Before Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono and Janet Mock rocked the world and made headlines by coming out as transgender, a corporate vice president at New York Life also took that bold step out of the closet as her true self. But outside of the business in which she worked, nobody really noticed.
However, that day in October 2005 was not just a milestone for Stephanie Battaglino, her family and friends; she was the first officer in the 160-year history of her iconic insurance company to come out as transgender. “I may be the first,” she recalled telling the assembled vice presidents in their lofty Manhattan boardroom, “but I am certainly not the last.”
One of the VPs told Battaglino: “We want to make this transition as comfortable as possible for you.”
But that didn’t mean there wasn’t discomfort on the other side of the long conference room table. Battaglino’s book, Reflections From Both Sides of the Glass Ceiling: Finding My True Self In Corporate America, is out today and the trailblazing executive writes about navigating a minefield to survive her corporate transition: invasive questions about her medical transition and “security questions” — not about her clearance for confidential corporate intel — but about which bathroom she would use.
Eventually it dawned on the insurance executive just how worried her higher-ups were. They didn’t fret about whether she would be seen as a woman or continue to be a valued employee, but about their liability in giving her the green light to work there as the woman she knew herself to be. And after retiring, Battaglino found a new career as a public speaker, workshop presenter, trainer, workplace diversity & inclusion consultant and also as a member of PFLAG National’s Board of Directors.
But all along, she knew she had a tale to tell; more than one in fact, about how she survived those minefields, who helped her, and who threw more obstacles in her path.
“I knew I had a larger story to tell,” Battaglino told GLAAD. “I have so many stories that I’ve told companies and whoever wants to listen about what it’s been like on both sides of the glass ceiling, and the loss of male privilege.”
Given the plethora of transition memoirs, the question her publisher asked was, whom her book is meant for. “I think I have multiple target audiences, quite frankly,” she said. “I hope it’s a story of hope and perseverance and triumph over inner demons and outer demons. I hope that helps trans people who are certainly in that place. I also think the corporate types, the diversity and inclusion and human resources people, can learn a bit from the story of how I worked with New York Life to get where I did. And then the other one that really kind of popped out at me was cis women. They accepted me. They nurtured me.”
Battaglino describes her perception and how she was perceived as “The 180,” a total flip, once she accepted losing her male privilege. It’s those women who embraced her that she hopes her book reaches, inspires and motivates most of all. She brings a unique perspective to gender inequity that she thinks every woman, cisgender and transgender, can learn from and apply to their own efforts to improve their station in corporate America. That lesson hinges on her own perspective of her humanity.
“So often, when people think about us as a community of trans people, they forget about our shared humanity,” Battaglino said. “I often say to people, ‘When you cut me, I bleed just like you, my heart beats just like yours.’ You have to remind people of that. What I learned from that, I hope can serve as a guide for people of all stripes. And that’s what I think makes the book a little different.”
“Stephanie Battaglino masterfully uses her own learnings and experiences in the workplace to create better and more equitable workplaces for today’s employees,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Her workshops and writings should be assigned coursework for executives to create truly inclusive corporate cultures and for LGBTQ employees looking to bring their full selves to work.”
Battaglino mixes-in her personal milestones in her book, along with a helpful lexicon to explain what might be foreign terms, as she leads readers through the experiences of her corporate journey. She has been living according to her own rules and lays them down for all who’d like to follow her in a conversational, humor-filled narrative, tracing her life from her Catholic school boy upbringing to marriage and divorce and finding love again. Battaglino dedicates her book to her wife Mari, with a witty reminder: “Always remember, life could be boring.”
For Battaglino, it never has been that.
Reflections From Both Sides of the Glass Ceiling: Finding My True Self In Corporate America is available today at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Read more about her at https://stephaniebattaglino.com/