When Gabrielle Claiborne came out as a transgender woman in 2010, she worried about what it would mean for her career. She had spent the past thirty years in the construction industry, owning and operating her own successful businesses, but she knew that discrimination against the transgender community would make it difficult for her to continue finding work.
She also knew that she wanted to make a difference in her community, that she wanted to use her business experience and knowledge to make life easier for other transgender people navigating their own careers. She didn’t know what that would look like until she met her eventual business partner, Reverend Linda Herzer, a trans advocate working to educate others about trans and non-binary people. The two women decided to merge their skills and passions to cofound Transformation Journeys Worldwide, an inclusion training and consulting firm that focuses on supporting organizations in creating fully inclusive cultures for trans and non-binary people.
Transformation Journeys Worldwide (TJWW), based in Atlanta, Georgia, serves corporations, nonprofits, spiritual communities, healthcare providers, as well as educational institutions. It has worked with clients like UPS, Home Depot, the Atlanta Hawks, and Kaiser Permanente.
“Our trainings and consultations look different for different clients,” Claiborne explains. “A lot of times our clients are at different places around understanding of trans and non-binary people, so we meet them where they are and create custom consultations and training to help them advance and move forward.”
In addition to teaching the importance of inclusion from a human rights perspective, Claiborne emphasizes to clients that an inclusive work culture is the best possible way to attract and retain top talent. She cites a 2017 Harris Poll that found 12% of Millennials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, which is double the number of Generation Xers that identify as such.
Millennials are making up more and more of the workplace as time goes on, so it is in a company’s best interest to foster a culture of inclusion, she explains. The biggest challenges for people, Claiborne finds, is understanding what it means to identify as non-binary.
“To an extent culture is now just beginning to wrap their arms around trans people, but non-binary people challenge our cultural assumptions about gender even moreso than trans people do,” she says. “I identify as a woman so essentially I still identify with the binary. It’s non-binary individuals who are really challenging our assumptions on gender expression.”
One big piece of TJWW trainings is helping people understand how to interact respectfully with their transgender and non-binary clients and coworkers. TJWW offers strategies for respectfully asking someone which pronouns they use, and it educates people about what to expect when a coworker comes out or is still in the in the process of evolving their gender expression.
“We have found people want to do the right thing most of the time,” Claiborne says. “They just don’t know how to go about it. The companies we work with are calling us in because they recognize a gap and want to grow.”
Still, Claiborne says it can be challenging to help businesses understand why it is so important for them to undergo trainings like those offered by TJWW. “People are at different places, and meeting them where they are is critical because organizations are not wanting to invest their time, resources, and money if they don’t see it as beneficial to them. It has to be relevant to them. We have to create that relevancy and help them see the relevancy for themselves.”
Claiborne's significant entrepreneurial experience has guided her through the ups and downs of cofounding TJWW. “I knew how to start a business,” she says. “I knew how to collaborate. I knew how to market myself. I knew how to create.” Nevertheless, she says she has learned to be more collaborative since starting TJWW. It has become important to Claiborne to surround herself with other people who bring talent and experience. “So it’s not just me bringing my solutions to the table,” she says.
Through all of her entrepreneurial experiences, Claiborne has learned that it is how you handle the difficult times that will determine the success of your business. “It’s how you run your business in the between times, when it’s hard, when you don’t have money coming in that month.”
She also feels strongly about giving back to other organizations that need support. She is a board member for Atlanta Pride, a member of the city’s LGBTQ mayoral advisory board, a member of the Transgender Inclusion Task Force for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and she is also a vocalist for her spiritual community. “The sponge cannot be full all the time,” she says. “You have to wring it out occasionally, and you have to look at your business as that sponge.”
Claiborne is proud of all she has been able to do and is especially proud that TJWW is seeing positive results for the organizations it works with. “When our clients circle back around with us and share how much they learned and actual steps they’re taking to implement the changes they learned in our trainings, it does our heart good. I wanted to make a difference in the world, and now I feel like I am making a difference in the way it’s meant for me to make.”