Pride is a time of celebration, reflection, visibility, and affirmation for the LGBTQ+ community, and as we enter Pride Month at Wells Fargo, I’ve been reflecting on this year’s theme of “We are stronger together.” We are stronger together, and yet we often most profoundly impact and connect with one another as individuals. I’ve been thinking about this recently on both a professional and personal level. And, for the first time in what feels like a very, very long time in my life, these ideas are converging. As part of celebrating Pride, I’m here to share my experiences being part of a community and choosing to be visible as an individual.
I recently accepted a newly envisioned role as the head of Technology Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion. My job is focused on two priorities for technology. The first is driving internal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) workforce outcomes to ensure technology teams and leadership are comprised of talent that reflects our communities, that we all feel valued as and are encouraged to be our authentic selves, and that we all have fair and impartial access to development and advancement. The second priority is driving DE&I and diverse segment marketplace outcomes with increased supplier diversity engagement and technical consulting as part of inclusive community partnerships, such as the Wells Fargo Foundation’s Open for Business Fund.
This is a sharp turn for me, as a technology executive who had been leading large technology organizations and enterprise initiatives. But the role enticed me knowing that diverse talent builds diverse products and services that will help us reach new and emerging markets. This form of innovation is both a business and technology imperative and it aligns to our company’s core vision and values. It’s also a recognition of the value of difference. I couldn’t say no to innovation and thinking differently. And, as it turns out, this is a natural step as my professional trajectory and personal journey converge.
Over the past several years, I have really started to feel the importance of representation. There are two keywords for me in that sentence: feel and representation.
As a woman in technology, I’ve often felt like displaying any sort of feeling would be a liability. I have deliberately gone out of my way to be fact-based, dispassionate, and quite private about my personal life. I have done this to align with what I saw as required traits for success as a technology leader and executive. I refused to be dismissed and overlooked as “emotional” or “hypersensitive.” And while I intellectually understood the importance of representation, I didn’t really feel it on a personal level (I was too busy not feeling).
This changed when my youngest daughter, who is transgender, started expressing real uncertainty and despair about her future. I realized that the more transgender people and role models I could point her to who have successful careers, fulfilling families (however they define family), and were living unapologetic lives, the more confident my daughter became. Given the real impact of seeing how the success of others affected my daughter’s perception and outlook, I decided to turn that representation lens on myself.
I am leading this function for Technology, and I am doing so as an experienced technology executive and as a queer, bi, cis woman married to a man. Here’s a bit about my journey.
I’ve been comfortably queer since I fell in love with a girl at 16. I am extremely fortunate in that my family was accepting from an early age and gave me space to embrace a queer identity which, today, includes being married to a cis man with two wonderful (and sometimes difficult!) kids and a loud and beautiful extended “chosen” family. I think part of what helped my parents so instinctually embrace me was that they both lived their own differences — my mother is an immigrant and my father has cerebral palsy. They set a strong foundation about difference as an opportunity.
Even with this intrinsic value of difference, it was only through the eyes of my daughter that I started considering the value of sharing more details about who I am at work, and addressing my own uncertainty about sharing my identity. Diversity within diversity isn’t always easy and, as my daughter got older and her worldview was changing, I had to question my own willingness to be visible and honest about my whole self. In essence, she helped me find that level of comfort in my own truth.
As I made the decision to self-identify several years ago and began getting involved in Employee Resource Networks (ERNs) and DE&I workstreams, I started working and feeling differently. My engagement in my day job was higher because I was also engaging in activities at work that were personally important to me. I could tap into my passions and started talking more openly about my family and my personal experiences. I connected with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise connected with who expanded the way I think and the way I problem-solve. By making myself more visible, I created space for others I worked with to feel more comfortable (regardless of their identities) and saw the collective engagement of our team expand.
Let me be clear, I also know that the fact that I have a choice to disclose and my relative safety in doing so is a part of my privilege as a white cis woman. LGBTQ+ individuals who are also people of color navigate a much more complex set of dynamics and risks.
In being more out at work, I hope I am creating space for other LGBTQ+ employees and allies to see themselves and feel valued. We are stronger together. Without a doubt, there is strength in numbers. There is also strength in the individual. My own experiences remind me that it’s easy to hate an idea, but it’s harder to hate an individual. Changing behaviors and culture takes both outcome oriented, data-driven objectives plus open and sometimes messy, uncomfortable conversations. I take all of this to heart and, with my daughter’s permission, now talk freely about having a transgender daughter and how she continues to positively influence who I am as a person and a parent.
As part of my journey, I answer a lot of awkward, sometimes really painful questions, and I ask some of my own hard questions in return. I do this to put a face on the impact of fear and hate, like the fatal impact of increased anti-transgender state legislation and the corresponding increase in the violence against transgender and nonbinary people, particularly transgender women of color. I do this to protect my daughter’s life. Telling stories and demystifying the stranger is the power of the individual.
Bringing my authentic self to work every day feels better than I could have imagined. So when people ask me, and they invariably do, why this matters and why we spend all of this time talking about identity and DE&I, I remind them that research shows that companies with diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures outperform their peers. Acknowledging our shared experience and, as importantly, creating space for different experiences, is part of how we harness the full potential of an organization and the individuals of whom it’s comprised. Companies in the top quartile of racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above industry averages, according to a report from McKinsey & Company. And, according to LGBT Capital, the estimated spending power of LGBTQ+ people globally is estimated at $3.7 trillion. Also, a third of the U.S. population is ethnically diverse, and their purchasing power is approaching $2.5 trillion. This is business!
In the month of Pride (and every day), I hope we all find ways to highlight how we are stronger together and continue to realize the value of being seen.