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National Restaurant Association - Restaurateur fights for transgender workers' rights

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Restaurateur fights for transgender workers' rights

Michaela Mendelsohn says one of the most important things she does is try to improve the working environment and career opportunities for transgender employees.

Mendelsohn, who is the CEO of Los Angeles-based Pollo West Corp., one of the largest El Pollo Loco franchises on the West Coast, understands the stigma associated with being a transgender person. She transitioned from male to female in 2006, and is an advocate of women – especially those who identify as transgender and are subjected to abuse to keep their jobs.

A successful restaurateur and business operator for more than 30 years, the 66-year-old Mendelsohn says she is acutely aware of the behavioral changes directed toward her since transitioning female. In 2011, her company hired its first transgender woman, and in 2016 she founded TransCanWork, an organization that connects transgender employees with employers who are committed to hiring them and creating safe and inclusive workplaces.

“I decided to start TransCanWork because of the experiences I saw trans women going through,” she said. “We go out and train other businesses to be diverse in the transgender/gender nonconforming spaces and how to welcome people into their workplace and make a success out of it.”

Mendelsohn, one of the 2018 winners of our Faces of Diversity awards, recalled how lucky she was to have transitioned as the boss of her own company. She told attendees at the awards ceremony that she was determined to make a difference after “hearing the stories of what [other trans women] went through in the workplace, how difficult it was to get jobs and how they’d do anything to hold onto them. They put up with the abuse because they felt they had to.”

Through TransCanWork, more than 40 transgender employees have been hired, with 25 percent of them on their way to management careers.

Today, she says her goal is to continue advocating for and serving her community, and is committed to working even harder to increase transgender visibility in the restaurant industry.

“I find that in being my best self, I can open hearts and minds one person at a time…”

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