What is a brave woman if not taking up space to shed light on conversations that are important to our experiences today? The subject of trans or non-binary can be very polarizing and stir up emotions, making this episode even more important because it helps us further understand the journey of the trans community. Hear about the trans journey, how we can make our workplaces more inclusive, and how self-respect and mutual respect of others are the names of the game with Courtnei Lee, a trans activist and the CEO of OYT Cosmetics. Courtnei’s story and the work that she is doing are so inspiring that we couldn’t have a better guest to share her trans journey and how she thrives in the workplace. She offers advice for women to grow confidence and claim their voice. So, what are you waiting for? Be bold, be beautiful, and be you in today’s episode.
During my chat with Courtnei, we discussed:
- How she felt trapped in her male body for 25 years and what prompted her to start her transition
- What the impact of her transition to a trans female has been on her life and her work
- How we can start conversations in our workplaces to create more support environments for people who have decided to go through the trans journey
- How Courtnei felt as a gay male at work, during her transition to female, and now as a female trans activist and entrepreneur
- The story behind her cosmetics, cleaning, and tech companies (yes, three companies!)
- And what advice does she have for any woman looking to grow her confidence and claim her voice
Listen to the podcast here
From Trapped To Transcendent: The Trans Journey In The Workplace And Beyond With Courtnei Lee
Everyone, how are you doing out there? I want to start by saying I need grace and patience for several reasons. First off, I’m getting off of cold. We’ve had all the colds rolling through the Pestikas household as I’m recording this. I know that you probably can relate. Also, on a more important topic, I need your grace and patience because of the nature of our topic on the show. I was introduced to trans activist Courtnei Lee and was so inspired by what she was doing that I knew I had to have her on the show.
However, it was also a very tough decision because I know the subject of trans, non-binary, or anything related to this can be very polarizing and stir up all the emotions. I thought about it and I had some people say, “I wouldn’t go there.” After doing some deep contemplation and thought on that, I feel like I wouldn’t be living up to being a brave woman at work and the purpose of this platform and this show if I didn’t address this topic.
I couldn’t have asked for a better guest in Courtnei to address this real-life issue. If you would prefer not to hear about the trans journey, I completely understand. Also, how we make our workplaces more inclusive and how self-respect and mutual respect of others are the name of the game in the future of work, so I say skip this episode. It’s totally fine. Come back though, but you could skip this episode. As I am learning, take what you want and leave the rest. If however, you want to hear a loving and mutually supportive conversation, then let’s dive right in.
During my chat with Courtnei, we discussed her feelings of being trapped in her body for 25 years and how coming out as a gay male in her younger years didn’t feel quite right. Also, she was a stronger, more productive, and successful person after going through the trans journey. We touched on how workplaces can be more inclusive, especially when it comes to trans employees. This conversation was so enlightening to me as I’m learning. It goes beyond gender-neutral bathrooms. We are talking about employee policies.
For those of you who are in HR, I think there are some wonderful nuggets of information in that part of the conversation. I was also curious about the differences and how Courtnei was treated as a gay male at work and then during her transition and now as a trans female. I was asking, “Were you treated differently in each phase of that journey?” She talks about that. We also drove into her work as a trans activist with her multiple companies. One specifically focused on cosmetics needs for trans people worldwide.
With that, here’s more about her. Courtnei Lee is a trans activist, influencer, and entrepreneur born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. As a young trans woman, she found empowerment in the world of cosmetics and beauty. In 2019, she recognized there was still a massive lack of accessible trans representation and content in the world of beauty. She launched her first brand CL Essentials, and it quickly gained traction due to her authentic and open storytelling.
In 2022, CL Essentials rebranded as OYT Cosmetics which started as a passion for cosmetics turned into a movement advocating for diversity, inclusion, education, and empowerment. Courtnei’s work earned recognition from prominent media outlets such as Women in Business Magazine and Success Magazine for her groundbreaking efforts within the industry. Using her platform, she continues to advocate for trans rights and visibility globally.
Before we get started, if you’re enjoying this show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. We’ve gained some reviews lately so I thank you so much. You know that the support of this show means the world to me. As I’ve stated, it’s continuing to get into the hands of other women and people worldwide so thank you so much.
One more reminder. If you haven’t yet grabbed one of my freebies, I have three freebies for you. The first one is called Get Paid: 10 Negotiation Tips. The second one is 24 Career & Leadership Affirmations. Who doesn’t need a little more positivity in their world? Finally, last but not least, the 5 Steps to Managing Your Imposter Syndrome. Again, they’re completely free. You can download them and use them at your leisure. Let’s welcome Courtnei to the show.
Courtnei, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m good. How are you?
I’m so good. Everyone, Courtnei and I had quite a journey together to try to get to this day. Courtnei, thank you again for your patience as we’ve navigated my whole family’s illness and your trip to London, but we’re here. I’m excited that we get the opportunity to talk to one another.
