Peta Friend’s business story is one of grit, loyalty and authenticity — and a shining example of how people can thrive if, and only if, they’re able to bring their authentic selves to work.
Assigned male at birth, Friend began transitioning just two years after she co-founded a skin therapy business in Sydney.
As any entrepreneur will tell you, those first few years are all-consuming — and that’s without hormone therapy, medical treatments, and the social changes that come with transition thrown into the mix.
But as Friend explains, for her, growing a small business without transitioning would have been impossible.
Growth in every sense of the word
When Friend trained as a beauty therapist in 1983, she was “the only boy in beauty school”. In 1995, she established Will and Peta Skin Clinic with another male beauty therapist, and two years later, started her transition.
“I was visibly in the process of transitioning while still working and establishing our small business,” Friend tells SmartCompany. And finally, “one day I went to work as a boy, and the next day, I went to work as a girl”.
Back in 2000, transitioning and being transgender wasn’t spoken about openly. Because information wasn’t readily accessible, during and after her transition, Friend was subject to some “really invasive questioning” from her customers. “I thought any conversation was better than no conversation,” she says, but admits that she was very accessible so all these questions that she would never put up with these days
Despite the questioning, Friend describes the overwhelming joy and relief she felt in being able to “come to work as myself for the first time”.
“Even though I’d been in the industry nearly 20 years at that point, I was able to grow and better myself in my field. That’s a result of actually being happy with who I was as a person, and being able to bring that person to work,” Friend says. “It brought out the best in me in so many ways.”
As a proud trans woman, Friend’s comfort with herself has translated into deep connections with her clients. She’s built a loyal, generation-spanning following. Some of her customers have been frequenting her clinic for 36 years, and they send their daughters and granddaughters too.
“They’ve followed me from location to location,” Friend says.“We’ve got old together.”
What are four things cisgender women can do to better support trans women and non-binary & gender non-conforming people in the workplace?
Be a true ally. Always speak out in support of trans people. We need you to call people out who make transphobic remarks or who misgender us. It’s really important in the workplace that there is loud and visible support. That shows transgender people that they are accepted and that work can be a safe space.”
Ensure that everyone has access to bathrooms and other facilities. Push to allow people to access the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In addition, providing a gender-neutral bathroom or a private bathroom is a great way to provide a great and comfortable space for all people.
Rethink gender on forms and documents. Ask yourself if it’s really necessary to include gender on a document, and if it is, be inclusive and think beyond the gender binary of male and female. Consider just putting a blank space there, so people can put in their own terminology.
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Educate yourself. Learn about the challenges that trans and non-binary people face. Use accessible resources, like the internet. Don’t turn to the trans or non-binary person for them to educate you, because that’s not our job. Not everyone wants to be a vocal advocate. And it’s their choice.”