Visibility with purpose
In honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, Wells Fargo senior Technology leader Robyn Alexander shares her perspective on identifying openly and challenging stereotypes.
My name is Robyn Alexander. I’ve spent much of my career at Wells Fargo, with most of it in Technology. Currently, I am accountable for the company’s cloud computing technology strategy, roadmap, and execution.
That is one aspect of my identity. I’m also a mother, an avid outdoors and sport fan, a fan of Disney parks, and I am transgender.
Each of the nearly eight billion people on this planet has an infinite set of dynamic traits that makes them who they are and unique. Despite that diversity, we tend to place people into one of a very small number of boxes with labels and defining attribute types. This leads to a small number of broad stereotypes.
For years, I allowed myself to be put in a box chosen for me. I grew up in a small town in the South, spending most of my time trying not to stand out. I knew my family was not open-minded, but I didn’t know how to process what I felt inside.
Then, one day I saw an interview on TV of someone who described my feelings, using terms and language I hadn’t heard before. That led me to research papers and anecdotal stories about being transgender. It also led to some sensationalized, often derogatory, references to transgender people, which made me even more acutely aware of the labels and fear, the perceptions and misunderstandings that exist. I had no one to talk to about it. And I knew my family would disapprove, so I hid it. Until I couldn’t.
Life felt like a prison. Distraction had always been my coping mechanism, so I threw myself into all the “normal” masculine things society expects: sports, dating, marriage, kids. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t maintain the supposedly “normal” life. The pressure kept building until I got divorced and decided suicide was my only path forward.
Before I could take that step, I had a decades-overdue, honest conversation with my mother. That conversation was the beginning of a new path. I found some support resources and a therapist. I made a few contacts in the LGBTQ community. After a year or so with my therapist, I started to think I might be able to navigate life as I truly am and it would be OK.
I started to transition 18 years ago. In February of 2004, I told my manager at Wells Fargo about the process one Friday afternoon, and his reaction is still one of the greatest things I will always remember. He was curious. He was inquisitive. He was supportive! After he got home that night, he sent me a note reassuring me. I believe he even thanked me for confiding in him.
That started the ball rolling. Human Resources at the time had no provisions for what to do or how to handle such a conversation. But on Monday, he engaged HR and his leadership, and the company started amassing resources to help me move forward.
When things became more public, I am certain it caused a stir for a while. And then it was over and faded into history. For the past 16 years, I have been seen and treated as I see myself.
The company has made progress since I became more open about who I am and the journey I was on, but we still have a lot of work to do.
At this moment, diversity, equity, and inclusion are more important than ever to the fair and equal treatment of all persons, particularly the LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented communities. Discrimination and bias against anyone is wrong. It has to change. This is an opportunity to drive change by sharing my narrative and story, like the stories of so many others that are similar to mine.
“This is an opportunity to drive change by sharing my narrative and story, like the stories of so many others that are similar to mine.” — Robyn Alexander, Wells Fargo senior Technology leader
By becoming more visible through articles like these, I take control of my fears. I am stepping up and hopefully “out” in front to be a vocal and visible advocate and ally. Visibility makes it real. Conversations take on weight when we are talking about real people — co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family members.
I know that my identification — even if I share it confidentially — has power. The company wants to support me and other transgender employees and provide resources, but it can only successfully do that if we raise our hands to be counted.
There is power in helping others. If anyone sees me and learns about my story, they will know they are not alone. There are others out there who are on their own journeys, and they can see that it’s possible to be their true selves. There is tremendous value in knowing we are not all alone.