Everyone wants to be part of something — whether it’s folks who like the same science-fiction franchise or parents of students at the same school. We all want community. Having a community gives us shared purpose and sense of belonging. We are designed to connect with one another, and we do that best through a community.
VMware cares greatly about community. In fact, the word “community” is the second C of our EPIC2 values, which are our defined corporate values. To us, community is about recognizing our impact on the places where we live and work, and how our actions and efforts create a more inclusive, innovative, and empathetic society. This June for LGBTQ+ Pride Month, VMware is celebrating being Proud Together, where we honor our LGBTQ+ employees and their important role in our VMware community.
Being part of a community has meant many things to me at different points in my life as an LGBTQ+ person. I have sought community wherever I was — from seeking like-minded peers at a young age to creating an inclusive workplace culture for fellow LGBTQ+ persons and their allies.
I wanted to share a bit about my experiences and the importance of creating an inclusive LGBTQ+ community in every workplace in the spirit of being Proud Together this LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
Proud to use my privilege for good
Before I go further, I do want to acknowledge my immense privilege writing about this topic. I benefit from many privileges, including being white, cisgender, and non-disabled. I also benefit from financial, educational, and geographical privilege. All of that means that I can write about this without the fear of retribution from my family, employer, or government. I take my responsibilities as someone with privileges seriously. I try to use my privileges to work against the systems that create such systemic inequality and work to provide opportunities for others in spaces historically unwelcome to them.
My search for community
My journey to find community started at a young age. I couldn’t quite figure out how I was different, despite always knowing I was somehow different than those around me. I had friends across activities I participated in, from sports to performing arts to church to charitable events. But I still felt like I was constantly outside of the group.
This was also the time in my life that I started to realize my LGBTQ+ identity and meet other members of the LGBTQ+ community. A lightbulb suddenly went off in my head as I started to get more involved in LGBTQ+-focused events and conversations: this is my community.
I “officially” came out when I was 16 years old. I put “officially” in quotes because coming out is not a one-time event. LGBTQ+ people come out every single time they meet someone new or enter an unfamiliar situation. I come out every time I mention my wife to the customer service representative trying to fix our internet, or whenever I talk about my childhood to someone who’s recently joined our team at work.
There is no right age to come out, either. People who “come out” at five or 95 are still as much a part of the LGBTQ+ community as anyone else. People who aren’t fully “out” to everyone in their lives are still members of the community, too. The reason coming out for the first time is such a powerful moment for an LGBTQ+ person is because they are acknowledging, often to friends or family, their own identity and all that comes with it.
Coming out can sometimes be an isolating experience. It’s hard to be true to yourself when you aren’t accepted by your family or don’t have anyone else to connect with. Unlike many in the LGBTQ+ community, my family and friends supported me from the start. The only hesitancy I felt was that my parents really, really didn’t like my girlfriend at the time.
My journey had fewer hurdles than many others in the community have, despite some challenges of being out in high school. I was lucky enough to attend Smith College — an all-women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts. Smith is known for being radically progressive — not to mention very LGBTQ+ friendly — and it was there I was able to build my own community of unbelievably talented and inspiring friends.
Hiding myself — and finding me again
Leaving Smith, I woefully underestimated the depth of the radical, queer bubble I had spent the last four years in. I eventually started a new, corporate job with excitement and eagerness to prove myself. But, unlike the previous six years, I was not out at work.
You might be wondering why, and to tell you the truth, I still ask myself the same thing!
What it really came down to was fear and judgment. I was afraid of how others would treat me if they knew, so I told myself that they would not treat me as a real person — despite zero evidence to support this. I worked for years without ever mentioning my partner (now my wife).
Understandably, when my now-wife sent me flowers for our anniversary, a lot of people were confused and wondered if it was my birthday or if I had a secret admirer. They didn’t know I had someone special in my life at all.
Hiding who you are at work is exhausting and demoralizing. I would avoid any conversation about weekend plans or try to come up with a different way to word activities that involved my partner. I felt like a shell of who I really was, and I was unable to make connections with my coworkers because of my fear.
When I started looking for a new job, I made it a point to be upfront about who I was from the start. Even in my interviews, I mentioned my partner and emphatically articulated “she” when talking about her. On my first day, my boss took me out to lunch, where I excitedly told her all about my partner and what we like to do for fun on the weekends. She was excited to learn about my partner and more about me.
I want to recognize that other LGBTQ+ people might not have the privilege to be out at work for many reasons, including personal safety, political climate, job security, or retaliation. Some just don’t want to bring up that part of their life to their coworkers — which is fine! However, I knew that hiding that part of myself was, and still is, just not an option. And, no matter what, I needed that community around me.
Building an inclusive workplace community
Even though I was confident and proud about being openly LGBTQ+ at my new job, I still felt like there was an opportunity to create an internal LGBTQ+-focused community. I knew there were other LGBTQ+ folks in the company — some of whom were nervous to be themselves. I wanted to make more LGBTQ+ inclusive company polices, which I didn’t think I could tackle on my own. I started the company’s first LGBTQ+ & allies employee resource group (ERG) with some help from HR.
LGBTQ+ & allies employee resource groups, like VMware’s PRIDE Power of Difference (POD) community, are a catalyst for an internal LGBTQ+-friendly community within companies that foster friendship, support, and professional development. People can talk openly in these groups about subjects and concerns that might not be understood by those not affiliated with the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+-focused ERGs also welcome allies and encourage them to take an active role, which increases the sense of LGBTQ+ inclusion across a company.
As an openly LGBTQ+ person at work, you inherently make the space around you more welcoming for your LGBTQ+ co-workers — especially those who might be nervous to talk about that part of themselves. You also encourage the rest of the team — regardless of LGBQ+ identity — to think about inclusive actions they can take, like putting their pronouns in their email signature, using gender-neutral language, or trying to make workplace policies inclusive for everyone. If you are in a position of power, you can be a role model for others who don’t see themselves reflected in leadership.
Allies of the LGBTQ+ community also play a major role in creating an inclusive workplace. Not only can they be advocates of inclusive actions like those listed above, but allies can also help combat stereotypes, stigmas, or discrimination that sometimes surfaces when LGBTQ+ are not in the room. Allies have a responsibility to speak up for others not in the room — and to work to make the room as diverse as possible in the first place — like I emphasized in my blog post “Four Actions You Can Take to Become a Better Ally.”
Looking forward at VMware
When I started at VMware, I made it my goal again to be as proud and authentically myself as possible. I spoke openly about my wife in our first team meeting, and even had a teammate approach me later asking how best to support a family member who recently came out.
I am excited and honored to be part of the PRIDE VMware POD Community. Through this group, I have met folks from all over the company and participated in Pride-focused panels and events at various internal conferences and meetings.
While there is still work to be done to make VMware inclusive for all, I know that through this POD and VMware’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I can find the community that I’ve always sought and found joy in.