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Supportive workplace means a lot to trans colleague

Twenty-three years into a career at Manitoba Hydro and Jennifer Yurkowski made a big change. After living as a male under the name Paul for about half a century, Jennifer claimed her identity and will live her life as a female. In 2019, Jennifer shared her story in Hydro’s internal newsletter because she wanted to inform as many colleagues as possible about her transition and to thank her colleagues and leaders who have supported her through the best and worst days of her life.

Up until 2020, Jennifer worked in Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP) Testing. She helped to provide field workers throughout the province with safe and proper FRP tools.

“There haven’t been many days I haven’t wanted to come to work,” said Jennifer. “Over the years, I have worked with a great group of people.”

Being content in her job is only one part of living though.

“I always knew I was living in the wrong body,” said Jennifer. “From an early age I knew I was different. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew something was ‘wrong’ with me. Most nights I would wish that when I woke up in the morning, I would wake up as a girl. I finally came to the realization that wouldn’t happen. It didn’t matter how much or how hard I wished or prayed, I wasn’t going to wake up as a girl.”

As an adult, Jennifer knew she was dealing with gender dysphoria, but didn’t think she could transition while in the workplace.

“I wanted to wait to transition until after I retired. I thought there are so many obstacles in the workplace; it’s so awkward. For years I pushed it away.”

At work, Jennifer coped.

“Nights were the worst. I had difficulties sleeping. I wasn’t socializing much, and when I was, I was using alcohol to cope with depression.”

In 2013, Jennifer made the decision to transition.

“When I decided I could not wait, I started going online to see what I could do. I joined a support group. I found a psychologist, and once I started taking hormones the depression went away.”

Male figure with female shadow.

Enlarge image: Male figure with female shadow.

Workplace support

“I first notified Manitoba Hydro I was transgender in a conversation I had with our health services nurse, Lucy Byzio. I just felt extremely comfortable and it came out. Since then Manitoba Hydro has been extremely supportive and I can’t say enough about how great everyone has been. It has been a slower transition, but I never felt rushed by the corporation.” Since Jennifer’s initial meeting with Lucy, there have been numerous other meetings including one that was attended by two individuals from the Rainbow Resource Centre.

“They came and explained what it was like to go through a transition in the workplace,” said Jennifer.

In Hydro’s internal newsletter in 2019, Respectful Workplace Advisor, Felicity Forbister made it clear it’s important to have that understanding and to understand Jennifer’s rights as an individual. “At Manitoba Hydro our Discrimination and Harassment Free Workplace Policy and corresponding procedures clearly defines the corporation’s expectations in terms of each of us contributing to a respectful work environment. As stated in the policy, discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation is strictly prohibited, as they are protected characteristics in The Human Rights Code.”

“We need to go beyond the standard practice and continue to work to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace for all our employees at Manitoba Hydro; because it’s the right thing to do. That’s why when Jennifer initially came to us, we worked to ensure that every step of her journey at Manitoba Hydro has been at her pace, and most importantly we supported her telling her story the way she wanted it to be told,” said Felicity.

According to Felicity, it’s also important to recognize the courage it has taken to announce this change.

“I applaud Jennifer, who many of you have known as Paul, for her courage in coming forward and telling her story in this way and would encourage each one of us to show that same amount of courage in our daily interactions with one another. This change could be challenging and uncomfortable for some of you, however it is nothing compared to the challenges and fear Jennifer has encountered in her life; how does the saying go ‘until you have walked a mile in my shoes’.

Announcing the change

Initially, Jennifer wrote a letter to her department which was supported by management that explained her transition and what they could expect from the upcoming change.

“I wrote the letter a few months ago to avoid any misunderstandings,” said Jennifer. “I felt it was important to let everyone know well in advance of my name and gender change. I also wanted my shop to know they could ask me questions.”

In 2019, after years of self-discovery, medication, hormones, and voice lessons, Jennifer officially announced the transition to shop personnel and the corporation and embraced her true gender identity.

Side note

Since 2020, Jennifer has worked in another area of the shop testing and refurbishing single phase padmount transformers. She continues to receive the support of her colleagues and management.

“Ideally, the only changes that will happen will be my name and gendering pronouns,” said Jennifer. “Moving forward, I will be more than understanding if a slip occurs. I have been in this shop for more than 20 years and I have known several people for almost as long. It will be difficult to suddenly change one’s thinking in a few weeks or months.”

For more information

To learn more about gender dysphoria and gender identity, visit the Rainbow Resource Centre.