myGwork meets Jamie Langley
BY MYGWORK, IMAGES BY JAMIE LANGLEY
Jamie Langley is the Global Head of Parexel Academy, having been at the company for over a decade. Before arriving at Parexel in 2008, she was a nurse and a teaching nurse before transitioning to clinical trials. George Wright from myGwork sat down to speak to her about growing up in rural America, finding acceptance in her career and the importance of authentic storytelling.
For Jamie, the swap to Parexel simply made sense. She’d heard about it for years as being a “people” company, where the ethos was about relationships and communication. She shares how this was appealing for a number of reasons. “I was very much closeted [at] my prior company. And in fact, in prior work settings I had been overtly discriminated against. So, part of my reason for applying was because it was such a people-focused organisation, everything was around relationships, whether it was relationships internally or with clients and sites.”
As was common in much of the corporate world at the time, the notion of diversity programs, or HR officers tasked with workplace inclusion, simply didn’t exist. And so, it was this people-focus that gave Jamie hope and support for being able to live authentically at the company. Jamie recalls how “even from my very first manager, my very first team that I was managing […] I had a wife [who has since transitioned to become Jamie’s husband], and over the course of time, it was more comfortable to talk about my family. It has never really been an issue.”
Working at Parexel with her husband and daughter, Jamie talks fondly of the Chief Diversity Officer Aida Sabo, describing her as a “rockstar”. Together, they launched the “Safe Zone“ initiative, which Jamie’s husband now leads. Attracting staff from all levels, it has a proven record of success in helping to support staff – with one vertical head from Parexel feeling comfortable enough to come out during the session and disclose that her and her wife were expecting a child.
This is all part of Parexel’s global steering committee for their LGBTQ+ network. Working with equality indices like Stonewall and HRC, as well as operating a number of local and regional committees, the LGBTQ+ network brings together individuals from around the globe to meet monthly and to explore LGBTQ+ topics and issues, including setting the global efforts of the company to help the LGBTQ+ community. Jamie notes how the level of corporate sponsorship – with a number of VPs sponsoring the committee – is helpful in making sure that top-down and bottom-up approaches meet in the middle.
“The bottom-up is where the idea, the effort, the energy really is coming from. The top is pushing ideas down, at the same rate as we’re pushing ideas up, and it’s a powerful machine. When you have that support, you have that advocacy at the upper level, you have the momentum needed to push ideas forward.”
The pandemic, of course, has presented new challenges for Jamie and the work of the LGBTQ+ network. While video-conferencing has evolved to become more convenient and useful, the loss of social activities, like festivals and Prides, has had a significant impact on wellbeing. Jamie points out how, since lockdowns began in territories where Parexel operates, support networks have popped up to check in on people, and find out how everyone is doing, especially as areas come in and out of lockdowns at varying levels.
When it comes to the LGBTQ+ network’s activities however, Jamie is full of glowing memories. She mentions the “Show Your Color” contest, which has been running every year for the last five years. It invites Parexel staff to submit individual artwork that demonstrates what Pride means to them, or pictures showing how they celebrate Pride at work or with their families. “Through Covid it’s been amazing to see, and to see people really pouring themselves and their creativity and their emotions into support whether they’re part of the community or allies,” Jamie adds.
But things haven’t always been this easy. Jamie grew up in rural America with a father in the Air Force, which she describes as “very regimented, very Republican, and very conservative.” Growing up, she was largely shielded from being LGBTQ+, and went on to marry her best friend from high school and have two wonderful children. Eventually, she had to face the truth and owned up to her husband that she was LGBTQ+. She describes how difficult it was to lose a dear friend, a husband, and be forced to start another journey. The challenges didn’t stop at home, however – one previous employer even referred her to psychological counseling within the workplace because Jamie had left her husband.
But Jamie found love again, and remarried. Being with her husband, a transgender man, both before and during his transition, Jamie was quick to make sure that colleagues knew her husband’s pronouns and identity had changed. “Everyone knows Liam, and many of them remember him when he was my wife. After he came out, I sat down with my manager, because I knew if I started changing his pronouns, they’d be confused. Her reaction was overwhelmingly positive. There’s been nothing that has made me feel like it was objectified or anything.”
And that marriage has endured – when talking about the state of LGBTQ+ rights around the world, Jamie points out that the US isn’t always as advanced as people think. “I’ve married my spouse three different times, and it was only the last one that was legal.” This was particularly highlighted during a cross-office event hosted with a regional LGBTQ+ committee in Southeast Asia, exploring the different legal attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community around the world.
For Jamie, however, it’s sharing these stories and experiences that she believes will ultimately help equality to progress. Stories “either play into your fears, or help to alleviate or mitigate them,” she points out. “The more stories that we can share of positive journeys, even if they were rocky at start, the better we are across the board. I think that if my 84-year-old mother can shift gears and manage through my husband’s transition, and be comfortable enough to ask questions, then anything is possible. I think we just have to move beyond our own fears, our own misconceptions.”
Being LGBTQ+ isn’t always an easy ride – Jamie describes her own experience growing up as “a rollercoaster”. But as our community continues to gain acceptance, we will have more positive stories to share to help spur on others to come out and make their own. For Jamie, being supported in the workplace has helped turn a career fraught with overt discrimination into one where she is living, thriving, and succeeding.
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