Me too. It’s been crazy, but that’s life.
I know that’s life and you’ve been so generous. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your backstory? Getting to know you has been so fun so let’s share a little bit more about you and how you’ve gotten to where you are now.
I started my first business in 2020 when the world shut down. I was working in a restaurant at that time. Obviously, I lost my job. It gave me a chance to reflect, go inward, and take a look at what was happening around me. I turned to social media like a lot of people did for entertainment. Going through and seeing the lack of representation for trans people, specifically, with a lot of content that was coming out regarding beauty tutorials and people doing all this fun stuff, it sparked my mind when I started looking for more resources that would be geared towards me that didn’t exist.
At that point, the best things I could find were on YouTube and tutorials from other trans women who were sharing their experiences or what they knew but there was nobody diving into this and trying to make it something that’s full of resources. Also, products that are geared directly toward trans women at all. It launched the idea of starting my first brand to try and create representation, help with education and inclusive thinking, and have products that are geared toward the LGBTQ community themselves.
Has your business that focuses on the trans female population exploded now to a lot of businesses or are you the one and only? I was curious about that.
There are other trans female entrepreneurs, non-binary, and trans mass people that are in the beauty industry but I haven’t seen anything that’s being geared towards our community specifically as of yet. However, I think that there’s a lot more inclusive thinking and steps forward in terms of representation. That’s a beautiful thing, but we’re still not making and developing products for these people that they deserve to have.
What we aim to do is we want to be able to be inclusive to everybody. We’re not just gearing products towards trans women, but we’re developing them in mind and having a focus on my lived experience as a trans female. We are gearing products there. We’re also making sure that we have products that are being developed for women who don’t like to wear a lot of makeup. Also, people who want to have a full face and a big face but don’t want to feel like there’s smothering on six layers of makeup and having healthy skin. We gear all of these elements into our product development trying to make sure that it makes the most sense for everybody. We’re not only coming out with products for one person and being exclusive to everybody else.
When we were introduced, I was excited because I have not had a trans person or a trans woman on yet to share their brave story. This is coming to the forefront and it has been at the forefront, but I will ask you, Courtnei. I hope you can give me the grace and patience as we explore this topic together because I think it is important. There are so many trans and non-binary people out in the workforce who are going through whatever process they’re going through and I want to be supportive to them. Can you give me a little bit of space and grace since this is newer territory for me?
Of course. It’s one of the hardest things that the trans community is facing because there’s so much constant abuse and degrading behavior around our community. They put up with verbal assaults and assaults on social media. A lot of trans women are experiencing physical assaults. When you have that feeling of consistent unsafety, it makes it very reactionary and what we need to be doing right now is allowing grace in education so that people who do want to be educated and are trying to be an ally are allowed that grace to understand. It’s a very high-energy time for everyone when you feel consistent amounts of unsafety in your life.
I thought it was an important topic to share. I know that it can be a polarizing topic where people can have strong feelings on this one way or the other, in the middle, or whatever, but I almost want to look past that. I’m asking everyone reading this to look past it and understand that people are people and that I want you to feel safe. Everyone is going through their own journey. It’s not just one group or another for you to feel safe.
I’ve had a few guests on the show that talk about psychological safety and that’s super important not only as we move through our lives but also through our careers. I appreciate and it is brave that you have come forward to share your story and now you’re creating products, services, and things for people in your community that will benefit them.
Thank you. As an entrepreneur, my largest focus has always been to create safe workspaces. I think that there are so many workspaces that are not safe for a number of people, not only LGBTQ people. There are workspaces that are extremely degrading towards women. There are workspaces that are abusive to people of color. There’s a lot of room for us to grow as a human race in general, but I wanted to make sure that when I was starting my company, anybody and everybody could come and apply. They can feel welcome and at home in their space every day and feel safe.
We’ll keep touching on that thing. It’s an important undertone of psychological and physical safety. I’d like to transition a little bit more and you said you’d be happy to share. Tell us more about what you want to share about your trans journey and how it has been to speak your truth. It’s because I’m sitting there thinking about people and I’ve interviewed people on career pivots or people who want to start businesses or whatever. I’m like, “You’re completely changing your identity and coming through.” I think it’s so brave to go through this walk that you’ve gone through. Tell us more about that journey.
The journey itself for myself as a trans individual just became something that couldn’t be held off anymore. It’s this weird sense of, “I know who I am and I know what I need to do.” You’re not scared of yourself. I don’t think any trans person is scared of their trans identity per se. You’re afraid of how the world is going to perceive and receive your trans identity.Any trans person is not scared of their trans identity per se; they are afraid of how the world is going to perceive and receive their trans identity. Click To Tweet
All of the fear comes around rejection, abuse, and putting yourself up against a world that right now is being designed to tear you down. You have this struggle where you get to a point of, “I can’t live like this anymore but it’s terrifying to think of what I have to do and what comes next.” You have to take that leap of faith and choose love for yourself. Push yourself forward in order to start that process and live your truth.
