high school, she began working at small family-owned businesses, running home networks or operating data entry just to be in front of a computer instead of on a factory floor. She worked with IT recruiting companies, like TEKsystems, to find specific roles to drive her career. She eventually worked her way up to running entire departments, managing projects, budgets and processes, and working internationally.
Yet, throughout this time, Webster covered her identity, fearing what friends, family and the world would say. However in 2015, she found the courage to publicly present herself as a woman.
“I figured coming out was as good as death, but it got to the point where it didn’t matter anymore, and I came out and people took it mostly well,” Webster says.
When Webster was ready to make her next career move, she turned to TEKsystems for the second time, but the first as her true self.
Initially Webster felt apprehension speaking with TEKsystems recruiter Mike DeDomenic, unsure if she should explain her story or if it would affect her hiring process. After a few basic conversations around her resume and skill sets, DeDomenic discovered her previous resume on file from years ago—with her previous name and information. At this point, Webster prepared herself for the questions or judgment to come, but was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t.
“[The recruiter] didn’t ask questions and was like, ‘It’s no big deal, I already changed your name and everything,’ and instantly I was much more comfortable working with him. I was able to let all those walls down and really work with him and try to make something productive. He had not worked with anyone who identified as trans before, but said he was actively working with the [TEKsystems Diversity Team] and was very celebratory of all individuals.”
After building a rapport with Webster, DeDomenic asked her if she would be willing to work with the TEKsystems Diversity Team on their inclusivity initiative. Webster says she appreciated the invitation and immediately accepted. Since then, she has led internal trans-specific training for TEKsystems.
Webster is thankful to be in a position and industry that is open-minded and inclusive of all individuals. She believes there’s a long way for society and companies to go, but that the IT industry has been leading the way for a lot of progressive stances.
When asked to give advice to young people who are thinking about going into IT or working with a recruiter, Webster says, “I think just in general, people focus so much on finding a specific job title or a top-tier salary; people forget about company culture. It was nice that my recruiter at TEKsystems was aware of all my priorities: What field I wanted to go into, salary requirements, as well as company culture.”
“It’s hard for me to know outside of this experience that I’ve had, but overall I really like IT and my experiences have been positive.”