Pride Month at the Workplace
Today, June 1, marks the start of Gay Pride month. In the tech world of roadmaps, quotas, and lines of business, what does this mean? Some years, even for a queer woman like me, it feels like a typical day. There is so much to work on, to solve, to build, to sell. Other years, there has been some kind of important groundswell in the community that calls for special notice.
In 2015, I worked in San Francisco at Atlassian, and Pride month coincided with the Supreme Court’s deliberation over the lives of hundreds of thousands of marriage-seeking queer folks. I was part of a team of colleagues who cared deeply about the outcome of those cases. My colleagues didn’t just care about my partnership and that of their other teammates. They cared about the values that wove our business together: values of equality, respect, creativity, and authenticity.
Today, as we mark Pride Month, I find myself at Spredfast (now Khoros). The values that have been evident in organizations and teams throughout my career in technology continue to be important for Spredfast. As a company, I know that Spredfast prides itself on its brand principles — in particular, ours are to connect, to show value, and to build trust. And this makes sense: nothing can really be accomplished between a customer and a brand without trust first existing. But I take pride in knowing that Spredfast does not just prioritize building trust with their customers: they also prioritize nurturing it at headquarters and around the world. Companies establish themselves as brands by living their values. And while the tech space still isn’t perfect, I have seen software and tech become a safe and thriving space for queer people by doing the same.
In the euphoria of the Court’s 2015 decision to make marriage legal across the country, my former employer ordered boxes and boxes of t-shirts celebrating Gay Pride. Those shirts made me feel proud and confident. Having my friends and family see me so safe and happy in a professional context was an additional buoy I wouldn’t have dared to wish for years earlier.
Growing up gay in a rural community in Northern California, I didn’t face extraordinary discrimination — more run-of-the-mill whispers and teasing. It was minor. I was very, very lucky. Today, I have a family who loves and supports me, my wife, and my son. I am very, very lucky. Yet, I have always been aware of my difference as a queer person which, at times, manifests as fear and dread. I carried this apprehension into my professional life. I was sure I would struggle in a workforce where conformity and sameness carry the day. Would I have to hide and conceal my identity to survive it? If so, how could I possibly thrive?
My career in software and technology has taken many turns from sales, to marketing, to customer service, to managing teams, and back to sales. This space has allowed me and outright encouraged me to try on different roles and points of view. I would guess many of you reading have had a similar trajectory — that your work in tech has given you unexpected opportunities and pushed you to expand your worldview.
There is some magical quality to the imaginative, eager, results-driven ethos of tech that makes space for outsiders to thrive. People are appreciated for the value they bring, not judged for the difference they represent. Regardless of what company I join, I have found queer friends and allies who welcome one another. My fellow LGBTQ collegues work remarkably hard and create outcomes we are proud of — because we are able to. Working in progressive, inclusive environments allows us to focus, not on our identities or discriminatory experiences, but on the work, the product, and the customer.
In 2015, when the boxes of t-shirts arrived I shouted, “They’re here!” and everyone met me in the middle of the office. So many people headed toward the unopened boxes that the office manager, accustomed to wrangling hoards of grabbers, stopped her million tasks and offered to help. I definitely needed it because I was too concerned with finding my size. I dug until I found my men’s medium and held it up to see in living color.
We all threw our shirts over whatever we were wearing and starting taking photos. As one does, we shared them to Instagram and Facebook. Friends and family, co-workers in other offices, and customers piled their support in likes and hearts — as one does.
Today, I am grateful to be legally married to my wife and celebrating Pride month with our infant son. At Spredfast (now Khoros) this month, there might not be a company t-shirt emblazoned with rainbows, but there is a culture of affirmation you can find in every department across our business. This stems no doubt in part from our stated brand values: building trust is a part of who Spredfast is, whether that means between the company and our customers or within our walls. Spredfast, like my tech employers that came before it, is giving me a space where I can feel pride today and all year round.