It’s challenging because, at the end of the day, my trans identity has made me the best version of myself and the best version of myself for people around me. I don’t have inner turmoil anymore. I am not suffering from depression and anxiety the way I was before. I am excited to show up, make an impact in the world, and be an entrepreneur so that I can raise money and give back to things that I care about.
I can help the people that I love and contribute to relationships in a positive way. All of those things were only able to come to fulfillment after I had accepted my identity and was able to speak my truth because I no longer had this debilitating war with myself that was happening inside to try to love and accept myself. When I came out and started taking hormones, it felt like the first time in my whole life that my body, my mind, and my soul were communicating in unison. I felt whole and complete, and that I made sense.
That feeling allowed me to show up in explosive ways that I’ve never been able to before that was so positive and my relationships benefit from it. The cashier I see when I go to get my groceries benefits from it because I’m a person who is now happy with myself. I smile and I bring that energy everywhere I go. When you look at the adversity around trans people, it brings me some sadness because these people are becoming better versions of themselves and for everyone around them.
When you see them taking these steps backwards, feeling defeated, going into an unsafe workspace, or having those challenges, it’s hard because these people are just trying to do the best thing for themselves and for the world that they show up in every single day. The journey of transitioning is the kindest thing that you can do for yourself as a trans person. The courage that it takes to get to that point and to be able to say no to the negativity that could possibly be surrounding you in your decision. Also, allow yourself to step into that light and take ownership of your life.The journey of transitioning is the kindest thing that you can do for yourself as a trans person. Click To Tweet
Thank you for sharing that. For you, how long did it take or how long was that war? Was it throughout your teens and early twenties or was it much earlier? This is so cliché but I think of Bruce Jenner and she goes by Caitlyn. She was probably the first one to blow the doors off publicly. Think about her journey. It was much longer or later in her life. Definitely in middle age if not even later middle age. I was wondering how long you struggled with that inner turmoil.
As a kid, you don’t know that anything is different with you. As you grow up, you get told that something is different and that’s when you start to have shame towards your identity. Growing up in the ‘90s, there was a complete lack of education so I don’t blame my mom or anyone that was around me that was helping raise me at that time in my life. They didn’t know. It’s like, “Why do you want to play with Barbies? Why don’t you want to play with cars? You should be going over here and doing this and not playing Spice Girls with your cousins.”
You get put into this box of boy and they shove you into a corner. They then tell you what you should be doing. I knew at a very young age as I got into my early teen years. I had gone through so much bullying in elementary school for being feminine that in high school, I didn’t want to have that same experience. It was where the turmoil started for me where I was with a more alternative crowd that was more experimental with drugs and skipping school. It was a little bit more of the alternative typical high school experience.
I found a piece of myself when I was about fifteen years old. I dropped out of school and I had moved out of my mom’s house because our relationship at the time was toxic. I met my first boyfriend and decided to come out as gay. That gave me a piece of relief because that was the first time where I was openly loving somebody that I wanted to love. There was almost this brief moment where I was like, “This is going to be okay. This is what it was. I can live my life like this and be happy and this is enough.”
It wasn’t until I was 25 years old that I realized that it wasn’t. At that time, I wasn’t in a relationship and I was doing a lot of self-work. I was working at a corporate job doing quite well for myself. Everything was going well but I had these feelings of I’m still not making sense. I’m still going through my inner turmoil and there’s something that’s wrong. This is when there started to be more representation in the media. I had a few trans friends that I’d met throughout the years that I could then sit down and speak to.
One of which is now my business partner and somebody who’s been my best friend since we were thirteen years old. I remember sitting down with him and saying like, “This is how I’m feeling and this is what I think this is. This is my identity.” He was so kind, supportive, and lovely. That’s the person he is all the time, but being able to share with another trans person out of this layer of safety. I got to go through that experience in my early to mid-twenties but it is a process to get there.
You have moments where you think, “This is enough and I can live like this,” or you go through denial like, “It’s okay. I don’t need to go through that. It’s too much.” You get to a point in your life where you’re like, “I can’t avoid this anymore because this is who I am. I can’t continue to live like this.” Caitlyn Jenner was a really big shock to America because she was your typical athletic and in the Olympics guy who then went into reality TV and was the dad of the family.
It was a big shock to everybody. Although I very much disagree with a lot of her political statements and what she does now, it did open a lot of doors in the way of representation because all of a sudden, people were aware of trans people. That was a positive and a negative in and of itself as are most things that are surrounding our community right now.
I think the word is polarizing. That’s why I wanted to have you as a guest. I want to find the middle way. We have a line. Even though it’s very different business models, backgrounds, and experiences, we’re trying to find the middle and supportive way.
