Microsoft is a company that thrives on diversity and nobody exemplifies how diverse the corporation is other than 41 year-old executive Megan Wallent. As the General Manager of the Server and Tools Division of the Redmond, WA – based firm, Wallent supervises a staff of 350 employees. And she is also transgender.
Wallent, a Boston native, was always fascinated by technology. “I loved computers and software because it was so immediately fulfilling—you write code, and it either works or doesn’t work. But, as my career has grown, I’ve moved from being a developer to managing a ton of people,” states Wallent.
Even at a young age Wallent was surrounded by computers and software. “I got my first software job in 1984 when I was 14. My sister had just opened a bakery,” Wallent states, “and she wasn’t sure how to price her products, so I wrote a program that had a database of her products and their prices. We figured out quickly that she was selling most of her products at less than cost, which was problematic. From that point forward, I was hooked.”
During the start of her freshman year at college, Wallent took a job as a developer at a small software company in Boston. “I worked there for a couple of years, but they went bankrupt, so I moved to another software company called Intersolv, which ended up giving me a fulltime job after I graduated. It was a great opportunity, because I got to pay for school, learn the art of software development, and get a head start on my career.”
Wallent, who holds a bachelors degree in computer science, relocated to Seattle and joined Microsoft in 1996 counts Bill Gates as one of her mentors. “Bill is amazing to work with. He can tie data and facts together in a way that is superhuman.” She ran the Internet Explorer team for three years beginning in 1999 and had the opportunity to work side-by-side with Gates.
The climate at Microsoft is very supportive for LGBT employees. The company maintains a ranking of 100 on HRC Equality Index. “People always ask me if it’s hard to be successful as an LGBT person. I tell them at Microsoft, if you focus on being awesome, you can do whatever you want.”
Despite becoming openly transgender at work, Wallent spent many years hiding. “I had been at Microsoft for 11 years when I came out, and told people that I was going to transition,” Wallent stated. She credits her wife Anh with the helping her through the process. “She told me, ‘if you aren’t ashamed, don’t act like you are.’ I realized that if I was super transparent, then the reaction tends to be much better.”
Wallent married Anh in 2005 and two years later expressed the concern about gender issues. “It came close to wrecking us. The thing that was the worst is that I wasn’t honest with her from the start.” Anh is now fully supportive. “She encouraged me to get to the place that I needed to get to. I can’t imagine doing it without her.”
Early this year, Wallent joined the executive board of Out & Equal, the largest and most effective non-profit organization dedicated to achieving workplace equality. “It’s been great to get more involved in national and international workplace equality issues. Letting people bring their “whole selves” to work is key to normalizing society’s view of people.” The couple also supports local charities in Seattle, such as Northwest Harvest, one of the leading food banks in the region.