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Being Just: Thoughts on Inclusivity
As an engineering executive, I feel a duty to be honest and open with my team about who I am and what I stand for. Whether it’s a technical discussion about system design or how we deal with conflict in the office, I work hard every day to create a friendly and open environment. When I first became a leader many years ago, I quickly realized the impact that my words and actions have on people who see me as their boss, and because of this, everything I say and do is taken as an example.
Leading a team requires honesty and integrity– so that the people you work with are able to trust you. And leading engineers is particularly tough because we are trained to be skeptical of most things and most people. We are trained to look for edge cases and places where things will break down, and our work is fraught with tight deadlines and estimations on vague tasks that we haven’t seen before. To put it simply, there is a lot of uncertainty in our work. Engineering leaders must do whatever they can to reduce uncertainty and make people feel comfortable in their jobs.
As a gay man, I struggled for many years with my own identity and being comfortable with it, but I realized many years ago that I can make a difference by being open and honest about it. This is what makes me work hard every day to stand up for what is right, and to create a welcoming and inclusive culture on my teams. I feel a special duty to use my privilege as a leader to promote and give voice to these issues, and to help others see their duty as well.
In a previous job, I was once approached by a colleague who told me “You’re the reason I joined this company.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I remembered interviewing him, but the moment didn’t stand out to me at all. He said, “I was concerned about joining this company because I’m gay. But then I met you and saw that you were successful here, and I knew I would be fine.” At first, I was taken aback – we never even discussed the topic in the interview. How did he know? Do others know without me saying anything? When I reflected on this, I realized it was my own insecurity coming back again. Ultimately, this became one of my proudest moments as an engineering leader, because it wasn’t about the right technical decision or an outage averted, it was a human moment where I had helped someone else by just being myself.
Our industry as a whole continues to do a poor job with representation and inclusion – but if I can help set the right culture in places I work, then I can influence others to see the value in doing so. And my sincere hope is that it becomes contagious. As each person sees the value in this, the overall culture changes. People move from company to company and they bring with them their experiences and their values. No one person can change our culture, but our collective action and recognition that we own this problem together can make a difference.
Today, I’m proud to say that I work at Percolate, a company that shares my values and promotes inclusivity. And I’m also proud to say that I’m out, and that if you work in my team, you’ll have a safe space to be yourself. We have a company value here called being “Just,” and it really boils down to treating others the way you want to be treated. And for me, that means being accepted and valued for who I am and the work that I do.
I hope that we can all live and work in places where we feel accepted, but we also share the responsibility to create these inclusive places for ourselves and others. This is what I try to do every day, and I hope you’ll join me in the effort to create a more “Just” world. As Pride month is drawing to a close, I am reflective of the past and current struggles of people like me just trying to go about their lives and being interrupted by prejudice and discrimination. We still have a long way to go to achieve equality in this country, and in the world, but creating safe spaces for people to be themselves are a key action that we can all take as engineers and leaders to create the world we want.
If you’re a leader, make it known that you support equality and are an ally. Talk about it openly with your team. If you’re not a leader, be one by making it clear to your leaders that you expect them to be this way. Any good engineering project is a series of small steps towards a larger goal. The culture of our industry is no different, and no less important.