A conversation between David DeLallo and Maya Harris

Two colleagues on coming out—and creating community for fellow transgender colleagues
Video

Maya Harris: Im in a better place now than Ive been for a very long time. And actually having someone like you, whos shared a lot of that and has gone through the tough times and is enjoying the better times and still have those tough moments the same way that I still have those tough moments, that means a hell of a lot. (MUSIC)

David DeLallo: It was about two years ago. We met in 2019 in the summer. What happened was I was in the middle of trying to figure out how I was going to announce my coming out in the in the firm. And so one of the leaders of GLAM, our organization for gay, lesbian, transgender colleagues was somebody that I reached out to to figure out how to navigate this process here.

And she happened to reach out to me over email and said, "Hey," you know, "there's another colleague who is transgender and is thinking about their process of coming out. Would you mind if I connected her with you?" And I said, "Of course."

Maya Harris: Absolutely. I find it funny you telling that story like that, because it kind of sounds like I had all the answer for you. But you were going through that process long before I went through that process. So for me, it was only earlier this year.

But actually, like, looking back on it, those conversations and starting up those discussions was me saying, actually, I'm not the only who's having to figure this out and to think about exactly that problem. Like, how do I do this just once?

David DeLallo: Regardless of whether you had actually gone down the path, just knowing that you existed here in the company was helpful for me. And to have somebody to share, you know, my thinking with was really helpful.

Maya Harris: I'd known there'd been a couple of transgender colleagues in the past in the firm, but when I tried to look them up, they were no longer around. And I kind of had this sense of, "I cannot be the only one in a company this size." We're across the globe. We're +30,000 people. It cannot just be me. And then suddenly, I realized, like, turns out I was right. And in the best way possible.

David DeLallo: Yeah. It's interesting because when our colleague came to me and asked if I minded if we got introduced, you know, it made it seem as if I could have so much insight for you. And you probably didn't realize at the time that it was actually equally helpful to me. Just to be able to have anybody in the company that was in a similar situation.

Maya Harris: We've both been quite lucky in that we had really positive responses. But I think just this relationship, and had it gone wrong, I still wouldn't have been alone in it. I'd have just come to you and gone, "David, it's all gone horribly wrong. Everyone thinks I'm weird." (LAUGH)

David DeLallo: And I would be like, "So am I. That's all right." So, I mean, I think a lot of usspeaking for me, in my personal lifehave lots of great friends. But not very many that are transgender.

Maya Harris: It's been great working with you and establishing our, kind of, our online community of other trans and nonbinary colleagues in the firm. Because it's always been founded on this idea of "I cannot be the only one. And we cannot be the only two." And it turns out that's absolutely true. And we're now in a community of, I think, 27. But what's amazing is that every week almost we add someone new to the group.

David DeLallo: Just your and my relationship gave me courage to do more at McKinsey. It's just been so organic. "Hey. Maybe we should start a Slack group and see if we could connect to other folks." And just felt like there had to be more people like us in the company. And wouldn't it be great if we gave them the same gift that we've given each other?

I think just even having this little safe space where you have people that are going through some similar situations has been super valuable. And particularly right now, right when we're all kind of out of our old normal routines due to the pandemic. So you feel like you're maybe even more isolated. The timing of how we've been able to grow this, I think, has made it even more valuable.

Maya Harris: We had a real kind of eureka moment last week, where we had an associate partner join our group for the first time. I think he's probably now the most senior member of the group. And he was so stoked that we exist. Just the excitement from his first few messages in the group and chatting about what mattered to him.

And he immediately got in helping someone else who'd asked a question about, "What kind of awareness building materials have we got?" And he had all these ideas of, like, "I've seen this, this, and this. And we can do that." And it's just like, wow. Okay.

Here's someone who has suddenly found an outlet that they didn't feel like they had before. And that's amazing. We first met and it was just the two of us, a voice on the phone. That was in the day of McKinsey dial-in. That was even pre-Zoom and pre-Slack, anything else.

