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Interview: Practice partner conquers gender dysphoria

ISABELLA SEGAL, a partner at Hampstead accountancy practice Nyman Libson Paul (NLP), has been on quite a journey.

She’s just been named as one of the UK’s top 100 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender) business leaders. *see boxout below

The survey, conducted by OUTstanding in conjunction with the Financial Times, ranked Isabella, who heads up NLP’s forensic accounting division, in 88th position.

In May 2013, with the full support of NLP, she began the transition to Isabella and is now at the forefront of London’s LGBT business community.

“I came out to my partners – who are conservative and middle-aged guys – and they were surprised to say the least,” quips Segal.

When she “came out” to them in August 2012 they agreed that she would start the transition into a full-time female in February 2013, but due to a family illness that was postponed to May of that year.

Segal says her clients “have been brilliant” – yet three out of 150 “decided they didn’t want to continue with me”.

She has similar praise for the ICAEW who happily changed the critical details on her registration and certificate.

Isabella qualified as a chartered accountant in 1980, and joined Levy Gee a year later becoming a partner in 1985. Before joining NLP, she spent 19 years developing her own private practice, advising a wide range of loyal clients.

Born the son of a Jewish London Black Taxi driver growing up in North West London, Isabella told Accountancy Age that from the age of five she was aware that she had gender dysphoria – a condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female – opposite to one’s biological sex.

* ALL THOSE on the top 100 list were nominated by their peers and colleagues, and nominations were reviewed by OUTstanding’s judging panel, which includes former BP boss Lord Browne, and Dawn Airey, CEO of Getty Images.

Other nominees include PwC partners, Andy Woodfield and Mark Gossington, as well as Simon Stedman, group FD of Aitch Group and EY’s Beth Brooke-Marciniak and Liz Bingham OBE.

EY’s Steve Varley appears for the second year on the 2015 leading 30 ally executives list, and is joined for the first time by Nancy Ngou. In this year’s inaugural 2015 Top 30 LGBT future leaders list Rath Wang is recognised for his support for the improvement of the working environment for LGBT employees.

 

It was the death of Isabella’s father in 2011, followed by the news that her sister had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, that inspired her to deal with the issues that had been suppressed for half a century.

“I decided when my sister didn’t have too much time left that I was going to transition,” said Segal, “so I started on that route at Charing Cross in May 2012. You have to live two years full time as woman before they’ll sign you off for surgery, which they did in April 2014. I had my surgery on 27 May and I’ve never been happier, apart from my first born.”

“We’re known to be a boring profession but a lot of our clients said ‘well you can’t be too boring if that’s what you do’. One of my lovely clients who I’ve had for many years – a very successful property entrepreneur – said I don’t really care what you wear, you can wear fishnets and a tutu as far as I’m concerned, as long as you do my accounts and deal with my tax. And that’s generally how people are.

“We live in a fantastic society. Being nominated in the top 100, it’s very nice and people have sent me lovely messages but I’m not in it for the recognition. If I can help anyone else that’s in that situation, then that’s great.”

Isabella is now forming – with an ‘out’ colleague – NLP’s own Pride organisation, something the Big Four firms and many law firms have championed.

Still married to – and living with – her wife of 34 years – she says it “hasn’t been easy” – but they’re still best friends.

“I still go to the Arsenal with my son to watch the football, and my daughter and I go shopping. They realise I’m still the same inner person, I’m just living my life in my chosen gender, rather than the one assigned to me at birth.”

And she’s found nothing but support and warmth when attending the ICAEW’s forensic accounting conference and Academy of Expert events.

“The legal profession has also been totally accepting – I just live my life as a normal woman, really,” enthused Isabella.

Isabella is also a diversity role model and is actively involved with Keshet Diversity UK Limited, a not-for-profit company, which promotes LGBT acceptance in Jewish schools and synagogues.

 

 

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