What you’re doing and what it comes down to is where I get a bit passionate talking to people who critique or say anything to do with safe workspaces. It’s coming down to respect. It doesn’t matter what your political, religious, or personal views are of somebody or their lived experience. You’re there to do work. You’re there to grow your own business or to contribute to a business or whatever it is that you’re doing within that space.
However, anybody who’s coming together to help you on that mission should be respected. That’s a teammate and that’s somebody that you’re working towards the same goal. Why would you drive a bus and then get out of your own bus and pop your own tire? It doesn’t make sense to me. You want everyone around you when you’re working towards the same goal to feel respected and valued but now coming into almost 2024, it’s become such a topic. People feel so entitled to their opinions on somebody’s existence. It’s very challenging.
I appreciate you sharing your story and I think that every trans or non-binary person I’m sure has their own unique flavor to that story but when you boil it down, you said, “I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I was bargaining with myself and then all of a sudden, every bargain would not work. I still felt like something was off.” When it comes right down to it like a lot of the coaching work and I’m sure a lot of what you’re talking about, it comes down to happiness. How can I begrudge you for being happy? Even if I don’t understand it or even if people wouldn’t agree with your life choice, how can I disagree with you pursuing something that makes you a happier person?
Totally and it doesn’t affect anybody else. All that they’re doing is making themselves happier, which in turn makes them a better person for the world and for their work. It doesn’t affect anybody else in any way. It is confusing that people have such strong opinions on that but we’ve come to a place in society where things are very divided between people in general. You see it in racism, transphobia, and homophobia. Especially in Canada, there are missing indigenous women. There are massive lines drawn in the sand where people are refusing to look at people as human beings anymore.
It makes it so challenging from one side of that line to try to reach over and bring people into the middle together and say, “You don’t need to completely understand this, but it’s not your business. We can still continue to work towards a better goal for all of us together if you know you politely mind your business.” It’s challenging because I even catch myself in the language when I talk about my transition and you hear someone saying, “I knew something was wrong.”
Being trans isn’t wrong. For myself and my experience, I was in the wrong body. The way that I was presenting myself in a mirror didn’t make sense. The way that people were understanding me because of the way I was presenting myself didn’t make sense. I knew that. I had that language and I came to terms with that. There’s nothing wrong with any trans person for the way that they’re feeling. Being trans is a beautiful thing and they have the right to want to live their life authentically and be their beautiful selves. The thing that’s wrong is the judgment, harassment, and abuse that comes afterward from somebody choosing their happiness.There's nothing wrong with any trans person. Being trans is a beautiful thing and they have a right to want to live their life authentically and be their beautiful selves. Click To Tweet
I think it comes down to any of these situations. As you said, it doesn’t have to be homophobia or transphobia. It could be any phobia or any fear. It’s separatism and you’re not like me, I’m not like you. That’s where the lashing comes out. If you were giving advice to companies, how do you think that we can create a safer and more inclusive workspace? Let’s broaden that beyond trans people, but this applies to many different groups and people in their journey. How can we create those safer spaces for people at work?
I’m going to take an idea of a corporate world here specifically because that’s what I did well and where I felt the biggest lack of education was. I was working for a large media company here in Canada and I think that there are so many conversations that have now started around people and bathrooms and the feeling of safety around bathrooms. For some reason, there seems to be this extremely untrue narrative that trans women using a woman’s bathroom is unsafe for the other women in the bathroom.
All factual scientific information shows that the trans woman is the most at risk within that bathroom but that becomes a huge topic of conversation when you start adding trans education into workspaces. One thing that you could do that would easily remove that conversation is to have gender-neutral stalls. It’s not hard to do. They happen everywhere.
People act like it’s a shocking thing. When you go on a plane, we don’t have male and female washrooms. When you’re going to a train or to some concert, there are stalls and a lot of restaurants have these as well. It’s an easy thing to implement to take that whole conversation off the table. It allows the trans person who’s working there to feel safe. It also avoids any harassment that comes afterwards.
Another thing is sitting down and having conversations with staff about what that looks like. If somebody does decide to come out as trans in the workspace and communicates that they are transitioning and what their new pronouns are, what do you want to implement in order to make sure that their floor or their team are aware of these changes in a respectful manner as long as they’re open to that being shared? Also, how to move forward with approaching them.
People have these things about pronouns now and they make them seem so complicated. It’s not that difficult to change a pronoun for somebody to make them feel respected and it’s frustrating to hear so many people say how difficult it is for them. It’s not that difficult. If you do misgender somebody, it doesn’t need to be a big thing. You can genuinely and quietly apologize and correct yourself. After a couple of weeks, it gets pretty normal and you move forward.
