I am Sandra Fernandez from Barcelona, Spain and I am a transgender woman. I cannot imagine being two people in my life – to be at home as Sandra, and then to be at work as a man, that person I used to be. Being Sandra in my job is being able to be human, share my happiness and just to have a normal, real life and contribute.
I used to see myself in the mirror in my past life and I was not happy. I could not understand who was in the mirror. The first day I saw myself transitioned, I knew that this girl was me. My feeling was really intense, really happy. When I stepped out onto the street as Sandra – when I felt the wind, the streets, the people, the noise of Barcelona – it was a really beautiful moment, because I had spent 42 years in my city as a man.
I started working as a woman for the first time at Roche. People were looking at me because of course they knew that a transgender lady was coming to the office. I was really nervous. I told myself, OK Sandra, your life starts here. You have a job, a house, a family. You have all you want as a woman, so enjoy this moment.
It turned out there was no problem. Everyone at work knows me as Sandra. It was just fine, perfect in fact – like a dream. I am really happy the way I am. I'm feeling beautiful from inside, I have peace with myself and this is a nice feeling. I feel proud of it.
My name is Rainer Wellmann. I'm 62 years young and I've been working for Roche since 1988, first in Pennsburg and now in Mannheim, Germany since 1995. I have been with my husband George for over 30 years. We have lived in our home in a small country town between Mannheim and Heidelberg since 1998; we are out in our town and within Roche.
I have been involved in the gay and lesbian community since I came out in 1983. Unfortunately it took another few years until I came out within my family. Living openly within the company is essential to me. I don't want to distinguish between company and private life.
In 2007, I decided to come out of the closet at Roche. We had a reorganization and had to introduce ourselves to the others. I said I have a husband at home when I work.
I'm proud about who and what I am. It took a long time to accept this and stand with all my facets. And I'm proud about what I have achieved in business and private life. But what I am most proud of is my partnership with my husband, George, for more than 30 years. I always dreamed of but never expected it, so I'm thankful for the unconditional partnership.
My name is Brenda Xiao. I have been working for Roche for about 10 years. I've been the International Product Manager in Roche Diagnostic International in Switzerland since 2016. Before that I lived in Shanghai, China for more than 20 years.
I realized I was a little bit different when I was in kindergarten. I liked playing roles like engineers, doctors, things considered more a male role rather than a traditional female role in the Chinese culture. I realized I was more attracted to women than men in intimate relationships at about 18 years old. So I came out to my family by accident eight years ago. My current self identification is a lesbian.
If you don't like who you are and you can't live the true life as yourself, it will become very difficult. And especially if you have to pretend who you are not only in your private life, but also in a workplace.
I fully accepted myself since I worked in Europe. I was the Out, Proud & Equal Network chapter leader in the China networking group. I founded this group in 2015 before I moved into Europe. We were more like a family or friends supporting each other in daily life and the workplace.
I do still feel some strong fears from the LGBTQ community in a workplace when I come back to China. What is different now is that I see more hope of people being their true selves, and a wish to build trust, particularly in the young generation. It's quite a mix – a feeling of concern, curiosity and some expectation, but in general, I feel comfortable there.
I'm becoming the person I truly am. I really like myself now, and I will keep working on that. I What drives me is the motivation of helping people. So my “gay job” is to support the LGBTQ community, the female community, or the Asia community here in the Europe. And my “day job” is to support patients and healthcare providers.
My name is Jonathan Briers. I'm from the UK and I am the country Medical Director in Roche Netherlands. I've been with the organization for two years. I've worked in five different countries, for companies with and without Out, Proud & Equal Network chapters, and across my career I have had very different experiences.
We’ve seen a generational change over time of more understanding and acceptance. There’s more visibility of the community within the working atmosphere. But I’ve also had experiences ranging from absolutely negative – “Why are you doing this job? Are you appropriate for this job? – almost as if you were inferior or incapable because of your sexuality. At the time it was very hurtful and can lead you to dive down and hide yourself.
