We sat down with Helen Brand, Productivity and Systems Partner in the People Operations Team, who shared their inspiring journey to self-acceptance, how coming out as non-binary has changed their life, and advice for others exploring their gender identity.
When did you join WiseTech?
I originally joined WiseTech on a casual basis back in 2017 in an admin support role, then I moved to the Legal team for about 18 months before joining the People Operations team in November 2018 as one of the founding members. Today, I'm the Productivity and Systems Partner for the entire People space and am based in Sydney.
Prior to joining WiseTech, I worked in the hospitality industry and in healthcare as a nurse, so I'd never actually worked in an office before. It was a completely new environment and experience for me and it’s amazing to see how much my career has expanded and evolved since.
One of the things I absolutely love about WiseTech is that you can make your role whatever you want it to be. The business gives you so much freedom and flexibility to learn new skills and choose your own path, which I think is just incredible. I'm so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given here.
How has the transition to remote working impacted you?
It was definitely a significant adjustment at first – because People Operations is such a close-knit team, not seeing my colleagues every day was challenging and I still really miss that. But I'm also incredibly grateful that we're in a position where we can work from home and continue to work on really meaningful projects and initiatives.
As soon as we moved to remote working, our team immediately put in place a number of engagement activities to ensure that we were able to still stay connected to one another. And we made it a priority to check in with each other and communicate regularly, and I think we’ve all been really good at doing that.
I think one of the biggest advantages is the flexibility you get when working from home. I know that when I was in the office, I’d often eat lunch at my desk and perhaps not get outside as much as I should’ve, whereas now, during breaks, I'm taking my dogs out for a walk during the day, I’m doing some gardening, I’m spending more time doing things for myself. I just find I have a much nicer balance with everything in my life which has been a huge win.
What's something that you have achieved that you're proud of, either at WiseTech or outside of work?
I think the biggest hurdle that I’ve overcome is really, truly accepting who I am and actually being happy and comfortable with myself. Since around the age of 11, mental health has been a big struggle for me and it's probably only in the last few years that I've actually felt really healthy, both mentally and physically.
To get to this place, I've dedicated a lot of time to working on myself and confronting and healing a lot of past trauma. So, putting my mental health first every day and growing so much as a person has definitely been my greatest achievement.
As someone who identifies as non-binary, can you share a little bit about your experience?
It's something that I've come to realize and accept over the last few years. I knew I was queer at the age of 11, and then I came out when I was 21. But even then, I knew that something still didn't feel quite right, but I just didn’t know what that was. I didn't have the vocabulary or the understanding of what that could be.
When we’re born, we’re sort of pushed into these gender roles, and you’re either male or female. But for me, I never felt comfortable as female, but then I knew that I didn't identify as male either, so it was very confusing for many years.
I actually expressed to a really close friend of mine how I was feeling, and the internal battle I was having, which really helped me come to terms with it. And I think doing all of that work on myself has given me that extra confidence to be able to talk to someone about a subject that I didn't really know much about, without the fear of being judged.
I’d also been doing a lot of reading about other people's stories, and it made me realize how much I could identify with and relate to their experiences, and it was then that I realized that now is the perfect opportunity for me to speak out. And then, my partner, who also works in the People Operations team, sent an email around to the team letting them know that they’d updated their email signature with their preferred pronouns. They also included a link to an article that explained why gender pronouns are important and why we should be using them in the workplace.
So, I had my own mini coming out I guess, in that I shared with a few people around me my preferred pronouns (they, them, theirs) and I also updated my email signature to reflect this. I had a few people speak to me privately and say that they noticed I updated my pronouns and that they were excited for and supportive of me, that was an incredible feeling for me. Then to see other people in the team including their pronouns in their emails as well has meant they have put their supportive words into action and I really felt even more loved and accepted.
How has your life changed since coming out as non-binary?
For such a long time, I was really terrified to be 100% myself. I've known I was gay since I was 11 years old, and at that time in the late 90s and early 2000s, you really couldn’t come out like you can today. So, for a long time I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t for the sake of my family, for my friends and for society in general.
Coming out as gay was amazing, and now identifying as non-binary just feels like the next phase of truly being myself. It’s given me that extra layer of comfort in how I feel about myself and how I want the world to actually see me. It honestly feels so liberating – the comfort of knowing that when the world acknowledges me, that I’m seen for who I really am. And when people are accepting and supportive, it makes me so happy. It's just a wonderful feeling.
How can people be allies to non-binary people?
I think it’s really a combined effort. It’s about individuals taking the time to educate themselves, but it’s also important for our community to encourage and guide people to the right articles, information and stories to help them gain a better understanding of what it means to be non-binary.
After I came out as non-binary, one of my colleagues actually mentioned to me that this isn’t something she’s ever questioned herself, so she never thought of other people having to question it. She then actually starting reading up about it and educating herself on the correct pronouns to use, which was amazing to hear.
If you get someone’s pronouns wrong, I think it’s important not to dwell on it but to acknowledge the error, listen to any feedback and make sure they feel heard and understood and seeing them for who they are and not judging or making assumptions. You may have a loved one or a friend who is going through something challenging or confusing, so it's just about making the effort to be understanding and supportive and to treat people with dignity, respect and compassion.
What does it mean to you when you see others coming out as non-binary?
I think it's fantastic. I’ve seen a few people in the spotlight sharing their experiences, and it’s exciting to see because they have such a great platform to help raise awareness about this and to break down any stigmas or misconceptions. There can often be a negative spin put on this topic, but to see these people who are so widely known coming out and telling the world this is who they are, it’s so inspiring. I really hope it inspires other people who are having that internal struggle to do the same and realize, this is actually okay, it’s okay to be my true self.
When you see people embracing themselves and being happy with it, and I don't want to sound cheesy, but honestly it just warms my heart, because I can completely relate to that feeling of finally, truly accepting who you are and being happy with it. It’s a feeling like no other. It's honestly just the best feeling in the world.
The option to select Gender X is now available on many personal records and surveys, what does this mean to you?
It’s definitely a positive change and a step in the right direction. It's great that people now have that option and they’re not obliged to select a gender that they don’t identify with at all. I do still feel that sometimes we’re grouped as just this “other” section of people who aren’t the norm, although I don’t know what the alternative would be, but for me it feels like there’s still a way to go. But I definitely think the fact that there’s an alternative option to male or female is a huge step, and it feels really good to be able to select gender X and not female now.
What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
For me, it's acknowledging, understanding and appreciating difference. It's celebrating creativity, and having compassion for people around you, in your life and in your workplace. It’s about accepting and not judging those who have a diverse background, whether it's race, gender, sexual orientation, or otherwise. It's really about embracing and celebrating our differences.
WiseTech has always had a very diverse employee base which I've always appreciated. In the last few years, it's been really great to see some of the formal strategies and initiatives that the business is putting into place to support greater inclusion and diversity. I think even the fact that we're having this interview right now and that I have a platform to share my story is just amazing, and I can’t wait to see what else WiseTech does in the diversity and inclusion space.
What advice would you give to people who are on a similar journey to you?
There are a lot of people out there who are going through a similar experience with their gender identity to what I did, and some might be sharing their journey with the world and others might be suffering in silence. So, my advice to someone in that position, like I was a few years ago, would be to reach out to someone you trust and just have that first conversation. Because just talking about what you’re going through with someone and knowing you have their support can help tremendously.
But I think my main piece of advice would be to know that you're not alone, and to be kind to yourself. I think that's one thing I wish I’d told myself a few years ago, just to be kinder to myself and to be proud of myself.