However, the lack of education in the workspace is where the number one problem lies. There isn’t anything in a majority of companies that I or my friends have worked for that has been implemented for when a trans person is taking up space within that company. Nobody knows the conversation to have around it. Some people act awkwardly. We had somebody transition at the media company that I worked at. I saw firsthand how much ignorance was in that work field. I was part of our sales team and the majority of that team was male. When you’re around a bunch of young sales guys, there are a lot of jokes made and I was firsthand to seeing those jokes and understanding how lacking they were of education towards her experience.
It’s simple steps. There’s nothing that needs to be integrated that’s massive and going to be costly or life-changing for them. It’s simple things to think about. Will somebody feel safe if they come out as trans here? Do we have systems for management if somebody does want to publicly transition and make sure that we let their surrounding people know how to respect them and their gender identity?
Do we have resources for if somebody transitions? That would be something that would be miraculous. If I was early in my transition and my boss came up and said, “We have this document that is a list of resources that are in your area that we think might benefit you,” what a beautiful and motivating thing that would feel and how invested you would become in that company that is then investing in your success.
What it comes down to at the end of the day is businesses don’t invest in people’s success like they used to. Everything has become so corporatized and so many people feel like ants working on the bottom level of something. They don’t feel that they are making an impact and now you’re seeing that change in this generation coming where they don’t want to do that work. They want to feel respected. They know that they deserve to be respected and a part of that.
We’re seeing less and less people going into the bottom of the chain in the corporate structures, starting their own businesses, turning to social media, or going to a space where they feel they have an opportunity for success. Rather than looking at what to implement for trans people but look at everybody that could be on your staff, how could we support them? How can we make a difference in making sure that our workforce feels like a community and everybody feels safe and respected?
It’s because people want to work harder for you in that capacity. They want your business to succeed because they love working for your business. It’s not rocket science. A lot of places and different companies that I’ve worked for have lost that mentality the bigger that they got. It’s something that needs to be incorporated and implemented every single day by the leaders of those companies and corporations to ensure that those values aren’t lost.
That was so well said and articulated. You gave me some things to think about. One of the things that I’m thinking of is the people reading. Look at your employee policy or employee manual. We have sexual harassment policies, but you’re talking about gender identity harassment. People making fun of you or being completely crass or flat-out ignorant. I knew about neutral bathrooms, but I’m also hearing you loud and clear on providing resources.
We have employee access program resources for people who might be struggling like, “What if there was an extension of that for someone that was going through a gender transition?” I think it’s being progressive in asking and answering the questions of if someone were to be bold enough and brave enough to say, “I’m going to be going through gender reassignment. I’d like to be called they or whatever.” How would our culture tolerate it? I appreciate you identifying it. It sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s real-world very practical tips that employers and anyone can advocate for their workspaces.
I’m going to pull on the one word and this isn’t to say anything about using wrong language. The word tolerate gets used a lot around trans people. I think that there are a lot of things that need to be tolerated in life like bills and getting sick every once in a while. Those are things that you tolerate but when we’re talking about other human beings, I don’t think the word tolerate should have to be used in other people’s existence because implementing these policies, all that you’re doing is showing that you respect people in your workspace.
As a leader, all you’re doing is showing that you respect your employees and their experience. When you’re trying to grow, and this comes down to whether you’re a business with three employees or a corporate leader with hundreds of thousands. You’re setting an example for how people are going to show up for your company in their own life. If you have employees walking around that, I absolutely hate their lives that are feeling degraded and unsafe.
These people aren’t out on the streets talking well about your company. You might be at a place where you don’t think that that matters so much anymore, but it does matter. It’s going to matter to your future employees. It’s going to matter to everything that you have on the ground levels of your business and eventually, that’s going to show it in your numbers no matter what.
At the end of the day, as leaders and entrepreneurs who are going to be taking on staff, you know there’s going to be diversity within your staff. Not everybody is going to be like Susan, Jane, or Anthony. It’s going to be people with different views, opinions, and life experiences. Trans people are no different than any other person that’s working there. They’re living their own experience just like the person of color working there is living their own experience.
The White cisgender kid who came up from an abusive family and got himself through school has his own experience. It’s not just a trans person who goes through struggles in life and needs to have stuff made for them. Resources can be made for everybody and anybody. Mental health resources are very much lacking in the majority of employee handbooks. There’s not very much on mental health and keeping your staff mentally healthy. I think there’s a lot of room for growth when it comes to the education of trans people and helping create safe work environments for everybody. In general, as human beings in business, we can do better.
I’m learning and I agree with you. This show is one small contribution to that education so I’ll take it.
I’m so grateful to be able to come on. I’m on a podcast tour now and doing a ton of cool things that are exciting for me. Sometimes it’s terrifying for me because I am going up against adversity and speaking my truth. Also, I try to allow a space of communal love but I do put myself in a bit of harm’s way. It shows sometimes on my social media when I reach a new audience and some people feel very strongly about trans people and their existence.