I've been out since I was 17. I came out in medical school, at the time that AIDS was really hitting very big. I got asked to leave a shared house because of fear I was going to infect someone's children with HIV, though there was no chance of that. So you can learn to feel not accepted and to present a different face.
I think it made me a little bit tougher and more determined to do a good job and show I'm just as good and as capable as anyone.
I'm now in my middle age. When you meet people and introduce yourself and people see your wedding ring, sometimes the first question is, “Oh, what does your wife do?” I say, “Well, actually I don't have a wife. I have a husband. And I'm very proud that I was able to get married to my husband.”
It’s as if every time you’re required to come out of the closet, which can put some people in a very uncomfortable situation. My biggest learning along the way is to provide space for people to be comfortable to be who they are.
I don't hide and play a role. I don't define myself as a gay man. I'm first and foremost, Jonathan, a husband with a dog and all those kinds of things. I have a mortgage and I pay the bills and do boring normal stuff like anybody else. My sexuality doesn't define me and it shouldn't define me in my work.
My name is Nick Mangeya. I'm the Head of Medical Affairs Management Centre, South Africa. I was born in Zimbabwe and grew up there. About 10 years ago I moved to South Africa. Zimbabwe was a very different environment for someone within the gay community.
Growing up, I was obviously aware that I had feelings for males. I never actually contemplated the fact that I was gay, because I just suppressed it. It was something I never fully managed to express until I left Zimbabwe. I think most of my inhibitions came from a historical perspective of understanding the constitution.
I moved to Cape Town, which was quite liberal and one could then be able to really express themselves. When I came out, my family was quite progressive and supportive. But I still had inhibitions from how I had grown up and spent the first 26 years of my life. I still conformed before I confronted the fact that I should probably be with someone of the same sex. That was when I was then able to tell my girlfriend that I'd rather be with guys, and that's how she became my best friend.
I married the second guy I dated and we’ll be together for 10 years now. I joined Roche six weeks before my wedding. I had to tell my boss when they offered me the job that I would need to take time off to go get married. They were very supportive. It was really nice to be able to begin my career at Roche with that open knowledge that everybody knows fully what my circumstances are.
As a gay man you learn to hide a lot of things early and for a long time. You need to be conscious about triggering this, and master self-awareness and self-reflection to ensure that you're living fully and openly. I'm proud that I'm able to do that. That allows me to show up whole and to be present in everything I do – in my personal space at home with my partner, and also at work. And that allows me to fully apply my mind to every task.
My name is Claudio Lisondo. I'm from Brazil and I'm a physician, a psychiatric doctor. I have been working for almost six years at Roche, first as a medical manager and now as an agile coach. We have the Out, Proud & Equal Network and I am one of the allies.
This is something that makes me really proud to be part of – to have this kind of opportunity in our affiliate. When we have an open environment, it's quite clear that we are going to have better results and better tools in our purpose to support patients. If we want to have people work at their full potential, they have to be able to be whatever they want to be. It doesn't matter about their color or gender or sexual orientation.
I really believe that we have to fight for that. This makes us all better at the things that we are doing. In Brazil, we live with a lot of prejudice. A lot of people are not able to be who they want to be or who they feel they should be.
It's nice when you can cause a meaningful impact, not only with people working directly with Roche, but also in discussions with people like physicians, our stakeholders, the families of colleagues. In Brazil, we have a long road to go when we talk about how we can have a more fair society that will allow more opportunities for everybody.
When I was 17, my best friend was not able to be open with his family about his sexual orientation. I'm from a city in the countryside of Brazil. There's still a lot of prejudice. When he talked to me, I started to realize how much suffering was there. I wanted to change that.
If we really want to be successful in the things that we're doing at Roche, and in society, we have to fight for people to be whatever they want to be. What really makes a difference is the day-by-day actions and how we can do simple things to bring more diversity in our workplace and our environment.
*Excerpts edited for length and clarity. Photo courtesy of Tobias Viering.
On 16 June, 2021, Roche received the
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