To celebrate Pride Month, we’re shining a light on some of our LGBTQIA+ community at WiseTech. We recently sat down with Dave East, Head of Software Engineering Practice to discuss his experiences coming out at work, what Pride Month means to him, and how both individuals and companies can be supportive and inclusive allies.
Can you share a bit about your career journey and how long you’ve been at WiseTech?
I started at WiseTech as an associate developer about 11 years ago now. I became a development team leader and a product manager before moving into the software operations side of things. Now I've created the software engineering practice function, which looks at understanding and shaping the human side of software development.
Outside of work I'm also studying a graduate diploma in psychology, which is like doing an undergrad major as postgraduate coursework. I'm using that to enhance my ability to understand how people think, feel, and act, so that I can better shape the way that software development as a practice is performed at WiseTech.
Can you share a bit about your experiences coming out and what this was like in the workplace?
I first came out when I was 18, but what I’ve learnt is that coming out isn't a one-time thing. You’re continuously doing it whenever you go into a new environment or meet new people. So for me, I actually came out at WiseTech in my job interview because I was determined that I wouldn't work for a company that didn't accept me as I was.
Choosing a company to work for is a pretty significant life choice, and I wanted to make sure that I was working somewhere that I didn't have to hide really important facets of my own life. I felt confident and comfortable in myself to be able to put that part of myself forward from the get-go.
During my interview at WiseTech, I mentioned my partner and referred to his gender. I didn't detect any kind of discomfort or reluctance from my interviewers, so that to me was the company passing that test and I knew this was the right place for me.
What does it mean to you to be able to be your like true self at work?
It's very freeing. Not having to worry if someone at work will find out, how they’ll find out or if people are talking about it behind my back. That kind of uncertainty adds a lot of stress, and I’ve definitely experienced that in previous workplaces. So it's much more freeing and just generally a more comfortable way to exist professionally if you don't have to hide it or worry about someone finding out.
WiseTech is full of people, and people are diverse, but not everyone is as progressive and comfortable with these things as everyone else, and that's really the challenge I think for many companies. The company culture can be fantastic, but I think the challenge comes from individual experiences with people who may not necessarily mean harm, but they could say things that come across as either insulting or just generally not very sensitive to the fact that people are going through their own challenges.
We don't know what everyone's struggles are, and sometimes they’re very personal and private. So these sort of microaggression comments can be quite harmful and actually add up quite a lot. So if 99.999% of the time everything's great but that 0.001% can be quite harmful, so I think the challenge is really to make sure that everyone understands the impact of their words and actions and continue educating staff.
What does Pride Month mean to you and why is it a special time of year?
Pride Month is an occasion that legitimizes conversations about diversity, specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s an opportunity to celebrate diversity, but also to celebrate the progress that we've achieved and to talk about areas where there are still challenges.
We just went through an election campaign in Australia where trans people were used in a conservative scare campaign for political gain, and that sort of discourse is really quite harmful to people.
It's great to have a moment where the microphone is handed over to people of diverse backgrounds to talk about their experiences and hear about what’s really important to them. So I think the most important part of Pride Month is really hearing from people of different experiences to our own.
How do you think companies can be more supportive and inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people?
I think it’s really important for companies to give a voice to people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and I'm glad that as a company we have the “Anyone can talk to anyone at any time for any reason” mantra. So doing things such as this interview for Pride Month is fantastic, and I’m grateful to be able to share my experiences.
I think one of the most important things though is not just listening, but hearing, understanding, and most importantly taking action. I think quite often people do the listening, but they don't necessarily understand why it is that some people are talking about diversity or talking about reducing bias, especially in the hiring process and other areas where there's a lot of discretion, which means that unconscious bias can really sneak into our decisions.
So I think it's quite important that we try and stamp out bias and actually take action when people raise that there could be an issue with bias somewhere.
What does allyship mean to you?
To me the most important thing about being an ally is to speak up when speaking up is required, and not pass by something that doesn't make you feel right. If someone says something a bit off colour, actually calling them out on it can be really impactful.
Most people don't really like confrontation, so I understand that it's probably easier to just let these things go. But for other people to see that it's not okay to say certain things can be quite powerful and it can create a lasting bond between people when someone has stood up for you or stood up for someone like you.
We don't necessarily know who might feel hurt by something as well. So when someone says a statement like “that's so gay”, as a gay person you don't necessarily turn to them and say “I'm gay and that hurts me”, especially if you’re not out. Usually you’d just suffer in silence. So as an ally, speaking up when something inappropriate or offensive is said can help someone more than you know. And also, think about your own words and actions and how they might be perceived by minority groups.
What are some other practical ways people can be good allies?
Not assuming that someone is straight or assuming their gender is a good start. So if someone mentions their partner, not automatically saying “what’s her name” or “what’s his name?”, because then you feel like you have to come out to that person because they assume your gender or that you’re straight. So just making small changes to your language and asking in a way that doesn’t assume a gender, such as saying “what’s their name”, can make that person feel more comfortable. Also, If someone has listed their pronouns, make sure you use them.
It's a really simple gesture, but it can be hard because gendered language is such an ingrained habit. So you have to force yourself to think and talk differently. It might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but over time, you get used to it.
I personally would love it if we just stopped using gendered pronouns altogether, but society change comes slowly. So until we get used to saying “they/them” all the time, I guess just don't assume people's genders and don't assume the gender of their partner. So my advice would be to approach people like mysteries and they'll reveal themselves to you when they feel comfortable doing so.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to come out but isn’t sure how to?
Try to find a close circle that you trust and you feel comfortable to be out with. But also, if you don’t feel comfortable, you don't have to come out to anyone. You could be completely yourself outside of work and someone else inside of work.
But if you feel comfortable with trusted people, let them know some things about you. It doesn't have to be a big announcement, you could just talk about your partner or someone you're interested in and then judge the reaction and see if it feels comfortable to you.
You'll probably start to feel more and more comfortable and you can share your true self with more people to the point where it's not really a thing, it's just something that everyone knows and accepts.