Emilia Rüttinger works in the HR department of MEAG Asset Management, focusing on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) topics. She has a unique ability to empathize with different roles – both male and female – and has her own story to share. By sharing her story, she aims to encourage people who consider themselves "different" to develop their authentic personalities. "I would say that over the last few years, I had to spend about 70 percent of my energy fighting ruinously against myself and my identity, and to maintain the role," Emilia says in an interview with Anke Dembowski. Seventy percent more free energy, that's quite something! In another interview, we talk to Emilia about what diverse teams and inclusion bring to companies and employees.

Emilia, before you moved to the HR department of MEAG AM, you worked for many years in portfolio management, at one point even as the head of portfolio management at another asset manager. Practically, portfolio management is more of a male space, while HR is considered more of a pink space. What's your experience with that, can you confirm? To what extent is the tone in PM more masculine?
During my years as a portfolio manager, men were clearly in the majority, influencing perceptions, behaviors, and communication to be masculine. This monoculture, of course, is not as efficient as diverse teams, since portfolio management involves evaluating complex political, economic contexts, and market behavior promptly. Gender-diverse teams with different perceptual and communication skills identify more, challenge opinions more often from different perspectives, and thus make more efficient decisions. Moreover, women have proven track records equal to their male colleagues and can be just as successful. Therefore, we should continue to inspire women to pursue the highly interesting career paths in asset management.

That you switched from one area to another didn't happen by chance, but you yourself have gone through quite a transition...
Indeed. Two things have profoundly shaped me. The transition was rather difficult at my age and marked the end of decades-long suffering from dysphoria and the constant hiding of my true identity. Without the help of many people who supported me during tough times, I wouldn't have managed it. These were my wife, my friends, colleagues, doctors, psychologists, and people with the same fate I met through support groups. Their selfless support deeply impressed me and created a desire in me to give something back. On the other hand, during the transition – especially in the beginning when I no longer conformed to the normative image – I gathered experiences of what it feels like to be excluded. It was quite hard, but it clarified the importance of an inclusive environment and belonging for people and how crucial it is for quality of life and performance. I was naturally delighted when the unique opportunity arose to work in this area and be part of the change at MEAG. I just couldn't say no.

You were raised as a boy and assumed a male role for many years. What "male" things did you do?
I think I did pretty much everything to not be discovered as a woman. Until a few years ago, it was rather difficult to come out as a trans person without fearing strong social or professional negative consequences. Also, in my youth, there were hardly any chances to talk to someone about it, especially since there was no internet with information or support groups, and there were strong societal reservations. Even psychotherapy back then was more about combating the symptoms rather than providing support for transition. So, I decided to consciously play and maintain the male role. Essentially, it was about being perceived as an "alpha male." This included, at that time, joining the military, working in a male-dominated job environment, and various extreme sports. My communication was also rather "macho." Looking back, it sometimes seems incomprehensible and like a distorted image, but it was an act of desperation.

Why did you suddenly come out and transition?
The decision was not made by me but by my body and psyche. It was an illusion to believe that I could suppress my true identity indefinitely and the energy required for this became increasingly overwhelming over the years. I would say that in the last few years, I had to spend about 70 percent of my energy fighting ruinously against myself and my identity, and to maintain the role. Such a thing cannot succeed, and if reason doesn't prevail, eventually the body and soul give up. Ultimately, it was the thought of my family that motivated me to want to live and to embark on the path of transition. I did so, but completely unprepared. However, it took about half a year until the public coming out. Before that, there were numerous appointments with psychologists to get the diagnosis for hormone replacement therapy, and time to come to terms with fears regarding the coming out.

How did your environment react: Your family, your colleagues, your friends?
I believe for direct relatives, such a thing is always much more significant than for friends and colleagues, as they have a much more personal relationship with the person. And to learn that a partner belongs to another gender fundamentally changes this relationship. Of course, it was initially a shock for them to learn that I am not a man, but my family has always stood by me at all times, and that was my absolute anchor. Without them, I wouldn't have made it. Not all affected people are so lucky, therefore, I consider myself fortunate. My friends and my professional environment reacted very positively, and I learned that many of my fears were unfounded. This was also a stroke of luck, as not everyone experiences this. My employer supported me very strongly, which was a huge help during the times of physical/psychological transition, which in my case was accompanied by many surgeries and psychological support. I also received support from my employer in the form of coaching, which helped me immensely to master my professional activity in my true identity successfully and to develop my authentic personality. In many areas, I had to start from scratch because life felt completely new, perceptions and emotions were entirely different and more intense, resilience was initially low, and I had to learn many things completely anew. The support from the company and many colleagues was absolutely essential.

