FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

In good company: Gina Duncan's story

When Greg Pingston decided to become Gina Duncan, she found support from her employer.

On the outside, Greg Pingston was a former strong safety at East Carolina University, a married father of two, and a regional manager for Wells Fargo who supervised about a third of the company’s Florida workforce from an office in Orlando.

On the inside, Pingston was a woman. In 2007, at 50, Pingston decided to no longer keep living an “inauthentic life” and decided to transition to the female gender. After telling his family, he informed his employer.

Today, Pingston is Gina Duncan. And she can still recall the moment when she pulled her boss aside during a regional manager’s meeting at the Hyatt hotel at Orlando International Airport. Over martinis, Duncan told him about her personal journey and what she intended to do.

“He said, ‘Well, I have to tell you that I don’t know a great deal about this. But I would like to discuss it with HR and all of the experts and then we will get back to you with a plan on how we can support you in this life decision,’ ” Duncan says.

It took only a few days for Wells Fargo’s human resources department to reach out. They told her that she was the 17th company employee to transition between genders, easing her sense of isolation. Duncan and Wells Fargo then outlined a detailed plan: Which surgeries she intended to undergo, when she would have them and how much time she needed to take off.

They talked about things that Duncan had never considered, like which bathroom she would use. Wells Fargo offered her the option of transferring to a similar position in another city when she returned as a female, something many transgender people choose to do. Duncan chose to stay in Orlando.

Once a plan was in place, she and Wells Fargo turned their attention to communicating the news. The company organized a carefully orchestrated conference call with her co-workers, held the day before she was to leave for facial reconstruction surgery. Her supervisor began the call by emphasizing Wells Fargo’s commitment to diversity and then turned the call over to Duncan, who explained what she had been through and that Greg Pingston would eventually return to work as Gina Duncan.

“I’ve never felt so free as when I was walking to my car that crisp October afternoon. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I could finally proceed with being an authentic person,” Duncan, now 59, says.

Well Fargo’s support, she adds, “was critical. What transgender people fear the most is social isolation and a deterioration of their quality of life. And your quality of life depends on your employment situation. For Wells Fargo to say, we support you in this, your job is not in jeopardy … it enables people to have a successful transition.”

Transgender protections still lag protections for gay and lesbian employees in many workplaces. For instance, only a third of Fortune 500 companies currently offer transgender- inclusive health care coverage, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2015 Corporate Equality Index.

Of the 30 Florida-based companies surveyed by the group, 29 had written policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 26 had policies that also included gender identity. Just nine offered at least one transgender-inclusive health insurance option.

But Duncan says many companies are improving. Now the transgender inclusion director for Equality Florida, she has provided transgender-specific training to more than two dozen employers, including companies such as Sodexo, Siemens and JetBlue. When Electronic Arts brought her to its studio in Maitland, the company made sure to pipe in employees from its operation in Vancouver so they could participate in the session, too.

“I’ve found that the majority of major employers across the country want to get this right,” Duncan says.

History of Inclusion

Wells Fargo has always prided itself on employing a diverse team and serving a diverse customer base, says Derek Jones, central Florida regional president.

The company began advertising in Spanish language newspapers in the 1850s. It hired female bank tellers in 1943 before most other banks did. It extended domestic partnership benefits to employees in 1998.

Now one of the largest banks in the world with $1.7 trillion in assets, the company offers 10 groups to provide leadership development, mentoring and management feedback for Middle Eastern team members, veterans, LGBT employees and those with disabilities, among other areas.

The company has set a goal of steering at least 10% of its supplier spending to certified diverse suppliers. Senior executives sit on a “diversity council,” chaired by the CEO, that is responsible for making decisions that accelerate diversity and inclusion efforts.

“We know that when we create environments that champion diversity and inclusion, it helps us attract and retain diverse team members and it helps us connect with the communities that we live and work in,” says Jones, a 20-year Wells Fargo veteran who now manages 195 stores and more than 2,300 employees for the company.

Wells Fargo scored 100 on the Human Rights Campaign scorecard. See how Florida companies rated, here.