S2E15: Queer Experiences in the Workplace: Navigating the Visible and Invisible Identities

S2E15: Queer Experiences in the Workplace: Navigating the Visible and Invisible Identities


We enter our final mini-series of the season, “Gender, Sexuality & Money,” by kicking off with a conversation on queer experiences in the workplace and the heteronormative pay gaps that we don’t usually see. In this episode, Teri Tan, the leader of this year’s O4U business team, chats with us about their experience of being queer in the finance industry. How do you navigate your workplace identity and best represent yourself?

This episode was produced by Global Thinking Foundation USA and Hangar Studios.

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Austin: [00:00:44] Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Your World, Your Money. I'm Austin and I will be your guest host today, along with my colleague Lauren. And we are so excited to lead each of you through our final mini-series of the season on gender, sexuality, and money.


Lauren: [00:00:57] Yes, I am so excited to be here. We will be kicking off the mini-series with a discussion on hetero normative pay gaps in the workplace, the glass ceilings and so much more. For the LGBTQAI+ community, What is it like to start your career? How do you navigate the concern around how to best represent yourselves?


Austin: [00:01:17] And today for that conversation, we have an amazing guest, financial expert, and community leader joining the conversation, Teri Tan. Teri is an associate at Galaxy Digital, focusing on investing and investment banking in the blockchain industry. Previously, Teri was an investment banker at Barclays. Terry graduated from NYU Stern School of Business with a Masters in Accounting, Bachelors in Finance, and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. At Stern, Teri was president of Pride Corp, Stearn's LGBTQ Business Organization, where Teri founded Stern's annual Ally Week and initiated the corporate sponsorship program. Teri was also nominated as one of two NYU students on Poets and Quants' "Best & Brightest Class of 2016 Business Majors." On the side, Teri models for fun. Teri has modeled and fashion shows including DapperQ's New York Fashion Week show and was also featured in an Audi commercial alongside Bayern Munich soccer players. Teri dreams of one day becoming a model for kids clothes. Teri has also been involved and out for undergrad and LGBTQ nonprofit organization for the last nine years and is excited to be leading the 04U business team this year.


Lauren: [00:02:25] Teri, you've done everything. Model, finance, club leader.


Teri: [00:02:33] Yeah, I know. It's I've definitely tried to fill my time. I think the just my part of my personality is to go do everything and what I'm passionate about something I go all out. And so that includes obviously business, which is, I guess, my career. And then the other thing that I'm incredibly passionate about is being involved in the LGBTQ community. I avoid saying the word activism because I think that the activists in the space do a lot of work. And I don't do that phrase or term justice. But I like to do as much as I can for the community.


Lauren: [00:03:11] And I think what's also special to highlight right now is that we're all NYU alumni and I know we're going to get into this later. But when I went to NYU, I'm a little bit younger than Austin. But when I went to NYU, all the Stern kids, you don't really hear that they're minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Everyone's coming to school with a suit and a tie. What made you decide to focus on Gender and Sexuality Studies in relation to this more analytical style of learning?


Teri: [00:03:39] Yeah, so I think to help, I guess, frame my rationale for doing that, we've got to step a little bit further back to baby Teri, 18 years old, in Singapore. So I am a queer trans Singaporean, born and raised in Singapore. At the age of 18, I sort of came out to myself as not straight, questionmark, what am I? And all I wanted to do was to leave Singapore and figure it out. I just needed a space away from home. And so for me, the easiest way to do that was to get into college somewhere else, anywhere else. So I applied to every single college that I thought would accept me. And then I got accepted to NYU. And so my goal for going to college, actually, and specifically NYU, and as a result of that, Stern, was to go explore my identity. And NYU obviously is a great school and like one of the top business schools out there, and it furthers a lot of people's careers and that type of stuff. But for me, I just wanted to go there to explore my identity. And so Stern is very intense in terms of the workload, the curricular, all that type of stuff, recruiting. And I wanted to honor myself in exploring my identity by taking a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies because that's really what I came to New York to do. And so. If I didn't take a minor, I knew I would sort of just slack off and if I did take a minor be forced at least twice a week to go study these concepts. That might be incredibly hard for somebody who only, whose brain can only process like numbers and facts and graphs and stuff like that to read a paper on the idea of gender and the history of gender and sexuality. That was very difficult for me, but I just wanted to push myself so.


