I consider myself incredibly lucky. As a gay man, I’ve rarely faced discrimination for my sexual orientation, although on occasion I’ve felt like being open about it has made others feel uncomfortable. I was once asked by a manager at a social event, “You’re not gay, are you? Someone said you might be, but I said I didn’t think you were.”
Having only recently begun to come to terms with my own sexuality, my guard went up, and the only acceptable response seemed to be to say that no, I wasn’t gay. His facial muscles eased, his body became less tense, and he simply replied, “I thought not.” He smiled, and our conversation went on to other things. The fact that he seemed to feel more comfortable when I said I wasn’t gay left me with some small doubt –perhaps I shouldn’t be open about this. And what would his reaction have been if I had said I was gay? How would other people react? Maybe it’s best to keep quiet.
I was once asked by a manager at a social event, “You’re not gay, are you? Someone said you might be, but I said I didn’t think you were.”
Thankfully, over time – with support and encouragement from other people, and through finding my own confidence – I’ve learnt that what’s most important is being happy. I feel privileged that my family, friends, and other people I meet don’t see me as being “gay”. They don’t label me as anything other than being just me, being Ian.
For many people, however, experiences like mine are daily occurrences. There’s a mentality that if you do not fit the mold then you are not accepted in the same way. Unfortunately, it is the norm for people from underrepresented groups to regularly face challenges like mine, or much worse. There is often less access to opportunities specifically because of skin color, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and many other aspects of people's identity.
Thankfully, over time – with support and encouragement from other people, and through finding my own confidence – I’ve learnt that what’s most important is being happy.
The challenge of creating inclusive workplaces, where everyone feels like they belong, can be daunting. And although change is happening there is no overnight solution. As a new member of Symantec’s DE&I team –and someone who is new to the DE&I space – I’m excited by the opportunity to learn and grow and help Symantec on its journey to creating a company culture where every single person can be their true self.
To help me on my own journey, I had the great opportunity to attend the Tech Inclusion Conference in London in November. I was encouraged to see so many people in one space all focused on affecting change and creating lasting impact for people from underrepresented groups. There were several inspirational speakers and thought-provoking discussions throughout the event. Some of my favorites are highlighted below.
Francesca (Check) Warner – Co-Founder & CEO @ Diversity VC
Check was very passionate, and her focus to improve diversity in the tech industry was inspiring. The company is built around Venture Capital, which they claim is funding the future. It was illuminating to hear Check talk about how her company is working with entrepreneurs, investors, and universities to help create industries free from bias.
Suki Fuller – Co-Founder & CEO @ Salaam Ventures
Suki had a wonderful sense of humor, bold and open about her journey and her thoughts and visions for DE&I. Her Company, Salaam Ventures, is a launchpad that accelerates and incubates early stage ethical startups.
Marissa Ellis - Founder & CEO @ Diversily
Marissa started Diversily in order to accelerate progress toward a more diverse and inclusive tech sector. They created The Change Canvas to inject focus and direction, and to unite people to take action. The Change Canvas is being used for all kinds of change, across various industries. In addition to having a great company name, she also presented some of the best slides, a few of which I captured below.
Marissa and her team at Diversily point out several barriers that we may not even think about until or unless it directly affects us––such as soap dispensers that only recognize white skin, satellite navigation systems (sat navs) that only recognize a man’s voice, or male-only crash test dummies with no consideration of how an impact or crash scenario would affect a woman.
Amy Chao – Creative & Tech Connector @ VR Diversity Initiative
I was impressed with Amy’s rather cool demeanor. Her company, VR Diversity Initiative, is young, having only started up in 2017. But that hasn’t impeded their ambition. They aim to make XR technologies such as VR/AR (virtual reality/augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) more inclusive by introducing the technology to people from underrepresented groups, such as people from the LGBTQ community, people who are African, Asian, and other ethnic minorities, as well as individuals with disabilities and those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Anisah Osman Britton – CEO @ 23 Code Street
Anisha was probably my favorite speaker of the day––funny, engaging and incredibly passionate. 23 Code Street is a coding school for women, with a simple yet highly impactful philosophy: For every paying student, they teach a woman in India how to code. They run web development courses that are inclusive and supportive to inspire a healthier, sustainable tech culture.
Symantec co-sponsored the event and it was great to see EMEA Director Gillian Bell up on stage representing Symantec on one of the panels. The speakers of the day were all incredibly inspiring, with so many great takeaways to bring back to our companies and create real change.
Knowing that the attendees and speakers all had the same goal––to improve and implement diversity, equity, and inclusion programming and practices––was just fantastic. I came away feeling quite enthusiastic and motivated. It may seem like a lofty goal, but I look forward to the not-too-distant future when we will need far less education on DEI practices because the vast majority of us will already be equipped with an inclusive mindset.
Attending Tech Inclusion London was one small step for me toward that future.
Cass Averill, Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Program Manager, reflects on the 2018 Out & Equal Workplace Summit and why this year's theme of belonging meant so much to him.
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