It’s very rewarding to be in a space where we have the same message of trying to show basic respect for each other. It means a lot to me to be able to speak about that in the workspace. I talk about it a lot in day-to-day life but I think it’s important that we all create safe workspaces for each other to help each other succeed.It's really important that we all create safe workspaces for each other to help each other succeed. Click To Tweet
I’m going to switch gears a little bit because I’m honestly curious about this. You had the unique experience of working, I believe, because you were around 25 when you were making your transition and announcing, “This is important to my life.” You were working in corporate as a male, the traditional he figure, and then you went to transition and now you are a trans woman. You own several businesses, which I want to make sure we touch on before we wrap up. What was that like? I’m wondering and maybe you didn’t but the question inherently is, I’ve interviewed many women on that show and I am not anti-men. I have a loving husband and all of that stuff. You’re being that disclaimer.
This is not men-haters central but women and men in a traditional sense can experience differences. We know there’s the wage gap. We know there is a lot of stuff that makes it different. Did you experience differences when you were a male figure going through the trans experience and then now as a trans woman? When we talk a lot about respect or opportunity, did you perceive any differences through that process?
I’m not saying that they don’t exist at all because we all know that they do exist and there are differences there. There are so many places that are boys’ clubs. I’ve been graced in my corporate experience where I had strong female leaders who were running the show in almost every area that I was in. Growing up, I was in hospitality. I was managing restaurants and moving up the food chain of the corporate hospitality world. I had amazing female leaders who were within those structures and teaching me.
When I moved to the corporate sales position, our director of sales and head of our floor were female. Our training officers were females. My manager was female. We had a lot of strong female leaders within each organization that I was a part of. Do I think that there was still more opportunity for men in that field? Absolutely, because sometimes there is a bit of a boy’s club energy in any workspace that has that strong voice. There is this kind of energy about it.
However, I didn’t get to see it firsthand where it was toxic or exclusive and I wasn’t perceived very differently. I came out when I was fifteen so I was the gay guy that worked there. I hit on the token gay. I don’t think I necessarily would have gone to experience that kind of, “Rah-rah, boy, boy, I’ll pull you up,” even if I was presenting male at that time. We do know that it exists and there’s a wage cap.
There’s physical evidence of this and we do know that men feel more entitled to go and apply for a promotion even if they don’t have the credentials for that. The female co-worker who does have the credentials and experience to apply for it doesn’t go and apply. I think that’s where the conversation needs to come in. Women have been told not so much and they can’t do it. It’s like, “No, you can’t. That’s not for you. You shouldn’t go into this field. This is for boys.”
Psychologically, women have had a harder time, especially in the corporate world where they are in a more male-dominated area to go and apply for what they deserve. That comes down to us needing to build women up and share confidence. Also, share success stories and help women feel more entitled to what they deserve in those workspaces.
It’s unfortunate that men feel entitled to go and apply for things that they don’t have any experience and/or credentials for. Also, you see in these studies that women have a much harder time going and asking for what they deserve. I need to be able to build up women at the same time and we also need to be educating and making sure that corporate organizations are closing those wage gaps and are executing proper diversity in their hiring and promoting.
I thought about this along the way. I don’t know why I did not realize this until probably in the last few years as I’ve been doing the show. The question comes from my own experience. I have not had a female manager since 1999. I’ve had some great male managers. I’ve had some not-so-great male managers. It’s not one or the other but it’s because I haven’t had strong female leadership. Courtnei was like, “Forget that. I’m just going to become a strong female leader.”
You branch out at some point and say, “I think I’m going to have to do this on my own.”
You touched on confidence. I can only imagine, maybe you didn’t, the amount of confidence-building you’ve had to do to embrace yourself, take up space, own your voice, and all of the things. On top of that, you’re a multi-entrepreneur that I want to touch on. Do you have any feedback for women and how they can build confidence, take up space, and own their voice?
That is such a constant conversation for us in a female experience. There are so many different resources out there now to help implement that and it’s hard because everything is going to be different. There isn’t one thing I can say that works for me that’s going to work for everybody but at the end of the day, it does come down to work and self-work. Sometimes that means diving deep and sometimes there is childhood trauma.
Sometimes, there’s been abusive partners or these are the serious aspects that can crash someone’s confidence. Sometimes, it’s more geared towards fear of rejection or feeling not good enough. All of these feelings that play into a lack of confidence normally hold a negative emotion to them. What I realized was because of the bullying that I grew up with and internalized transphobia, I was afraid of rejection, harassment, or abuse.
I was mostly afraid to have my feelings hurt because it didn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good when we’re 5 or 6 and when we’re in our 30s. It doesn’t feel nice when people are mean to you. If you think of confidence, you have this image of you having to go and stand out in front of a bunch of people to be confident and be this person. In my case, it ended up being very true because I had to go up and speak in front of a bunch of people.
