“I feel safe here.”
Kaid Walters, a long-time UnityPoint Health employee, admits he didn’t used to be involved in much LGBTQ+ advocacy work. That is, until on a vacation with his wife, he got to talking with a fellow person who is transgender with an impressive list of community involvement. That’s when everything changed for Walters.
Today, he’s one of the main influencers behind a regional organizational policy that guides team members and their colleagues through a workplace process when transitioning genders.
Transitioning in the Workplace
“Being accepted for who you are, allowing your company to know who you are—and to let you be just that—it’s freeing,” he says.
When he first came out at work, Walters says the first person he confided in was his manager, Devin Miller.
“He's a great leader. He listens. When I first came out back in 2015 and told him about it, I said, ‘I don't know what to do next.’ He was my support person to say, ‘OK, let's start here.’ We kind of had to find our own way at that time. I think he called it ‘blazing the trail,’” Walters says.
When the opportunity became available, Miller volunteered to help Walters create a new transitioning policy at the request of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee for UnityPoint Health – Des Moines.
Using Experience to Initiate Change
“We thought about our first step back then. Like, OK, we started with human resources. Then, we just kind of went from there and others provided expertise on pieces we didn’t think about, like using restrooms.”
In its final form, the policy is centered around recognizing a person’s need to transition genders in order to live authentically and ensuring UnityPoint Health is a welcoming and accepting workplace for all.
Specific topics addressed in the policy include defining what it means to gender transition, using correct terminology, the expectation of fellow team members to accept and adapt when a colleague transitions, communication recommendations and more, including a plan for coming out.
Walters says while the plan gives team members a framework, it’s designed to allow flexibility.
“It’s not set in stone of how you have to transition and how to tell people. If you're not ready for a next step, then wait until you're ready.”
His greatest hope for the policy is it helps give those considering, or in the process of, transitioning some guidance and answers questions they may have.
“I think when you’re experiencing such internal turmoil, at least having something there is comforting. You don't feel like you're lost,” he says.
Living Authentically at Work
With the backing of his organization, Walters says he feels like he can fully be himself at work.
“My wife has told me I’m still me at work, but I’m more me now, if that makes sense. I’m able to be sarcastic and funny. People say, “Oh my gosh, you're funny’, and it’s because I feel safe enough to be funny.”
Walters adds, “It’s a relief, and I feel like I'm a better, more productive employee because of it—hands down. It’s amazing, I’m proud.”
Reflecting on the organization’s commitment to creating a work atmosphere where everyone feels like they belong, Walters says, “To see them work so hard at it, and to keep at it, that just blows me away. I love seeing our logo in the LGBTQ+ community. Knowing we’re supporting all kinds of people, I mean, everybody. I love that.”
Policies like the one Kaid helped influence are examples of pockets of work happening across UnityPoint Health and part of larger commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for both patients and team members.
An Organizational Focus on the LGBTQ+ Community
For example, with a re-energized and expanded focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), UnityPoint Health offers systemwide education and trainings for team members on topics like sexual orientation and gender identity, providing LGBTQ+ sensitive care, how to be an ally and more. Team member groups that promote a sense of belonging and community are also available in some areas for those who identify as LGTBQ+ as a place to share experiences, ideas and provide insight into patient and employee needs.
Additionally, earlier this year, UnityPoint Health hired a Chief Diversity Officer, who’s responsible for progressing the system’s continued DEI efforts in and outside the walls of the organization.