From Mike to Michelle: Her Story
Shell prides itself on being a company that places a strong value on diversity and inclusion. Michelle, previously Mike, a Senior Manager with Shell’s Prelude FLNG project, can vouch for this value in firsthand experience.
Michelle Gardiner, a Senior Manager with Shell’s Prelude FLNG project, can vouch firsthand what it’s like working for a company that places a strong value on diversity and inclusion.
Prior to October 2014, Michelle’s colleagues had known her as Mike - a 1.85m man who’d been working at the company since 1999.
But after a long personal journey of figuring out who she really was, and being diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, the time came for Michelle to meet with her close colleagues and direct reports at Shell to inform them that she was transgender.
This is her story.
I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as Mike. It’s not easy to describe how I felt, but I most certainly didn’t choose to be transgender.
Having been employed here for almost 19 years, I know Shell is a progressive, inclusive and consensual place to work.
I’d looked in the mirror for so many years as Mike but had never seen my true self. When I look in the mirror now and see Michelle, I see me, which is wonderful.
Having been employed here for almost 19 years, I know Shell is a progressive, inclusive and consensual place to work. I’d seen this same ethos reflected in the company when I first joined although I had no idea back then how much this ethos would impact me personally.
From about the age of five, I knew something was different about me, but wasn’t quite sure what. By the time my twenties rolled around I had an inkling I was transgender, and by my thirties, I knew I’d need to do something about it. And yet, it was still almost another decade before I decided to take the necessary steps and officially come out as transgender.
I’d previously worked for Shell in countries where either local laws or culture made it difficult for me to even process who I truly was, let alone actually do something about it. All I knew was that I had spent most of my life staring into a mirror and not connecting with the person reflected back at me. It was confusing and exhausting.
An important insight for many transgender people is that the key decision they need to make is not choosing to live as another gender, but rather to stop spending the emotional energy required pretending to be someone else. For me, taking on a role as Contracting & Procurement Manager for Prelude (Shell's floating liquefied natural gas facility) and moving to Australia brought about the opportunity to finally address and understand all the feelings I’d had about myself for many years. And in doing this I hoped to reduce the amount of emotional energy required of me to come to work every day and fight for who I truly was.
The eventual decision to transition, and consequently come out, was a long process because I’m married and have a young daughter, so I needed to consider the impact it would have on them. On top of the time required to process this, I then spent about a year prepping my colleagues in order to explain to them what being transgender meant for me and what it could potentially mean for them.
Diversity in the workforce has made Shell a great place to work and brings the best out of everyone I work with. And yet, even though I was so aware of the inclusive culture at Shell, I was still blown away by the response from my colleagues when I eventually decided to come out.
I had individual conversations over a cup of coffee with my direct reports and then sat in a room with about 30 of my peers to share the news with them. A lot of people asked questions as, understandably, they were very curious, but I’ve known only awareness, understanding and acceptance from my colleagues and leaders.
It’s because of this culture in the company that I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I know the process is not as easy for others in the transgender community. Often this is driven by the fear of not being accepted for who you are.
Of course, it’s always a personal decision but I know from my firsthand experience at Shell - a company that’s recognized the importance of LGBT employees as an underrepresented group - there’s nothing quite as rewarding as working in a safe space where you know you can be yourself.
5 Factors I believe are crucial in cultivating a culture that is lgbt inclusive:
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