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Corporate Responsibility in Action

LGBT Pride Series - Sustainability Spotlight on Cass Averill

Created: 18 Jun 2014 • Updated: 18 Jun 2014 • 1 comment
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From employee diversity to climate change to cyber security, corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability touches every aspect of Symantec’s business. We’ve defined our strategy and are continually working towards our goals to operate as a responsible global citizen. In addition to our dedicated global corporate responsibility team, every day Symantec employees across the world are helping us deliver on this, creating value for both our business and our stakeholders.

We are happy to introduce an ongoing feature of the CR in Action blog – the Sustainability Spotlight - that will profile employees and their contribution to Symantec’s CR and sustainability efforts. Some are members of our CR team, others contribute through our Green Teams or volunteering, some have seen an opportunity and developed programs in their function or region -- all are making a difference.

Today, in honor of LGBT Pride Month, we hear from Symantec employee Cass Averill, Principal Technical Support Engineer, and champion and mentor for LGBT employees at Symantec. Cass has been instrumental in supporting the development and expansion of company programs for Symantec’s LGBT community. 

Some of you may be familiar with my story, but I am sure many are not, and I am honored to be able to share it with you in celebration of LGBT Pride Month.

I have been a Symantec employee for seven and a half years; the first two and a half years as a woman, and the last five years as a man.  In the spring of 2009, after much soul searching and deliberation, I made the decision to transition from female to male. I knew I would be the first person to transition on the job at Symantec, so as you can imagine, I had mixed feelings about the reaction I would receive and what the process would look like. What would my peers think? My manager? His manager? I was nervous, scared, and not sure what to expect or how to proceed.

Discrimination is very common in the LGBT community and coming out is still a risky process. The National Center for Transgender Equality found that – even as recently as 2011 – 47 percent of transgender people reported experiencing extreme adverse reactions when coming out in the workplace, such as being fired, being denied hire, or being prevented from receiving a promotion or otherwise advancing in their careers.

Symantec’s non-discrimination policy, along with the fact that they had received 100 percent scores on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for many years, helped build my confidence and gave me the strength to approach my manager, come out, and work with the company through this very personal and difficult process. The response I received blew my mind and my experience really couldn’t have been better.

The company was open, accepting, responsive, and so willing to work with me right from the start. Having no prior experience in dealing with such a situation, the management at Symantec exceeded my greatest expectations by navigating the process with so much heart, and a true dedication to making it as smooth as possible for me.

At the time of my coming out, our LGBT employee resource group – SymPride – did not yet exist. I was instead sent to an LGBT Yahoo! Group for support. It was through this group that I was able to connect with professionals at other companies and institutions that had gone through a similar process to the one I was about to go through. With their help, and through working with my management team, we developed a plan for how to navigate my transition that considered all parties affected.

We decided that the best way to start the transition process was by sending an e-mail to all employees who worked directly or indirectly with me. This email was sent by my department manager and landed in about 300 people’s inboxes all in one fell swoop. In a matter of seconds, my story was out, and there was no turning back. The responses and reactions I received once my message was sent were entirely positive and I was immediately embraced.

Having the courage to tell my story has proven to be an invaluable tool that I can use to serve as a champion and role model for other LGBT employees at Symantec and in my community. Since coming out, I have become very involved in LGBT advocacy efforts here at Symantec. I helped influence the company’s policies and procedures for transitioning on the job, and advocated for adding transgender-inclusive healthcare to our benefits packages here in the U.S. And on the Symantec Values Committee, I worked as part of a global team to ensure that “honoring diversity” was written into the very fabric of how we operate as a business (and came out again to all 20,000 employees via live Webcast during the values’ launch).

I have also become a leader for the transgender community in my local area. I am the founder and co-facilitator of a local transgender and gender non-conforming support group that serves all of those who fall outside of the gender binary. Because of the work I do in the community, I was asked to serve as the keynote speaker for the 2013 International Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil held in Eugene, Oregon. 

I wouldn’t have been able to achieve so much if it wasn’t for Symantec’s initial acceptance and support. My experience here set the foundation for me to feel comfortable in my skin, share my story, and help others do the same. To see that my company and my colleagues supported me 100 percent meant the world to me. I felt such relief knowing that I could be my true and authentic self, that I could openly be proud of who I am, and that I did not have to hide myself or put on a costume every day just to come to work -- a right that every employee should have.

Cass Averill is Symantec's Principal Technical Support Engineer

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DaveColeman's picture

What a brave story and a great post!  Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration for others to live an authentic life. Thankfully Symantec believes in Liberty/Freedom. -- I wonder if Symantec is doing anything about LGBT equality in countries where they have offices and that behavior is outlawed, like India. Could that be the subject of a future post?

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