Meet the Start-Up Creating a Critical Jobs Pipeline for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Workers
By Alexis Stephens
“I think my most skillful trait is the ability to pivot,” said Angelica Ross. “I believe that pivoting is a huge skill to have.”
Ross utilized her ability to change direction and forge ahead in every step along her path to become founding CEO of the creative design firm and training academy TransTech Social Enterprises. At the outset of her journey, she was fired from a day job after coming out to her boss and co-workers as a transgender woman. She says that her firing fell in line with a general message from society that transgender lives don’t matter. A 2011 report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 90 percent of those surveyed who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job or took actions to avoid it; 47 percent reported that they had experienced an adverse job outcome such as being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion.
“There’s also a message that you’re not valuable,” added Ross, “except for a certain category of value that you have as an entertainer — either as a sex worker, adult film star, or drag queen.” Like many other transgender people looking to support themselves, put themselves through school, or pay for hormones and medical expenses, Ross began working as a model for an adult entertainment website.
Soon, she had the opportunity to work behind the scenes editing and cropping photos and posting content to the website. She taught herself HTML, CSS, content management systems, and more, using Lynda.com. Ross began to realize that she didn’t have to do sex work or work in adult entertainment to make a living. “I began to think, ‘Okay, now I can run my own adult website.’ Eventually, I realized that I didn’t want to run an adult website. I actually just enjoyed building websites, managing clients, and working as a freelancer.”
Over the next 10 years, Ross built and ran her own successful creative design business. In 2013, she decided to get directly involved to help other transgender people find their professional calling and employment pathway, just as she had been able to do. She began working as a career coach and job readiness expert for the Trans Life Center project at the Chicago House and Social Service Agency, where she worked with both trans and cisgender workers — people whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth — “dealing with mental health issues, conviction histories, lack of work histories, trauma, abuse, you name it. Some of the challenges were so big that they got in the way of the work and productivity aspect of the job.”