Austin: [00:05:33] That's really amazing. I as Lauren mentioned, all NYU grads and I was a Tisch alumni, and so there is an inherent self-exploration, right, of all of those things. I went to NYU, I feel like for a similar reason of exploration and freedom. But it's just I applaud you so much to explore that on your own through the context of business and to have that adjacent study at NYU. And I wish I would have done that in a more academic way. But in that undergrad world, I know you do a lot for O4u. And I would love to hear a little bit more about their mission and what they do for the LGBTQAI+ community, specifically for students entering the workforce.


Teri: [00:06:12] Yeah, no, absolutely. So I actually stumbled upon O4U back when I was a sophomore, a senior had gone to the conference previously and was like, you have to go to this thing. And I was like, at that point, I was - I would do anything queer. I went to a book club. I don't do X, Y, Z, if it's queer, I'm there. So I was like, fine I'll do this. I show up and I see a whole bunch of queer business people. So I very quickly realized that at NYU, in the queer spaces, I was the only business person and in the business spaces I was the only queer person. And so at O4U, that's sort of where I found the intersection of queer business people. I mean a lot of queer people are anticapitalist and hate business people and I totally get it. Money is the root of all evil. But this was a means to an end, right? I had to go to business school in order to go explore my identity, get out of Singapore like it's very layered. And it's not like, hey, I'm a corporate greedy person, even though let's be real. I do like money. I'm to try to figure my way out. And so it was hard for me to go find people who understood that I need to do business. And I actually like business and I'm also queer, but I'm like, I'm not the devil. But it was only at O4U where I met these queer business people. And so I started to give you a bit of an overview of what O4U does.


Teri: [00:07:44] It's a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enable high-achieving LGBTQ undergrads to achieve their full potential. Specifically, we actually host four different conferences. The business conference, which is the one that I've grown up with. There is a tech conference, the engineering and the marketing conference. As I mentioned, I've been involved in the business conference since I was a sophomore. So that's about like eight years now. And it's actually the one event every year that I look forward to. It's a three-day conference weekend and it's typically hosted at Goldman Sachs. And just imagine, like three hundred and thirty queer students gather together for a weekend. And we also have sponsors so that the professionals think we get somewhere in the range of like two hundred sponsors or even more sometimes. And it's just a bunch of queer people hanging out together. Right. There's obviously programming like what is investment banking, what is consulting. But then there's also what is it like to be queer in the workplace? What is it like to be Asian in the workplace? What is it like to be black in the workplace, a black and queer or Asian and queer? What is it like to be trans in the workplace? There are mentorship groups. There is the more, I guess, networking focused events. There's also like a career fair. We have- how do you network? Make more business basic stuff. There's a whole range of things and they all intersect business and queerness together.


Lauren: [00:09:14] So Teri, how do you hold that dichotomy of being queer and in corporate? I know you mentioned you're like people don't understand or they even have first judgments about it from the queer community, but also from the business perspective. So let's say a young business person comes up to you at O4U and they're asking for advice. One of the things that you said that I thought was incredible, I think you did as well, Austin, was you have discussions about what to wear when you go on an interview, which might seem so obvious to a heteronormative cis person. But in the queer community, you want to perform in these interviews and you want to perform at your best, which means you want to look your best, but your best doesn't necessarily mean what's acceptable. So if someone were to come to you and ask that question, what are some of the things that you say to bring a level of comfort that we don't usually get in other spaces?


