A few months ago, prior to COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions, Clearwater’s UK team participated in our company’s global unconscious bias training initiative. Our focus in the training is not on eradicating bias—unconscious biases are a normal part of our lives as humans—but in recognizing how our behaviors, attitudes, and decisions are often informed by our biases and taking proactive steps to ensure we have structures in place that help us minimize bias.
During one of the sessions, the conversation turned to bias (unconscious or otherwise) about under-represented groups. I shared a story from one of my first jobs where several leaders were sitting around a table talking about an upcoming company party. The question was asked whether husbands and wives should be included. A co-worker looked across the table at me and then voiced what she knew I wouldn’t.
"Let’s just say significant others or plus ones—that way people can bring whomever they want."
I shared how that moment has stuck with me all these years later. I got a little emotional telling the story, which was surprising. I’ve been part of diversity and inclusion initiatives in two Fortune 500 companies, I’ve participated in panels, I’ve spoken about the importance of expanding our definitions of diversity to include neuro-diversity, and I’ve facilitated sessions around LGBTQ+ issues and women in leadership. Yet, this 10-minute conversation that occurred 20-plus years ago continues to be a reminder of the power and impact of advocacy. The idea that someone at that table was willing to advocate for me and my then-partner (now wife) was such a powerful example of basic human kindness.
It wasn’t political. It wasn’t controversial. It was just one human being recognizing that someone in the group was not being included in the same way that others were being included. She wasn’t doing it solely for me; there were other LGBTQ+ employees (not to mention unmarried employees who might also want to bring someone to our party) in our company. Still, around that table that day, I’m guessing there were only two of us thinking about it—which is an example of both unconscious bias and allyship. As both a more junior team member, and as the only LGBTQ+ person in the room, I didn’t feel comfortable speaking up. My co-worker used her position and her voice to advocate for me and others. That’s ultimately what allyship is all about.
After the session in Edinburgh, several Clearwater employees stayed to talk with me and the other presenters. One of the team members had tears in her eyes. Hearing me tell my story was the first time she’d heard a leader in a company she worked for (ours or any other) be so open about their own experiences as an LGBTQ+ person. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging require both representation and allyship. I’m grateful to the allies and leaders I’ve encountered in my career and am also grateful for opportunities to pay that forward in some small way.
Given the events of the past few weeks in the United States, I’ve realized that paying it forward in “some small way” is no longer enough. Like many companies this month, Clearwater Analytics is celebrating the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community. I helped plan and am championing these activities. I’m proud of the work our Diversity & Inclusion Community of Interest Group and I have done. But it’s not enough. Pride grew out of the response to police brutality against LGBTQ+ patrons at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. It has grown in the 50 years since that first march on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall to become a global celebration.
Pride celebrations will look very different around the world this year due to COVID-19. In the US, they will also look different because many of us don’t feel much like celebrating. Perhaps this year, Pride should be less about celebrating how far we’ve come and more about learning how far we still have to go. I am committed to becoming a better ally—to learning and listening to other voices, to advocating for other’s perspectives—and to dismantling systemic racism, homophobia, and bigotry at every opportunity.