David DeLallo: Pre-Zoom. (LAUGH)

Maya Harris: The pre-Zoom era. And then as you did come out in the firm and actually you got a really warm reception from people. For me that was incredibly reassuring that you know what? McKinsey is a safe place where this isn't gonna be a big risk professionally for me.

This isn't gonna be a big risk, kind of, that sort of workplace relationships point of view. That gave me a bit of confidence in saying, "Well, maybe we can do more than just know each other." So I think for me, a big part of it was seeing- the positive story that you had. I was like, "Right. Well, let's be a bit more visible."

David DeLallo: That element of vulnerability in this area, it's a feeling that we've, you know, that I've carried throughout my whole life. And became very adept at burying. It was kind of the one area that I was not being genuine outwardly a lot of the time.

And so to put that out to everybody. And even these people that are not that close to me. It's not family where you feel like, "Oh, they'll come around eventually because they kind of have to if they're family." 

I definitely relate to that feeling of vulnerability. It took me by surprise how it just suddenly felt like I dangled myself out there. But that feeling became eased just by connecting with you. My colleagues in the Stanford office have just been amazingly supportive. And when I say that, it's not that they're necessarily doing anything outside of just treating me the same way that they've always treated me.

Maya Harris: I'm relatively fresh in this. It's not been that long since I did the big reveal in the firm. But I actually told the direct team that I'm part of. I told them beginning of last year partly because there were some things going on that were making me slightly less reliable just showing up to work.

I said to them, "Hey look, this is my story. But for now, keep using my old name. Keep using my old pronouns. All good. I'll let you know when that changes." And then literally overnight since the day back in February when I sent the various communications out and spoke to a whole bunch of people, every single one of them instantly changed to using my name, my preferred pronouns.

And they've been absolutely amazing. And little things like that have made it incredibly easy to sort of shift with people that I work day-in, day-out with. We're on Zoom all the time. We're always in contact on Slack. And they just completely adapted. That, for me, was probably the most important community for things to go well with.

David DeLallo: The one thing that I know that I can do is to be visible so that people know me. And know more about me than just the fact that I'm transgender, right? That know about me and my personality. They know I like to play guitar. They'll see me play a gig. They work with me on a project and see that I like to joke around a lot. That I care deeply about others. And I hope that by knowing me, all aspects of me, they see some part of them in me and realize of course I should share the same rights as everybody else.

Maya Harris: When I think about what does Trans Day of Visibility mean to me? Trans Day of Remembrance? Even Pride week, right? I count myself crazy lucky in how I've been received since coming out. And I kind of very quickly have this thought in my head of, "How can I pay this back?"

Just disappearing into the background at that stage was kind of letting down all the positives that came out of this experience. And for anyone who is feeling like they're worried about coming out at work, how can I make it seem less scary?

And that's kind of when I realized that all of these days of visibility and Pride and everything else, that's just a chance to be visible. And a chance to say, "Hey look, I got through it. It was scary. I was worried about it. For a long time I was really worried about it.

But I found an ally and I did it and it's been amazing." And I actually think where we need to be thinking sort of most visibly is, like, what actions can we take to try and shift the narrative? Knowing you has made me much more sensitive and aware of a lot of of the stuff that's happening in the U.S. at the moment.

And it's scary. I feel like I don't know what to do in that space. But again, that for me says, "Okay. So let's use the the days to be visible that we have around Pride. Around Trans Day of Visibility. Around Trans Day of Remembrance." To try and make sure that our presence is known. In whatever way that we can.

David DeLallo: Yeah, if you know someone who's transgender, if you know someone of a different race, you're far more likely to embrace the fact that they should have equal rights. Of course I wish that people embraced that thinking whether they knew someone personally or not, but the fact of the matter is, when you really know a human that has a certain experience and you like that human, you see in them similarities to yourself just in your humanity. It really just brings it forward. It makes it real. Yesterday was my first day of officially being two weeks out from my second vaccination. So I'm as protected against COVID-19 as I can possibly be. And knowing that this conversation was coming up, it totally came into my mind of, like, I can't wait till I can meet her. And I'm so gonna give you the biggest hug. 

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