Teri: [00:10:05] Yeah. So it's interesting you talk about that particular piece, because I'm incredibly passionate about fashion in general, and queer fashion specifically. And at O4U, I was trying to figure out as a student, what do I wear interviews. I actually, when I was interviewing, got told by an analyst, you can't wear that shirt in the actual interview. It was a white shirt with, I guess, multicolored dots, because I wanted to be like, hey, I'm formal, but I also have a little bit of, like, flair. Yeah, exactly right. I'm like I don't want to look like every other basic stream walking into the room with, like, a white shirt. I didn't wear a tie because girls, quotation marks, don't have to wear ties. So I was trying to play the masculine-feminine, the men and women sort of binary, and sort of stick it to the corporate people. But yeah. So. Now, moving on to now that I am a full-time sort of professional, every student comes up to me and asked me what they should wear to an interview. My advice to them is wear whatever you feel comfortable with, because if you are comfortable, you are going to perform at the interview, but you're going to be at your best. I will also caveat that people are going to judge you based on what you wear, because it's not like all rainbows out there and as much as I want this conversation, this conference weekend and like our community, to be a safe space. When you go out there, it's really not a safe space.


Teri: [00:11:40] Right. And nobody can guarantee any safe spaces. To be fair, I like to call it a brave space because we dare to be our authentic self and we dare to say things and be vulnerable. But nobody can really say that anything is really safe. So, yeah, what we have done in the past is to host a session at O4U called Dress for Success, which I sort of came up with, I think at my first conference as a director in twenty seventeen. And we basically put a bunch of people on the panel who do not dress heteronormatively. Right. So that may be a cis gay man carrying a clutch or a purse to the office or paint nails, sometimes wear a dress to the office. Right. We have some trans people on the panel discussing how they navigate what they wear to the office and navigating masculinity and femininity and how they want to present themselves and as part of that, their gender. So I would say the tough part about all of this is that it's all very subjective and it's all on a case by case basis because end there's your identity and you are the only person in the world that's you. So giving sort of like broad brush advice is always very difficult. But the only broadbrush advice I would give is as long as you are comfortable with what you are presenting to the world, that is like more than enough.


Lauren: [00:13:07] Is this just trial and error? Like, you kind of just did it over and over again to a point where you're, like, confident enough to do it and walk into a space and be like this is me or have you always felt this way?


Teri: [00:13:20] That is such a good point. You're right, I didn't realize this until you mentioned it, but it has been a process of trial and error. I figured out I don't like women sue jackets because we have curve and that accentuates my very curvy body. But that took a while. That took me by buying like five to six women's jackets thinking that was good enough. And then I'm like, just kidding. Actually not I find this little really weird. Some shirts here and there. They don't fit very well and I would just like try to make it work. And then I found a different brand that works. And I'm like, OK, so it did take a bit of money and it actually took a bunch of time. And it also took certain interview experiences like, for example, that person telling me, I can't wear this shirt and that other shirt for me to find what is acceptable to the specific company or role or industry that I'm in and what I'm comfortable with. So there's a very fine balance, right? Because at the end of the day, I may want to wear X, but if the industry that I'm trying to get into doesn't accept this type of attire, I'm still going to be putting myself in jeopardy.


Teri: [00:14:29] So there's a fine balance that did take a bit of time. And the other thing that I will say also is that as a student interviewing, you may not have as much autonomy over what you wear, or rather you might feel more restricted. But as you go up the ladder, you can wear whatever. And because you've proven yourself as, for example, if you're an analyst and you've worked a year, people know you're good with your work. I showed up at Barclays with a bun, what people call like a man bun, and I had the higher sides and back of my head shaved just a little top piece. And I was doing that at Barclays for like three months. And I was in Barclays investment banking, which is arguably one of the most corporate client-facing roles. And I could do that and they allowed me to do that. So obviously, Barclays was a very accepting place. My group at Barclays was very accepting, but I only dared to do that after I had gotten some traction at work.


Austin: [00:15:31] I love that you mention that and just speak to that confidence that it takes to do that, I think it harkens to a saying that people say usually in romantic situations, but you can't say the wrong thing to the right person. And I feel similarly when you're interviewing, the way that you are expressing is the way that you are going to do the job. And if someone's not going to receive that, then it's likely not the right job for you. But it does take that confidence that's built to be able to express. I usually occupy the film theater space professionally as an actor. And in this job community facing job where I'm speaking to financial professionals, it is very interesting to see how I'm received based off of how queer I'm presenting. I love also that you mentioned the nuances of fashion. It's not just a man wearing a dress or a cis man wearing a dress or etc. I don't like wearing khakis because to me that's very hetero normative and gives me flashbacks to high school that aren't great, you know, and I don't like wearing ties. I feel like the very constricting etc. But I also do notice, depending on how queer I present in my fashion, I am treated differently or spoken to differently in a financial space. I think a conversation that we were having earlier was about spaces being queer-friendly, but also being queer affirming.


