Written in collaboration with Kirk Johnson, Senior Software Engineer and Rainbow ERG Lead
Visual art by Nastasia Tebeck, Principal Product Designer and Rainbow ERG Member
June is one of my favorite months of the year! Maine’s May mud season is behind us, the tourists haven’t arrived en masse yet, and of course, it’s Pride Month! This year my wife Waverly and I hung the inclusive pride flag at our home for the first time. It was an opportunity for me to expand my understanding and show support for the diversity that exists within our community. For me, Pride Month is a time to take stock, to reflect on the trailblazers — many of whom made immense sacrifices to live their truth and foster progress for the community — and to calibrate on the personal and collective work I and we still need to do.
As I reflect, there is much to celebrate and more work ahead. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a person could not be fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity under the Civil Rights Act. Before that ruling, it was legal to fire a person for such reasons in 17 states, and today, companies with less than 15 employees may still do so. While corporations are making strides toward creating more safe and inclusive cultures, a recent LinkedIn survey of more than 2,000 professionals found that nearly a quarter of respondents said they are not open about their identity in their workplace, and 26 percent said they worried being open about themselves would cause coworkers to treat them differently.
I feel like we are in a two-step forward, one-step backward line dance. And yet, I still want to celebrate for a minute. We are making progress within and outside the corporate world. In 2021, Secretary Buttigieg became the first openly gay nominated and confirmed member of a presidential cabinet*; Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay; and weightlifter Laurel Hubbard may be the first openly transgender athlete to individually qualify for the Olympics. And, on a lighter note, Rainbow Lego just made connecting with our inner child quite a bit more colorful and inclusive.
As we close out Pride festivities, I am deeply disturbed by the wave of violence against trans and gender-nonconforming community members and with the anti-LGBTQIA legislation underway. In the first six months of 2021, 29 trans or gender-nonconforming people were fatally shot or killed by other violent means, and 17 anti-LGBTQIA bills were enacted. Much of this legislation is targeted explicitly at trans adults and kids. In addition, seven anti-trans sports bans were passed, four religious refusal bans, one anti-trans medical bill, and there’s much more. With Marriage Equality behind us, trans rights now seem to be the wedge issue of the day.
Having been in sales and sales leadership roles for much of my career, I firmly believe in controlling what I can control. That is one of the reasons I am so happy I joined Outreach, a company that values diversity of people and ideas. Outreach’s CEO, Manny Medina, understands that diverse teams deliver better business results, and he is intentionally building a board, leadership team, and company with diversity in mind. Consumer brands like Ben and Jerry’s, Nike, Kenneth Cole, and others have historically led the charge on social justice issues, but I believe it’s high time for B2B companies to take a stand. I am proud to work at a company that sells industry-leading software to other businesses and to be led by a CEO who uses his platform to speak out on social justice issues.
With our top executives’ full support and the heavy lifting done by our Rainbow Employee Resource Group (ERG), we’ve had a fun, inspiring, and educational month of Pride activities at Outreach. The ERG researched heroes from our community — folks like Billie Jean King, Marsha P. Johnson, Alan Turing, Janelle Monae, Miss Major, Ryan Murphy, and others. Individual members of our ERG picked a hero who meant something to them and wrote up their inspiring story. We then shared a Pride Inspiration story every Tuesday and Thursday during June. Within our ERG, we spent a lot of time discussing and curating the list of heroes as we wanted to fully represent the diversity within our community. And, given that trans rights are currently under attack, we made a conscious decision to feature trans heroes.
In addition to the Pride Inspiration Stories, our ERG hosted two companywide Virtual Pride Socials, where many of us came together to share what Pride means to us. Finally, Manny invited neuroscientist, entrepreneur and noted trans activist, Dr. Vivienne Ming, for a virtual fireside chat with the whole staff. Dr. Ming shared her personal story and provided us with many actionable recommendations for how Outreach can maintain and increase diversity and inclusion as we dramatically scale our business.
We are fortunate that Outreach’s leadership team is so vocal about our culture, but we understand that not everyone has the privilege of bringing their whole selves to work. This is precisely why our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) work is so essential. Although we are still in the early days of this work, we believe everyone should be able to bring their true and whole selves to work safely. We use this as our north star as we work to build our culture. We recognize we don’t have all the answers. Looking at and changing the standard for how companies operate can be scary, but we aren’t afraid to do the work.
Manny recently shared his philosophy on leading a high-growth sales tech company, and it stems from his belief that “you have to be true to yourself.” Although I have only worked at Outreach for four months now, I have interacted with many colleagues who show a willingness to be authentic and vulnerable. This may lead to difficult conversations and moments of misunderstanding and discomfort. But it’s so much easier to work together when you understand where the other person is coming from, so we honor these moments because they build trust and community. We are building a respectful environment where we give one another the benefit of the doubt, listen to understand, honor the nuance, and continuously offer grace.
We know it’s important to meet people where they are on this journey to equity and equality. We also recognize that we need to do the work all year long, not just during designated months or holidays. Recent research shows that employees who are part of the LGBTQIA community get promoted at a rate of 22 percent slower than their heteronormative counterparts, so our ERG is focused on learning more about this disparity and how it may or may not play out at our company.
In many ways, the pandemic halted and set back progress for diversity in the workplace. But our minds and capacity for empathy have expanded in the face of 18 difficult months. We all have a voice, and I am optimistic that at Outreach we all can be agents for positive change.
As July arrives, let’s continue to have patience and grace. Let’s see each other for who we truly are, and let's continue to do the work to ensure all members of the community are seen, heard, and thriving as their full selves. Let’s maintain and expand our empathy for each other and approach our interactions with understanding and compassion to carry on the celebration of individuality that Pride brings throughout the rest of this year.
If you work at a company that provides products and/or services to other businesses and are looking to enact change and build truly diverse teams at your organization, I’d love to connect and exchange ideas.
* In March 2020, President Trump appointed Richard Grennell as acting director of national intelligence. Although this is a Cabinet-level position, Grennell was neither nominated nor confirmed for this position.