As a visibly queer, agender person, I never know how I’m going to be received in a new workplace. I’m pretty sure whatever ideas you may have formed in your mind after we’ve spoken on the phone are unlikely to match what you get when I show up in person.
I’m fat, I have facial piercings, tattoos and body hair. My head is half shaved and right now the rest is pink (although that varies). However, I’m also an excellent Product Manager with the experience and attitude to back it up, so I’m always hopeful that people can see through any prejudices or biases they might hold (conscious or not) and keep my talents at the forefront of their minds. I’ll maybe even hope they’ll consider the cultural add I could bring to their team rather than just adding more of the same, though the thought of being just a ‘diversity hire’ is also problematic.
I know this experience will be familiar to many folks who aren’t white, straight or cis. It’s nerve-wracking to walk into the room and be the only person who looks like you! It takes courage and tenacity to be in that position in any scenario, but this is especially true in the professional world.
I’ve been at HeadBox for 2 years now, and I’m happy to report my experience has been hugely positive on all fronts. Despite my anxieties, from day one I have been taken seriously in my role and the Product & Tech team welcomed me warmly. While it may have taken slightly longer for me to build interpersonal relationships across the company, I have never felt judged or negatively impacted by my queer identity. I can honestly say I enjoy working with every single person at HeadBox. I feel respected and heard, and our many differences truly make us stronger as a team.
I was recently promoted to Head of Product at HeadBox, beyond being proud of this as a personal achievement, it also demonstrates that the Leadership Team accepts me for who I am and firmly believes in my abilities. When this news was announced, the outpouring of support and joy from my colleagues across the business was truly heartwarming. I feel lucky to work somewhere that regularly demonstrates love and celebration of one another at all levels.
In addition to my Product role at HeadBox, I’m also a founding member of our D&I committee. For the last 18 months, a small group of us have been working hard on a regular programme of talks, screenings and activities that celebrate my favourite of the HeadBox values – Empathy. We’ve covered all sorts of topics such as LGBTQ+, racism and white privilege, fatphobia, neurodiversity, discrimination and stereotypes. Every single thing we’ve done has been well attended (even though optional) and I’m always impressed by the level of energy and participation that we see. It’s testament to the team’s desire to learn and challenge themselves, and also the safe spaces we have created for honesty and vulnerability. It’s amazing to be a part of and I’m very proud of what we have achieved.
I have a vested interest in D&I, as the better educated my colleagues become, the better my day-to-day at work becomes. I feel able to discuss things like my mental health (challenging), sexuality (varied) and hobbies (unusual) without having to censor myself or feel like I’m being judged.
We also now have our pronouns in our email signatures, which may sound small but it created an easy opportunity to let people know I use she/they pronouns. Also as an AFAB person (assigned female at birth), I get self conscious about my body hair being on display in public – especially as I tend to feel most comfortable wearing tank tops and shorts. However I feel supported and accepted by my colleagues in my gender presentation and this is hugely empowering.
When I talk about the importance of D&I, I try to explain what it means to not only make sure that the team is made up of a broad range of people with different backgrounds, experiences and views, but also that those people feel welcome and heard, and are treated as equals within the team. There’s a proven business case that helps with getting buy-in on this, but the real value is in the way it makes your employees feel and the improvement this can bring to their quality of life.
Being seen, accepted and celebrated while being your authentic self at work is a transformational thing – especially when that self is fairly ‘unconventional’. I love working at HeadBox and know I am lucky to feel such belonging amongst the whole team, despite our many differences.