I had to go and start putting myself out there. I had to work backwards between all of these emotions of fear and rejection I had to try and figure out where they were coming from, accept them, and release them so that I wasn’t carrying them with me. I want to go and do these things because it affected how I showed up. I would be nervous and lose my train of thought. I would be fidgety and look uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable when I started my first company because it was new and I was learning. I was terrified of failure.
Every entrepreneur, when you get started, is terrified because you don’t want to fail. You don’t want to let anyone else down. You want to prove to yourself that your decision was right and worth it. It comes down to self-work and taking the time for yourself. Also, prioritize your mental health because being confident is being confident at your core with who you are. I definitely could not have been confident and done any of this had I not transitioned because I wouldn’t have been confident with who I was. Now I think it’s sitting down and doing the work, going through what makes you you, loving who you are, and how you show up for the world. Confidence comes naturally after that work is done.Being confident is really just being confident at your core with who you are. Click To Tweet
For what it’s worth, I can hear the confidence. I say this with a caveat. It’s not like my mom and hearing my mom saying, “Don’t get too cocky.” It’s not that. It’s a sincere self-acceptance. I hear that in you. I hear the confidence.
Thank you. I hope that everyone, early on in their life with this newer generation, a lot more education can get there faster. I hope everyone feels like they love themselves. That’s what I want to do. That’s my big mission statement. I want people to feel love, acceptance, and respect wherever they are. If there’s anything I can do like being part of a podcast and talking about it or there’s one person that listens and be like, “I have been feeling those feelings of fear and rejection. I’m going to go and look up some resources to help.” If that helps them feel better then that makes me feel like the best thing I could have done. That’s where my whole mission statement comes from.
If that one person who might be going through that internal struggle to decide that trans will make them happy and going through that journey and they read this, we have done our jobs. If one person changes their mind and says, “I should look at the employee policy, make it more inclusive, and a safer place because we never thought about that,” then we’ve done a good thing in this episode. You mentioned your cosmetics company. I want to make sure you mentioned the name. When I talk to you, I’m like, “I’m tired.” You have multiple businesses and they’re not in the same vein. Can you share with us all of the businesses and their names because I want people to know them?
The first company I started was the cosmetic company and that was where I found all of my traction as an entrepreneur. Me and my business partner, my best friend, Kas, started our venture together. That’s OYT Cosmetics. OYTC.ca is where our storefront is. In creating that company, there were a few opportunities for us that got placed into our lap that we weren’t exactly looking for at that time. One of them was a cleaning company that was brought to me by a friend that was moving. It’s something small and we thought it could be fun to take on and manage.
We bought the company and because of the messaging and the rebranding we did within that company, it’s a thirsty market for companies that are inclusive right now and preach being inclusive. Also, authentic and transparent. The company took off a lot faster than we thought which meant we had to implement some changes but I brought on somebody that I worked with at one of my old restaurant jobs to be our corporate leader and manager for the company. She’s such an incredible person and a hard worker. She’s so dedicated. Now she’s come on as our business partner, which is absolutely amazing.
The cleaning company is called Bouje Cleaning Co. and it’s based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. If you’re in Vancouver and need some cleaning, look up Bouje Cleaning. We have a tech startup that I can’t share the name of yet because it’s still in progress. That was again an idea that was presented that we ended up taking a little bit more control over. That offers a retail solution for a Canada-wide product.
It’s interesting going into tech. It’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve always been more service-based or retail-based and tech is a whole different giant. We’ve learned so much, which is amazing. It’s been an interesting experience. Looking at the steps of that company compared to the other ones has been completely different than anything we’ve done before so I value that experience as an entrepreneur.
I also have a personal brand which is Courtnei Lee Incorporated, which is where I do all of my social media work and collaborations. Any PR marketing is all through that business. It keeps us busy. We’ve got a lot of moving parts and different teams that we talk to every week that are different aspects of different businesses. It’s all been exciting and fun. It’s been very much a learning experience, but the funnest part of being an entrepreneur is you have to be eager for information. I don’t think any entrepreneur that goes in thinking they know everything is going to do very well. You have to be able to quickly pivot and take information.An entrepreneur that goes in thinking they know everything is not going to do very well. Click To Tweet
Never think that you’re the smartest person in the room and always find as much value and education from the people around you as you can. I never would have made it this far if I didn’t have so many incredibly smart and talented people who have added in tidbits or helped here, trained me on this, and given me information and resources on something else. If you’re a young entrepreneur and you’re thinking of starting a business, my biggest piece of advice is to ask people around you, find the smartest person in the room, go talk to them, and never think that it’s you.
Even if you’re in corporate like I am and you have a side hustle like what I do, this is still valuable information. It applies whether you’re doing a full-time like you are with multi-businesses or you’re doing it on your evening hours. It doesn’t matter. It’s good advice. I don’t know if, because we talked about confidence, you have a different answer to this, but I do want to ask you. What do you believe are 1 to 2 ways that women can be braver at work now?
