Published by Greenleaf Book Group. Reviewed by Josh Graff, UK country manager and VP EMEA, Linkedin
As a Scrabble fanatic, I can now add the word phalloplasty to my repertoire – it’s a 22 pointer before you’ve even used a triple letter score. For those who may not be as familiar with the term, phalloplasty is the process of turning a vagina into a penis. It’s painful, it’s expensive, the outcome is anything but certain, but for a small number of transgender men, including Chris Edwards, it’s the much-needed step on an often long and challenging journey to find inner peace and become their authentic selves.
The reality is that gender identity is defined by what’s in your brain versus your trousers, despite that often being the first question on people’s minds.
Six months ago, my boss suggested a few books he had read with a brief synopsis of each. One of them was Balls, a memoir by Chris Edwards, a former EVP and group creative director at Arnold Worldwide, the global creative agency.
In the summer of 1974 when Chris was five years old and his grandmother called his siblings in for dinner with the innocent phrase, "Come on, girls", his response was simple; "I’m not a girl, I’m a boy". The memoir cleverly draws a contrast from an age of wonderful naivety and hope to the reality of a pubescent transgender teenager in early 1980s Boston who became angry, had suicidal thoughts and in his mind, was being sentenced to a ‘life of misery without parole’.
As Chris embarked on his transition, two themes stood out for me.
The first being his early adoption of new (keep in mind the year was 1995) marketing strategies such as "evangelism marketing" or "word-of-mouth". When he wanted his colleagues to know about his transition, he successfully set out to turn each of them into brand evangelists.
He sought out a group of coworkers whom he coached, educated and ensured were sufficiently knowledgeable about the sensitive subject of his transition, to start spreading the news on his behalf throughout the Arnold community.
Secondly, the importance and benefits of having a compassionate and supportive employer who genuinely cares about their staff, embraces diversity in all its wonderful forms and recognises that these types of stories will often cement their position as an employer of choice.
The culture at Arnold was so powerful that their employees went to extraordinary lengths to create a sense of belonging for those around them.
Balls is a wonderfully honest, courageous and inspiring memoir that reinforces the power of loving and accepting families, the strength and resilience of the human spirit, the importance of an accepting employer and the power of humour to navigate even the most challenging of conversations.
If you only have time for this…. key points from the book:
- 90% of transgender employees are harassed at work and 25% are fired. Your employees are your most precious assets and most vocal brand ambassadors. Develop a culture that embraces diversity, belonging and inclusion and encourages people to bring their authentic selves into work. It’s good for business and will help you win.
- As the economist and philosopher Fred Kofman says, "Define the standard, live the standard and hold others accountable to the standard".
- With trust in institutions at an all-time low, word-of-mouth marketing is still one of the most powerful forces in advertising. People trust their friends, families and coworkers infinitely more than they trust brands.
- With 51% of transgender kids attempting suicide, the journey for acceptance is still far from a reality, despite what the headlines may sometimes lead us to believe.
- Each of us has the ability to inspire others through the stories we tell. Never underestimate your ability to make a difference to those around you.