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On Empathy, Emotional Labor, and Allyship: Meet 2 Transgender Employees Dedicated to 2U’s Mission—and the Good Fight

Written by 2Q on Jun 16, 2022

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, Life at 2U

L-R: Ren Dawe and Michael Krüger

In the ongoing crusade for equal human rights for LGBTQIA+ people, the visibility of the transgender community is of the utmost importance, now more than ever. But when it comes to our trans friends, family members, and colleagues feeling supported, empowered, and ultimately safe to be their authentic selves—in both their work lives and personal lives—allyship plays an especially critical role.

Whether it’s taking action by adding your pronouns to your name in spaces like Zoom, calling your elected representatives to demand response to anti-trans legislation and violence, or linking arms with trans people to march in solidarity toward progress, allies wield a tremendous amount of responsibility and power to lead us toward a more inclusive world.

For Pride Months in previous years, 2Q has celebrated several of our amazing trans colleagues in “Day in the Life” profiles, including Einar and Sean. For U.S. Pride Month this year, our employee-led LGBTQIA+ Business Resource Network (BRN) sat down with two of our members—Ren Dawe, an academic counselor and mentor out of the 2U Denver office, and Michael Krüger, a learning designer out of 2U Cape Town—to give even more visibility into the unique perspectives of trans employees at 2U.

Keep reading to learn about Ren and Michael’s roles at the company, the joys and challenges they experience as part of the trans community, advice they have for other trans professionals considering a career at 2U, and how they feel allies can best support them no matter the context.

Ren and Michael—thank you so much for raising your hands to be a part of our Pride stories. We know it’s not easy to be visible and vulnerable as much as both of you are willing to be. To start off, tell us: How did your education and professional experience play a role in your decision to join 2U?

Ren: My academic background is in Psychology and Business Administration. I did my first master’s thesis on the effect of inclusivity training in clinical mental health counseling for trans people and my second thesis on sustainability, accessibility, and affordability in higher education. These studies really opened my eyes to the incredibly necessary work of supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and increasing global access to educational materials.

Michael: Prior to joining 2U, I worked in South Africa’s tertiary (college) education sector as a lecturing assistant, teaching Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch (a 2U partner!) while doing my postgraduate specializing in Gender Ethics. While taking time to consider my next career move, I learned about 2U from a friend working for the company—I instantly fell in love with its DEI culture. I had never before come across such a trans-inclusive company in our country. I applied and took a leap of faith by moving to Cape Town to be ready to start, in case I got the job—and it paid off.

Michael and wife at their handfasting ceremony earlier this year

And we’re so glad it did! So, how would each of you describe your role at 2U, and how are you applying your passion and expertise to supporting students, your peers, and the company’s mission?

Ren: I work in Admissions, helping students with career pathing and also helping 2U advisors better support students. Outside of that role, I also have the privilege of being the 2Q global engagement chair as well as the BRN liaison for 2U’s Global Wellness Committee. In these roles, I get to help design content for internal education projects to help employees better navigate our diverse teams. Part of that involves training around how best to support LGBTQIA+ individuals in the workplace.

Michael: I’m thrilled about everything to do with my role as a learning designer—I like to describe it as “getting paid to learn new things constantly.” My role revolves around writing learning material content for 2U-powered executive education courses, designing curricula based on carefully structured learning outcomes, and collaborating with university and business partners to create tailor-made courses that speak to their needs. I always try to bring something to the table that shines the light on small businesses and organizations with a purpose that aligns with our own at 2U, such as making a difference in broader society and empowering people to take education into their own hands.

Giving people the tools to become their best selves: That’s such a profound way of expressing the work you do, Michael! Being a member of the trans community, there are certainly great challenges but also hopefully great joys that come with the territory. What are those for each of you—and how might they connect to the issues that compel you to be visible today?

Ren: Being trans is fascinating, tumultuous, and magical. The greatest joy is getting to bring my unique perspective to the table in my personal and professional life. As an educator, I feel the insight of having lived both a woman’s and man’s experience allows me greater empathy for more people. I have the honor of being able to see past our externally imposed gender binary and connect with folks on a deeper level. The challenges, however, are aplenty. The emotional labor that goes into the work should not be discredited. The average lifespan of a trans person in the U.S. is around 30. I’m close enough to that age to feel a sense of urgency. So beyond 2Q, I’m also on the trans advocacy committee for Out Boulder County and I recently published a collection of poems about the trans experience.

