Being trans in tech: Championing equality with Google’s Melai Lopez
Annually, thousands of Filipinos celebrate Pride month by advocating for equal rights. This year, the call includes the junking the Anti-Terrorism Bill to pushing for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. Despite the amount of support and mileage LGBTQ+ individuals have gotten in their fight to be recognized, radical change continues to be a pipe dream for many. (READ: At least 20 arrested at Pride march in Manila).
Although resistance seems to be met on all fronts, transgender women like Google Philippines project manager Melai Lopez continue to fight the good fight for their fellow LGBTQ+ Filipinos.
Working for Google
“I actually just started in Google April of last year,” Melai explained. She was referred to the open post by a former manager who thought her experience in reporting and analytics were perfect for the job.
“Fortunately, I passed the interviews, but it really took so much preparation to get in. I never prepared for an interview in my life the way I prepared for my Google interviews. That’s mostly because I knew how badly [I wanted the job]," she said.
“I am part of the network deployment team,” Melai said. “In layman’s terms, it’s really the team that builds the capabilities or capacities of Google to connect to its users and for the users to be able to connect to Google’s products. I take care of any contracts that need amendments or that need to be renewed. I also monitor how much we are spending so far, given that we have a budget for the year.”
Although Melai has never experienced workplace discrimination based on her gender identity at her current job, that was not always the case. “I also had to endure [microaggressions] in the past,” she said. “It isn’t even all that uncommon for trans women.” In a previous company, Melai was told that if she wanted to be taken seriously by an employer, she had to dress differently. “I thought that was very insensitive.”
“There was another time when my friend referred me to a job,” Melai continued.
“After the job interview, she heard back from the company. She approached me and she was like, ‘Why did you wear makeup to the interview? And why did you wear the same clothes that you would normally wear? How did you think you were going to get hired?’ That really struck me as a very discriminatory event.”
Situations like these pushed Melai to be more outspoken about workplace discrimination, eventually leading her to a career that did not require her to hide who she was.
“In Google, respect for each other is already emphasized as early as our new hiring orientation,” she explained. “I was in Singapore for my onboarding, and they gave out name tags where you could place your name and preferred pronouns. So I felt like that was very important and really left a very good impression on me in my very new career.”
“These things need to be enforced and strengthened,” Melai said.
She began to describe the mandatory training sessions new employees have to undergo to help them maintain an open and accepting working environment. “We have unconscious bias training, and we have bias busting training. There are very concrete examples in these sessions that talk about one’s biases and how one can resolve these, especially with regard to how one can treat employees better.”
Initiatives like these are unprecedented in the tech sector, an industry that's notoriously male-dominated. (READ: Asia needs more women in tech).
Melai is also a member of Pride@Google, an employee-based network designed to support the LGBTQIA+ community. “It is really through the vigilance of these employee resource groups that we are able to maintain a culture of respect within the company,” she said.
“Respect for others is a core value in the company. While we already have those training sessions, Pride@Google supplements these with other initiatives that seek to continually educate, inspire, and involve the entire organization.” These include, but are not limited to, Trans 101 learning sessions and online SOGIE seminars.
Although Pride@Google’s programs are deliberately designed for its own employees, Melai believes the environment they have cultivated can exist in other organizations through the power of committing to the cause.
“Workplaces really need to be committed to making their spaces safe for LGBTQIA+ employees,” Melai said. “A lot of companies like to write diversity, equity, and inclusion in their core values documents, but these are not meant to be banner statements. They’re not supposed to just appear on paper. They’re meant to be lived, and reinforced and strengthened every day.”
Fostering equality in any work setting
Melai recommends specific training sessions for non-LGBTQ+ identifying employees to help them treat their fellow colleagues better.
“These training sessions can easily be adapted to other workplaces and can also take on the form of SOGIE training,” she says. “Another thing that they can do is to have an avenue for their LGBTQ+ employees to report any inappropriate behavior and language–and to be able to report it safely, without retaliation.”
Apart from training sessions and avenues for reporting, Melai emphasizes the importance of extending financial support to employees who need it. “We have same-sex health benefits,” she says. “Normally, in other companies, these health benefits are made available to married spouses. But in Google, employees with same-sex partners don’t even need to be married to avail of these benefits, since there is still no same-sex marriage in the Philippines.”
“Another initiative that’s really close to my heart is the trans wellness benefit,” Melai says. This initiative was launched in the Asia Pacific last year. “It basically affords trans employees access to counseling, hormonal therapy, and gender-affirming surgeries.”
Until most workplaces can adopt initiatives such as these for their own employees, many queer individuals continue the fight for acceptance in their own working environments.
“My advice for them is to never let anyone tell them that they do not belong in a certain space,” Melai said.
“Everyone belongs to the certain space they occupy as long as they are not stepping on anyone’s toes. There is enough space for everyone.” - Rappler.com
You can catch Melai in Pride Conversations #PrideWithGoogle, on June 30, 5 pm on Google’s YouTube channel.
Erika Villa-Ignacio is a full-time junior copywriter and freelance contributor. When she's not buried in another book, catch her bringing fantasy worlds to life as a fledgling Dungeons & Dragons DM or advocating for equal rights. Her works have been featured in TEAM Magazine, Purveyr, /ESCAPE, and Cosmopolitan Philippines.