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From beer boycotts to shopfronts vandalised over supposed “tuck-friendly” swimwear, it can be a challenging time for US companies to weigh in on transgender issues. Maeve DuVally thinks they need to find a way.
DuVally, 62, was a managing director in Goldman Sachs’ corporate communications team when in 2019 she became the most senior person in the firm’s history to come out as transgender. Her reveal in a New York Times article was a watershed moment for Wall Street, attaching the issue to a giant like Goldman in an industry that has struggled to move past its male-dominated culture.
DuVally’s memoir, Maeve Rising: Coming Out Trans in Corporate America, is published this week. She hopes her experience of juggling her transition with work and family life can be a road map for other trans people as well as companies trying to help them on their way.
In an interview at the Financial Times’ office in New York, DuVally told me: “I decided at this stage of my life, I wanted to do something that was more giving back to the LGBTQ+ community.”
The corporate climate is arguably even more complicated now than when DuVally came out in 2019. For brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bud Light brand, a seemingly innocuous collaboration this year with a transgender TikTok personality and actress was the catalyst for a boycott from conservatives.
Ron DeSantis, the Republican presidential contender and governor of Florida, recently said on a campaign stop to customers at a bar that he would “serve them anything — except Bud Light. I can’t do that”.
Vandals singled out US retailer Target in response to videos on social media falsely claiming the company was selling child-sized “tuck friendly” swimwear designed to help transgender people hide their genitals.
DuVally labelled politicians who delegitimise transgender people to make political points as “despicable” and said this only added to the need for employers to provide a safe environment for their staff.
“We need corporate America to step up,” she said.
Through her two decades in corporate communications, DuVally understands better than most the tensions between wanting to deliver well-meaning corporate messages and the risk of PR blowback.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing that that tension happens. But the point I make now, having seen all of this in Goldman, [is] that there are different ways companies can show they support an under-represented population,” DuVally said.
She points to Goldman chief executive David Solomon participating in a group photo last year to mark an international transgender day of visibility as a small example of the types of gestures companies can do to make their workplaces feel more tolerant.
“The fact that David took time out of his day to come down and be part of that sends a message, I think, both internally and externally that management of Goldman Sachs is supportive of their trans population,” DuVally said.
Lloyd Blankfein, the former Goldman CEO and DuVally’s old boss, became an early advocate in corporate America of gay marriage, a move he later said had cost the bank business.
Blankfein has endorsed DuVally’s book, writing that it highlights how difficulties for colleagues could be made much easier “if they feel they have the support to show up for work as their authentic selves”.
Maeve was born Michael DuVally in Cork, Ireland, and grew up mostly in Providence, Rhode Island, and Rehoboth, Massachusetts. She worked as a financial journalist in Tokyo, Washington and New York before moving to corporate communications, first with Merrill Lynch in 2002 and then Goldman in 2004, where she became a managing director. DuVally left Goldman in 2022 — she parted on good terms and still works with the firm as a consultant.
Maeve Rising is an honest look at her life, spanning a difficult childhood, decades of alcoholism that derailed two marriages, and the tortuous journey of coming out to her three children and bosses at Goldman.
She describes her early days when she began identifying as a woman but before she was out at work. To keep her secret, she would covertly change from her suit into women’s clothes at the end of the day and stealthily exit the building.
“My whole routine of changing on the way out of work was exciting at the start but by the end of it, I really had no choice but to come out at work because it was causing me pain,” DuVally said. “It really hurt to be suppressing my female self which had become quite developed at that point.”
Of her own experience at Goldman, DuVally said the firm did a “pretty good job” supporting her transition.
“It probably would have made a better story if I said they didn’t. But the reality is, I think they did. Are there things they could have done better? Probably. But why focus on that when most of the stuff they did was good?” she said.
Her health insurance through Goldman covered costly surgeries, hormone treatments and therapy sessions. DuVally said the best thing the bank did was to assign her a dedicated relationship manager to help with anything that came up. One thoughtful employee even retroactively switched all references to “Michael” in the bank’s internal communications to “Maeve”.
“Every transition is different,” she said. “So each time Goldman goes through somebody’s transition and they help them with it, they acquire a deeper store of knowledge and they’ll be better able to help the next person.”