A little less than a year ago, MariMar Lamit faced a tough life decision: to live a lie while working in a profession she loved, or come out as a transgender woman and risk her job.
MariMar recently returned to her hometown of Manila in the Philippines after working in the financial sector in Dubai. She adapted to the conservative work environment in the United Arab Emirates by wearing men’s clothes and used her birth name Ryan Cervantes Lamit. Yet every day, she yearned to live openly as a woman. On returning home, she made the brave decision to do just that and take on the name ‘MariMar’.
However, being openly transgender in a religious nation such as the Philippines comes with some real challenges. Whilst relatively accepting of the LGBTI community, there exists a set of perceptions for the kinds of roles they should work in, or what they’re capable of.
“Some interviewers expect people like me to be in the salon, making people beautiful”
“After interviews, I talk to myself in the mirror and say, ‘is this a sin to be like this? Is it really sinful to be who I am?” she said.
When applying for positions at local and international banks, MariMar was often dismissed based solely on her appearance. At every job interview MariMar attended dressed as a woman, she was told that there was no position for her, with many potential employers specifically telling her that they wouldn’t hire a transgender woman. She would be referred to as a bakla, a Tagalog word usually describing a feminine, gay man in the Philippines and with that came a wake of assumptions that MariMar believed did not apply to her.
"Some people can be very judgmental and think people like me don't belong in the corporate world. I go home, I always cried. I only wanted to show them the real me", she said.
Despite her numerous setbacks, MariMar’s steely determination proved successful when she secured an interview at ANZ’s Financial Intelligence Operations headquarters in Manila.
“At the interview, I didn’t look at her physical appearance, but I made sure she had the competencies that the bank required,” remembers MariMar’s supervisor at ANZ, Joanne Cornelio.
Such a global policy is essential to operating a modern, global business, says Mark Woolfrey, the Managing Director of ANZ Operations (Philippines),
“I look at it not only as the right thing to do, but it’s actually a business decision for us, because a workplace must reflect the communities in which we live,” he said.
MariMar soon discovered there were other transgender hires in the building and she hopes that her employment at ANZ will inspire others in the transgender community to aspire towards the job of their dreams.
“Whenever I go home, people ask me where I’m working because they see the happiness on my face. I tell them and they ask me why I’m allowed to dress as a woman. I tell them that I have found a company that truly believes in diversity.”
MariMar has now been with ANZ for eight months, and Ms Cornelio says she’s not only one of her team’s happiest members, but also one of the most effective.
“When I get to the production floor they embrace what I can bring to the team. They’re excited to be working with me,” she said. “I feel like I’ve found a place I belong. It feels like it was worth the wait.”