It’s hard because I feel like that puts the onus on women to have to be brave and the unfortunate thing is nobody should have to be brave to go to work. Nobody should have to be brave to show up, be themselves, and contribute. However, in ways that I think as women, we can try to choose and channel that braveness. One is to let your voice be heard. If you know an answer to something or if you have a valuable opinion and you’re letting somebody else speak, specifically, a male take that conversation and you have things to contribute that you’re not, own your voice. Allow yourself to step out and contribute to that.
I know there have been quite a few times when my female friends have worked with a very strong dominating male personality and they feel like they got beaten down. It’s not up to them to have to make that change. It really shouldn’t be but make sure that you don’t allow anyone else to put your light out. Especially in the corporate world, the way that you’re showing up and contributing is your story within that company. Don’t let anyone else mess with that story because you should be focused on yourself, your growth, and what that means for you.
Let’s face it. The women are the ones that have the best thing to say in the room a lot of the time. We all know that boys are not talking and they’re just spouting ideas and going off. A lot of the time, women have a very direct answer and approach to a solution. Allow yourself to be heard. Going back to promotions and becoming leaders, allow yourself to apply for that promotion and step into a leadership role.
Even if it’s scary, allow yourself to take on that new experience because we need more female leaders. We need more female-led experience in the corporate world specifically to contribute to the growth of everyone within that workspace. If we have male-dominating figureheads who are constantly talking and doing all the thinking, we don’t have a well-rounded inclusive workspace and that comes down to us needing to make sure that we contribute the best that we can. Again, this isn’t put on women and I’m not saying that this is on us at all but these are things that we can do to try to help right now while we’re also doing a lot of other work surrounding that entire topic.We need more female leaders in the corporate world, specifically to contribute to the growth of everyone within that workspace. Click To Tweet
That’s well said and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for sharing that. Now, that we’ve shared about the cosmetic, the cleaning, and the tech company, how can women find you and your wonderful work online?
You can find me through my Instagram. It is my main hub where our content comes out at the moment. My name is @CourtneiLee and I also have a website, CourtneiLee.com. I have a podcast that’s going to be launching soon. This is the first day that I could speak about it. This is the first audience to know that that’s launching. I’ll have all the information posted on my Instagram. You can find all of my businesses there as well. My Instagram is my bread and butter. It’s where it all began.
I don’t if it’s still top secret. What is the name of the podcast or is that still under wraps?
It’s still under wraps until everything is completely locked and key and everything is signed. My management company has all of this coming to fruition now and I’m excited because I’m on a podcast tour now and I love podcasts. I’ve fallen in love with this process and found so much value from it. I’m excited.
If someone is interested and is like, “I want to hear more of Courtnei and her podcast,” when are you thinking it’ll be live? I’m sure it’ll be on all the platforms.
Our tentative date to start filming season one will be in the next few months, but we’re going to pre-record season one. We’ll probably be looking at a 2024 launch date. We are maybe looking into spring or summer right now, but as everybody in the business knows, that’s all tentative to change. Hopefully, sooner than later with no hiccups is what we’re aiming for.
Fingers crossed for you that it’s a joyful and seamless experience. Courtnei, it’s such a joy to have you on and you were so gracious. You gave me all the grace. Thank you so much for allowing me to go into new spaces and topics because it’s so important for my audience to learn about. I wish you all the best in your business and your podcast moving forward.
Thank you for coming into a new space and allowing the conversation to happen. It means a lot and it’s a massive thing that the world needs right now. Thank you so much because it means so much to me from the bottom of my heart.
That does it for my conversation with Courtnei. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts or any other platform you enjoy. Until next time. Show up, respect, support one another and be brave.
- OYT Cosmetics
- Apple Podcasts – Brave Women at Work
- Spotify – Brave Women at Work
- Get Paid: 10 Negotiation Tips
- 24 Career & Leadership Affirmations
- 5 Steps to Managing Your Imposter Syndrome
- Courtnei Lee Incorporated
- Bouje Cleaning Co.
- @CourtneiLee – Instagram
- Google Podcasts – Brave Women at Work
About Courtnei Lee
Courtnei Lee is a trans activist, influencer and entrepreneur born and raised in Vancouver, BC. As a young transwoman, she found empowerment in the world of cosmetics and beauty. In 2019 she recognized there was still a massive lack of accessible trans representation and content in the world of beauty. Courtnei launched her first brand, CL Essentials and it quickly gained traction due to her authentic and open storytelling.
In 2022, CL Essentials rebranded as OYT Cosmetics; what started as a passion for cosmetics turned into a movement advocating for diversity, inclusion, education and empowerment. Courtnei’s work earned recognition from prominent media outlets such as Women In Business Magazine and Success Magazine for her groundbreaking efforts within the industry. Using her platform, Courtnei continues to advocate for trans rights and visibility globally.