Michael: As a transgender man, I feel beyond privileged to have experienced life on both sides of the gender coin. My identity has granted me the opportunity to consider experiences from multi-leveled perspectives and show the world what non-toxic masculinity can be. I try to see interactions regarding my gender as opportunities to educate people about the realities of being trans. One challenge I try to keep in the front of my mind is the reality of how my generation has often been fed toxic ideals of what it means to “be a man.” I actively try to combat what I’ve been shown in the media by trying to adopt a wholesome, genuine form of masculinity that embodies my value system.

Besides being an educator, writer, and performer, Ren (at top) is also a whitewater rafting and outdoor adventure guide

Indeed, there’s a lot to dismantle out there regarding stereotypes of gender, sexuality, and societal roles we’re expected to play. Connected to that topic, how do you feel 2U has helped create a more welcoming, open-minded, and supportive working environment for you and other trans folks?

Ren: 2Q’s educational initiatives for Pride this year have been an incredibly positive experience for me personally. In the first week, I had the privilege of leading a seminar on allyship best practices—and I received a lot of wonderful feedback from people managers on elements they intend to integrate into their management style. That willingness to learn, the immediacy and sense of change, and the respect fostered here at 2U are things I value immensely.

Michael: One thing that compelled me to apply to 2U was its transparent policies. Being able to use my chosen name throughout the company (and not needing to go through an entire HR process), noting that team members have added their pronouns to their names in public venues, seeing 2Q create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ employees to engage with each other, and observing all the genuine effort that goes into the company’s Pride celebration (and not just in the U.S. but also Cape Town): All of these things have made me feel at home in the company from day one.

That’s so great to hear. 2Q—and all of 2U’s BRNs—have definitely helped the company make impactful strides in DEI, but employers at large still have a ways to go and much to learn to support progress for the trans community. From your perspective, what changes are needed in the general workforce toward more trans inclusion? And what are some of the best ways that allies can support their trans colleagues?

Ren: I think people often get overwhelmed, since there’s a lot of “new” information and it can be hard to absorb all at once. As an education professional and lifelong learner, I implore allies to adopt a different mindset: Every day, try to do better by yourself and your peers. If that means learning a new term, so be it. If that means listening more closely to feedback from your LGBTQIA+ teammates, please willingly take it in. If that means spending more time practicing best communication practices to better convey information with a diverse team, then invest that time. Adopting new terminology may be difficult, but it also saves lives. If we can use agile methodologies for project management, we can certainly use agile mindsets to be better professionals and better people.

Michael: Education, education, education! In order for allies to better support trans people and advocate for their rights, it’s crucial that they have knowledge about trans identities and the complexities surrounding navigating the world as a trans person. Knowledge must precede understanding. That way, folks can speak up in conversations to educate each other in informal ways, too. “Small” things—like not assuming all trans people wish to undergo gender-affirming surgery, or not asking us about medical transitions and/or surgeries, or not “outing” your trans friend without their explicit permission—are pretty important to us. The bottom line is that, if you want to know how to best support a trans person, directly ask them how they’d like to be supported.

“Be Candid, Honest, and Open” is one of 2U’s Guiding Principles, and that certainly applies in asking how to be an ally, too! Final question: Why is it important for trans professionals to be more visible and vocal at all levels in the workforce, from individual contributors to leadership positions? And to that end, what advice do you have for other trans folks interested in a career at 2U?

Ren: Trans professionals have a unique viewpoint that can help teams communicate better and be open to more learning modalities and solutions to problems. LGBTQIA+ individuals—and especially trans folks—must often overcome more barriers due to multiply marginalized statuses. That’s why representation in leadership, upward mobility, and opportunities available for gender-nonconforming individuals are so important. Our existence has been violently politicized. Continuing to thrive is a way to combat that through advocacy and normalization. So trans folks: Come make an impact—we need your perspectives—and get involved in our BRNs. My favorite part of 2U is its collective willingness to keep growing and learning and adopting new information into its systems. You are valuable, your contributions are valuable, and your perspective is valuable. You are wanted here.

Michael: In order for organizations to listen to the lived experiences and needs of trans people, they need to actually have people who identify this way present for these conversations. When trans people feel confident to be visible in a workplace, especially in leadership positions, it sets the standard for other trans people to know that they’ll be represented by someone living a similar reality, rather than a table of people in suits making decisions about groups that aren’t at the table. As for my advice for trans folks interested in a career at 2U, there are many resources available about our DEI practices, company culture, and diversity awards. Read them, reach out, and speak to people employed at 2U about their experiences. These resources are what made me apply here in the first place.


Meet other LGBTQIA+ employees at 2U in our Q&A with three 2Q leaders who are promoting a culture of belonging and thriving at the company. And discover a curated list of 2U-powered courses connected to LGBTQIA+ themes that can empower and inspire you not just during U.S. Pride Month but all year long.

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