Lauren: [00:16:50] I thought that you had some really interesting thoughts on the visible aspects of your identity versus the invisible ones when they come up, why it matters, why are we even bringing this up and how it ties into this overall conversation of queerness in the workplace.


Teri: [00:17:06] The piece about me being queer is extremely visible because my hair is short and everybody just thinks of me as a lesbian. I do not identify with the word really, but I think the piece that's less visible is my transness and also my Singaporeaness. I guess, more visible identities. You can't really hide. You show up like I'm Asian, right? I can't really hide that I'm queer and I present queer, so, I can't hide that. But things that I can hide. I get to choose when I show it and when I don't. For example, when I speak with you, all right now I am putting on a fake accent, I can code-switch very easily. This is not my natural accent when I speak with my family. But I code-switch because I don't need yet another thing to tell people that I am different. Because for me, that doesn't matter as much as the one piece that I actually do want to show them, which is my queer identity, for example, and whenever it's convenient, I will throw out my transness as well. And usually, that is in the context of telling people that I actually understand issues of gender and sexuality. I talk about my queerness and my transness, and that is just to provide some, I guess, personal anecdotes or experiences to back up whatever I wanted to say.


Austin: [00:18:38] In the media. And just with movements recently, the conversation around pay gap is specifically around the difference between cis men and cis women. Generally, the conversation is around cis white men and cis white women. So I am interested in your experience. If you could expand on the conversation and love to know if your thoughts on the gender gap between gender-nonconforming people, between trans men and women, etc., and how that conversation plays out. Because I know it's much more than just the pay gap between cis men and cis women.


Teri: [00:19:13] That's a great that's a great, great question. So I'd say at the junior levels. Typically, if you are in a structured environment, the pay gap doesn't necessarily change as much, right, because it's all structure, it's tier as I'm going up the corporate ladder and I'm in a less structured environment in this sort of like ideas also across, I guess, other startup environments as well, because I've seen a bunch of those. If you're in a less structured environment, people get hired because of who they know. Right. Hey, I know this person who can be a good engineer. I know this other person should be a good business development person, whatever it is. Right. And if you get in early on a company, you get equity. And if you get equity in a company that's about to skyrocket, you can make some really big, big bucks. And so while it may not be the pay gap directly with your base salary or maybe your bonus, sometimes with the amount of equity you're being issued. Right. Or your title or stuff like that, I think a lot of these are subconscious. And I think there's a concept of unconscious bias that people talk about a lot, and if you don't call it out, if you're not conscious of it, what you're going to notice is a lot of white men up at the top, couple of white women here and there, and then everybody else is at the bottom.


Teri: [00:20:44] It's a natural flowing phenomenon that needs to end. And the way that I know how I can do that is for me personally to get up to the top. But at the same time, I also know that I need to enter this room full of white men and claim my spot. And so I personally will be as loud as I need to be in order to make that happen. And hopefully it'll be easier for people moving forward to follow my footsteps. But I mean, firstly, just sucks that this even has to happen. I know people who are the same age as me making a ton more than me because they got in the company either earlier or they're closer to some of the other senior leaders and stuff like that. Like that is unfair for me and for other people. But there's nothing wrong that they did specifically. Right. But it's still unfair. So it's hard to sort of call out those things, especially when you're a junior, a more junior person and at the end of the day, you don't want to get fired. So there's a limit to what you can do and you need to do that as well.


Lauren: [00:21:54] Interesting. Why do you feel more comfortable expressing the different aspects of your queerness and not your racial or ethnic or national identity?


