People 07 June 2018
Just a few years ago Natalie Egan was living the American dream, as Nathan Egan, a father of three married to her college sweetheart. Chief Executive Officer of a growing tech company, Egan, as Nathan, had everything a successful business and family man could ask for, even a white picket fence.
“I spent the large majority of my life as a white man of privilege with access and resources," says Egan. “I very much lived in a bubble but I had no idea how isolated I was from the rest of the world's reality. For sure I thought I understood diversity, I thought I understood the struggle, [but I really didn't]."
Fast forward to now, Egan is a proud transgender woman, and the founder of Translator, a unique tech platform focused on creating corporate cultures of inclusion and empathy. Egan spoke to SWAAY about business, her amazing journey to self-discovery and how her transition ultimately saved her life.
Natalie Jane Egan
“When I came out as a transgender woman it was this wake up call," she says. “I knew it would be hard but I had no idea how bad it would really be. I felt bias, discrimination and hatred for the first time. I thought I knew what those things were, but when you really feel them for being who you are, it changes everything."
Egan says that she has always known she was different, but never fully understood why she felt that way. Looking back to her childhood, Egan realizes there were clues.
"I wanted to do things that girls do, but I didn't even really understand that," says Egan. "I just knew I wasn't allowed to. Once when I was five years old, I snuck into mom's closet, put on her pantyhose and I got caught. It was mortifying. I was so scared that my brothers and dad would find out, and I swore to myself I would never do that again. So, the first affirming memory of my gender was based on what I was not allowed to do. That really set the stage for the rest of my life; always modeling myself after what people wanted me to do."
After attending top notch schools (Egan is a Cornell graduate) and working hard to be successful in business, Egan, as Nathan, was entrepreneurial and success-minded. With a brother and father who served as Chief Executive Officers at major pharmaceutical and tech companies, Egan was drawn to brand building and business development, and subconsciously making everyone in her life proud.
“I had entrepreneurship in my blood," says Egan. "I always aspired to run my own business, so I built my life that way. In 2008 I landed at LinkedIn as sales rep number 11." After the economy crashed in 2008, Egan says she became passionate about the company having a training and services arm to its business. Next, Egan met with LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman, and pitched the idea.
“He loved the idea but said he wasn't going to do it because services don't scale," says Egan. “I thought 'I'll show you. I'll make a huge business out of this.' Although there were some challenges, Egan went on to launch a third party LinkedIn app called PeopleLinx, which took off growing from two to three employees to 45 in just 18 months. Additionally, Egan took the company from $10,000 a month in revenue to a nearly $5 million trailing run rate.
“At the peak of my male existence, I thought I had everything," says Egan. "I was married to a beautiful woman, who was my best friend from college. We had three beautiful kids. We lived in a house with a white picket fence in suburbs of Philadelphia. Everything was perfect and then all of a sudden, the wheels came off and I started to go sideways. Part of that was my personal life; I had been hiding my identity for 38 years and it was starting to become an issue distancing me from my wife. We were both in denial about even exploring it. I was so afraid I was being recorded [while cross dressing] and was afraid I would be blackmailed. I lived in a lot of fear."
Just as Egan began exploring the side of herself that she had repressed for the bulk of her adult life (as Nathan), a bomb dropped in her professional life.
“LinkedIn revoked our APIs and our access to their data, and it sent the entire company into tailspin," says Egan. “All of a sudden we didn't have a product anymore. My employees were panicking, the investors were freaking out, and they were all freaking out to me. I had bootstrapped the business and grown it out of my basement and was starting to scale. And all of a sudden we were in a really bad situation. Plus, things with my wife were not good at all. So that hit me really hard. It was a left, right blow. Literally I was at the top of my game then all of a sudden I was on a downward spiral and it just got worse and worse."
“I'm in process, and I always will be. Sometimes I have trouble leaving my apartment because I am worried how I will be perceived that day; Will I be attacked on the subway? That's a hard pill to swallow but I look at everyone else who does this everyday and realize this is my calling."
Natalie Egan speaking to a crowd about the importance of authenticity in business
Egan stepped down from the CEO role, becoming instead head of product and head of sales, putting the company's Chief Operating Officer in charge of the company. At the time, Egan was focused on rebuilding a marriage that was falling apart and being there for her kids. Eventually, the CEO fired Egan from the company, which sent her further into depression.
“I thought my life couldn't get any worse and that's actually when I figured out that my deep dark secret that I was a cross dresser, was actually much more, and that I was transgender," says Egan." All of a sudden I realized, I was actually a woman inside and it scared the shit out of me. It was not a welcome realization. I thought if I come out it becomes everybody's burden - my kids, my family, all the professionals around me who had invested in Nathan. I thought I have to be Nathan."
Translator offers "empathy workouts" via an app
It was in this darkness that Egan said her thoughts actually went to suicide. “I nearly killed myself," she says. “I didn't want my kids to have a transgender parent and I just wanted to make it easier for everybody else. Thankfully I didn't but I was damn close. I had a plan. I was going to do it. But fortunately, as I started to tell people about my identity, they were incredibly supportive."
Egan began reaching out to friends, and getting a reaction that surprised her. “The response was 'you have to be you,'" says Egan. “I slowly started to build the courage to tell my story more and more. I found that the more detail I shared of my story, the more likely it was that I would convert somebody or to create a little more empathy and sympathy for my situation and my new community. It was actually details made it real for people."
Egan says despite the supportive reaction from those who knew her, she still faced negative backlash for being herself, like being turned away from stores and completing business transactions with employees who wouldn't look her in the eye. It was this experience that inspired Egan to think creatively about how to foster a more respectful environment not just for transgender population, but also LGBTQ, women, and minorities.
“I never experienced how unbelievably disrespectful [people could be]," says Egan. “That's when it started to become real to me that I needed to somehow become part of changing all of this and then it occurred to me that I'm uniquely qualified to [lead the charge]. As a technologist and an entrepreneur, it was kind of exciting to think about tackling a problem so big. I became obsessed with helping people understand other people, because they certainly wouldn't judge me if they understood everything I've been through to get to this point."
And so in early 2016, Translator was born. Described as an "empathy software company," the platform utilizes tech-based storytelling to help employees to embrace diversity and authenticity.
“We start with self awareness and then work through the pillars of empathy over time, the same way you develop muscles," says Egan. “There is a ripple effect. By working with thousands of employees in a company we are affecting all the relationships around them. If we can make someone a little more empathetic it can actually save someone's life."
The company, which is comprised of full-time employees and contractors, has raised $850,000 as of 2017. Although she cannot name her clients, Egan says they include Fortune 500 companies including banks, and top special service firms.
“It's very unique what we are doing," says Egan. "People are immediately drawn to it because with everything going on in the world, they feel like diversity is under attack and are looking for ways to counter that and invest in it. Diversity equals talent. You need to have a diverse candidate pool in order to solve today's most challenging problems."
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.