Generally, it's perceived that men and women operate differently. You now have the advantage of insight into both worlds. Can you name one or two examples where you particularly noticed the different behaviors of women and men?
Besides the physical change, the psychological change was probably the strongest, with hormones having an extreme influence on the emotional world. I noticed a significant difference in that – contrary to the time before the transition – I questioned myself much more. "Am I doing things right? Am I well enough prepared for the job? Can others do it better? What if it doesn't go well and I don't have an answer...?"

Did you not ask yourself such questions as a man?
No, as a person influenced by testosterone, I appeared very confident. This was noticeable, for example, at presentations, which I prepared for less meticulously before, with the attitude of "it'll be fine," or in competitive sports, where I tended to make quick decisions rather than overthinking. Another aspect is perception, which is significantly different. I perceive emotions and moods much more intensely, which initially overwhelmed me. The more I learned to deal with it, the more I understood it as an absolute asset, because the female perception, previously suppressed in me, opens up massive opportunities to recognize things that would otherwise remain hidden. They are a significant part of social and emotional intelligence. I think that both sides – male and female – have their advantages. However, since they involve different skills, they only truly unleash their strength in combination – in mixed teams where the specific expertise of both genders is utilized. For this, it's necessary for women to also have the opportunity to show their authentic identity, not having to disguise or adapt themselves, but rather to play out these very own gender-specific strengths in collaboration with men. Ultimately, it's a win-win solution for both sides.

Resilience is a word that has been heard more often during the pandemic. Men and women are resilient in different ways, probably also in different areas. How can women become more resilient, and should they even?
Versteht man Resilienz als „die Fähigkeit, schwierige Lebenssituationen wie Krisen oder Katastrophen ohne dauerhafte Beeinträchtigung zu überstehen“, so ist es für beide Geschlechter wichtig, die persönlich notwendigen Ressourcen zu haben, um gesund zu bleiben. Um im Berufsalltag resilienter zu werden, ist es hilfreich, die eigenen Stärken und die eigene Identität zu entwickeln, dabei optimistisch selbstwirksam zu werden und sich zu vernetzen. Für Frauen bieten sich da viele Chancen – gerade auch in Hinblick darauf, die gender-spezifischen Herausforderungen zu meistern, angefangen von den Frauennetzwerken in den Firmen, Netzwerken wie den Fondsfrauen, Facebook-Gruppen, Mentorenprogramme oder ein individuelles Coaching. Zudem sind viele Angebote aus dem Bereich Wellbeing/Health für physische und psychische Gesundheit generell sehr unterstützend, etwa Coachings zu Stressbewältigung, Vermeidung von Burnout oder bei Konflikten am Arbeitsplatz. Krisen und Katastrophen sind jedoch etwas, auf das man sich oft nicht gut vorbereiten kann. In solchen Fällen ist eine professionelle fallbezogene Unterstützung immer anzuraten, etwa durch erfahrene Coaches und Psychotherapeuten im Rahmen eines Lebenslagen-Coachings.

Back to you and your situation: Do men now exclude you from their circles?
I have to smile a bit about this question, but yes. Indeed, there are topics that men prefer to discuss among themselves, and it's no different for women. For me, however, it was more of a gradual transition, as my body and personality changed over a longer period, and depending on how one is perceived, one is also assigned to one gender or the other. The fact that I was no longer part of certain areas was a positive experience for me, as it showed the progress of my transition and made me happy to be accepted and recognized as a woman. On the other hand, many doors have opened for me that were previously closed, and where I feel very much at home.

Thank you, Emilia, for this honest conversation!

Profilbild von Anke Dembowski

Anke Dembowski

Anke Dembowski is a financial journalist and author of various investment fund-related and other financial books. She is also a co-founder of the "Fondsfrauen" network.

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