Teri: [00:22:05] I think a large part of it is because I grew up in Singapore where Chinese people are the majority, and so I've been in the majority. And so I've never had to question or think about my race growing up. Right. And then when I went to the US, I went there with the sole purpose of exploring my sexuality and then gender. And so that was very prominent for me. I've always been very comfortable with my - I want to say comfortable, but I've never really had to think about my race as much as my gender or sexuality. And so for me, I don't think that is as prominent. And also, at the end of the day, I do come from a fairly privileged background. And so those are things I just don't have to think about. And I think there's a concept of the privilege of invisibility somewhere, somehow that I read in one of my gender studies classes and that sort of, I would say applies to my racial identity and my nationality. Whatever it's relevant, I bring it up, but most of the time it's not. And most of the time it's only when it comes to visa issues at work, which are the worst, by the way, that's only what is relevant.


Austin: [00:23:13] Thank you so much for vulnerably sharing and shedding light on just that really important piece of knowledge that people are expressing in different ways and hopefully something that our listeners can pick up to and give grace to as we're working with our co-workers in different spaces. Final question to close us out, I would love to hear from you - as the conference director of O4U business this year. What advice would you have for a queer person entering the workforce? One tidbit of Teri Tan knowledge.


Teri: [00:23:49] I have so many. Well, if I had to pick just one thing, I'm going to say be gentle with yourself, because the world out there is pretty harsh, right? You don't need to be harsh on yourself. When you go in interview. It's going to be really tough. You've got to study and interview at the same time and then figure out what kind of business you want to do if you even want to do business or marketing or tech or some other industry. There's a lot of things that we need to figure out. And sometimes you put a lot of pressure. I did put a lot of pressure on myself when I was in school and trying to look for a job, and I wish I was a bit more patient with myself. And if I didn't get the job that I wanted out of college, that's OK, because you can try again next year and the year after. I think there's a lot of pressure that you need to get the dream job as a junior, getting a full time offer for a year and a half out. That sort of pressure sometimes is just. If you can't handle it, that's OK, just trying to remind yourself that you're also human and it's OK to take an extra breath, an extra step, and sometimes you can just take a break as well.


Austin: [00:25:05] That is beautiful advice, thank you so much, Teri. Also, I lied. We have one more question.


Lauren: [00:25:11] You're just too interesting, Teri. We just can keep thinking of questions. Dream job, right? Absolute dream job. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you helping if you want to be in that sphere? How do you picture yourself?


Teri: [00:25:26] My dream job, if I could do whatever I want and money wasn't an issue. I would work for O4U. I do that as like my full-time job and then on the side, maybe run like a bar, a speakeasy bar where it's like very clear queer friendly, but not queer specific. And I make super nice cocktails and stuff like that. I'd love to just be in the queer community more broadly. All right. I got my first customer. I just want to be around the community more broadly. And I love, I love interacting with people like as much as I love crypto blotchy technologies, like that's really not my life's passion and I'm not shy to see this. Everybody knows that. Like, I just love the queer community, queer friends. And I also kind of like the idea of business. So to the extent, I'm able to intersect these two together, I will do that. And so I guess that's my answer to you - I'd work for O4U and then on the side of a little business that caters to queer people.


Lauren: [00:26:33] Amazing. Thank you so much, Teri.


Austin: [00:26:35] Amazing. We are there. Yeah.


Lauren: [00:26:37] You know me and Austin will be there.


Teri: [00:26:39] I'll set it up in Singapore so you'll have to fly over.


Lauren: [00:26:42] I'd love that, too.


Austin: [00:26:45] Well, thank you so much, Teri, for joining us this week. And our conversation, it is such a beautiful conversation with three queer NYU grads. We love to see it. And just again, thank you so much for vulnerably sharing your story and your experience being a queer person of color and the corporate finance world. So thank you again. We are supporting you and all of your devers here at GLT, and just wish your continued success.


Teri: [00:27:12] Thank you so much. This was so much fun. I'm so glad you all invited me here.


Lauren: [00:27:17] Of course.


Austin: [00:27:18] Thank you all so much for joining us today. Next week, we will continue to dive into the topic of heteronormative pay gaps with Dr. Nicholas Salter. We are going to discuss being queer in the workplace, the barriers and the discrimination that queer people face and so much more.


Lauren: [00:27:33] If you have any thoughts or feedback on the episodes, ideas or topics we should cover. Drop us a line at hi@ywympodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you.


Austin: [00:27:44] Thanks so much again. See you next week.