Featured Profiles

The Dynamic Cultural Expert

Tea Uglow leads a part of Google’s Creative Lab, specializing in working with artists, writers, cultural organizations, and producers on digital technology experiments at the boundaries of traditional cultural practice. Uglow is a commendable Inclusion and Diversity Leader leading the charge as an empowered Transgender Woman in the Corporate World. For nearly ten years, she worked at Google and started Google’s Creative Lab in Europe in 2012, building a Creative Lab for the Asia Pacific region in Sydney, Australia.


Born in 1975 in the English county of Kent to a mother in publishing and a father in academics, Uglow was the eldest child with two younger brothers, a sister and a half brother. When Uglow was young, she imagined there might be a ‘switch over day’ when all the boys could become girls and vice versa. But unfortunately, that did not happen, and Uglow grew into a six foot two inches tall, broad-shouldered and handsome man who played rugby. Deep down, she knew something was missing.


Growing up, Uglow played rugby and studied ballet with her sister. She went to an all-boys school, where she held the title of head boy. Uglow attended college at Oxford University to study fine arts. However, they were instructed that only two of them in the class would make it as a successful artist, so she decided to head in a different career direction, “one where you could get a job,” she recalled.


In 1994, Uglow took her first HTML lesson, and in 1999, she started her first dot com that unfortunately crashed soon after. During that time, she moved in and out of tech even though she never really liked it.


Uglow says, “The thing about technology is that I never liked it. I still don’t really like it. Actually, I like it as a tool – something that serves the purpose to culture. That is the thing that I like about it. How we purpose technology to fulfil cultural outputs, or to move cultural ideas forward.”


Uglow then proceeded to do a design management degree at night school that proved valuable for her and increased her knowledge of business economics, organizational structure and the importance of diversity. She even learned the art to manage creative teams and how to profile personalities effectively.


After her newly acquired knowledge, Uglow took a contract at Google making PowerPoint slides, where her keen intellect earned her praise and recognition. Uglow said, “the reason I was able to do the stuff with Google was because of all this design management stuff that I had done. Not because I was particularly creative or because I was remotely technical. Basically it was because I knew how to organize shit.” She has worked at the tech giant ever since and headed some commendable projects.


Her favourite project is The Ghost Project with Sandpit, it is an intimate experience in which two audience members (the ‘ghosts’) revisit the kitchen where they fell in love and grew old during their 50 years together. It was the most fulfilling project for her, she said, “For me, it was the most complete project that we’ve ever done. We set out to achieve something using technology – the idea of hearing the thoughts of an actor as you watch them. And to be able to switch between performers. That we created something that can’t be done, the theatre experience was rich and powerful.”


Another one of her favourites is the Google Art Project, which is a non-profit initiative. They work with cultural institutions and artists around the world to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online to make it accessible to anyone, anywhere. She felt this project had the most significant impact on a large group of people. She explained, “I just can’t help but remember myself as a 15 year old, cutting out paintings from art magazines with scissors – these tiny little things. Now with the Google Art Project you can see paintings in the most extraordinary quality. And the beautiful thing about it, is that it doesn’t stop people wanting to go and see those paintings in real life. Because, in fact, it makes you want to see them even more.”


While her professional life was on track, at the end of 2014, Uglow had a revelation of self-discovery and awareness. She described the event with enthusiasm: “It was as if my brain stepped out from behind a bush. The knowledge that she was in fact a woman arrived like an unexpected tax bill, no sparkles and little grace. I realized I had already been managing a worsening case of gender dysphoria (when one’s gender identity is disconnected from their chromosomal sex)”.


After that, Uglow began her transition journey, empowering others along the way. Her transition had a significant impact on her family; however, she handled the situation with grace and panache and even wrote down tips for ‘dealing with Tea’ to simplify the experience for everyone. “It’s a bit like coding, it is complex but it is also exciting. Shouldn’t that be what being alive is,” she said.


Finding her voice as a transgender woman has dramatically helped her emerge as a leader in the community, and she was overwhelmed by the tweets and letters she received supporting her. “If that’s what leadership is I’ll take it,” she said.


Uglow says, “I see gender as a spectrum (I’m more fem on that spectrum) like autism (Uglow is also autistic.) Autistic people often change the world because they are used to not belonging. We are very useful in the fight to change the world because we are so single minded.”


Uglow led the charge for inclusion and diversity and was responsible for developing the famed trans flag emoji that is rallied for all diversity and inclusion parades. Uglow said, “It’s a symbol to society we are here and we’re not going away.”


In conclusion, speaking on the topic, she says, “Incorporating diversity is a never-ending mission to find marginalized creative minds and to amplify their voices. It is about making space at the table for those people and adapting traditional work environments to fit their needs as well. We need to open the door even wider. “Women” are just the start, what we need is people. All the people. And all their intersections too.”