On July 7, 2017 I was invited to speak to the Salesforce Women in Tech (WIT) Diversity group about my role as an Ally. It was the first Ally talk for the WIT Diversity group and I was nervous, but inspired to do the best to explain my story and how it is relevant for the WIT Diversity group.
This post is to recap my talk and be used as a asset to support other Equality Allies.
In 1973 I was born to a small town Nebraska farm family, and due to a miracle (ask me about my birth story if you are interested) at 3 days old was sent to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in a dire emergency and was found to be born with a Genetic Metabolic Disorder called Galactosemia.
Galactosemia is a Genetic Metabolic Disorder in which the body can not break down galactose into glucose to be used in the body. I have 2 gene mutations in my DNA ((Q188R and 1048-del-A) that results in my body retaining excess Galactose as I cannot process it.
How did this affect me? Well first off all – I cannot eat Milk or Whey (or any of the followings) You would be surprised how many foods contain milk or whey. I read food labels all the time to see if items have milk products or not. Its a part of my life.
Other than not being able to enjoy Milk, Ice Cream, and other foods, there are other complications that occur with Galactosemia, including brain development issues, memory and speech issues, and cognitive skill development. This is because if the body has an excess of galactose, it can damage the white matter around the brain. (This all depends on when Galactosemia was detected – # of days after birth)
So as a child with a Genetic Metabolic Disorder, who couldn’t eat “normal food”, I had some unique experiences:
- I always ate last – so that the host/server can bring you your “special” non-dairy meal once all the “normal” kids have eaten.
- I always finished lunch/dinner last – so while the other kids are playing I am last to play.
- (you get the idea – last last last last last) Being last all the time is a target for bullies, and childish names. You are reminded daily that you are “different”.
- I had adults telling me what I can and cannot eat – what I can and cannot do – where I can and cannot go.
As I look back on my childhood, I can say that having Galactosemia has given me empathy for those who are different, those that have been told what to do and what not to do. I survived, and I know that the inconveniences were all in “my best interest”.
I was also privileged to go to a good college where I was given a chance to be a Junior Counselor for incoming Freshmen. My assigned roommate was Bryan Bass, one of only 23 black men in a college of 3,100 students. Our dorm room became a safe hub for minorities as other students would reach out to Bryan for advice and to lend an ear to their problems. As Bryan’s roommate and partner, I was in a position to listen and empathize with those who felt they were “different”. I could listen and try to put myself in their situation.
My senior year of college, I traveled abroad. I studied in 4 different overseas schools (in Egypt, India, Hong Kong and Japan) and visited 12 different countries in the entire program. It was an amazing experience where I learned about how others live and where people come from, but I also learned many stories about how my privilege as an American has affected the lives of others around the world.
WIT at Home
One of the best things I ever did was meet and get married to my wife Diane. She is a Woman in Tech and is a trusted adviser to me on WIT-related things. She is involved in Resource Groups at her work and when we go out with friends, it is usually with connections on those Resource Groups. She has a diverse group of friends and colleagues.
We have similar morals in our work and how we treat others. (We don’t need to step on someone else to get up in the world and we don’t need to push each other down to make ourselves feel better.) In my working world, I have tried to work at places I am aligned with.
We also are trying to show those morals to our son and hope that his experiences in this world include valuing equality, inclusiveness and respect for all people.
I think people get stuck on the term “Privilege” and I understand why. Some feel that this is a defensive term to classify people and determine the “haves” and “have-nots”. The more I learn about privilege, I realize that it can also be seen as blessings that you have been given, based on conditions that you have very little control over.
To better understand the value of Privileges, I recommend the following resources:
- TEDxEMU – Justin Ford – Pedagogy of Privilege
- Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
The following explain the socio-economic groups that I fall into:
- Born in the USA (Actually I am 14 generations removed from Stephen Hopkins, who was a signer of the Mayflower Compact – yes that MAYFLOWER in November 11, 1620).
- Married and have a child.
- Economically Stable
- Christian background
- My parents are still alive and still married and are involved in their children’s/grandchildren’s lives.
These privileges matter because I am all of those things as who I am and the role that I play in the world. It empowers me to serve others using the privilege that I have.
My Equity Role Models
One of the questions I was asked me in preparation of my Ally talk was “Who is your Equality Role Model.” The names that popped into my head included my parents who have taught me to treat others with respect and to do the right thing. My father still reminds me that “You know the right things to do. Do those things”
The second name that came to my mind was Mary Scotton. I am always inspired and educated when Mary Scotton speaks about equality. Her talk at TrailheadX 2016 included a slide of WDIMC (White Dudes in my Corner) featuring male allies to the WIT community. I was delighted when my friend Zayne sent this picture to me. I thought “Wow, Mary sees me as an Ally – that means something!”
You should read Mary’s blog http://www.maryscotton.com/blog/ as it has great content and her presentations can be found here: http://www.maryscotton.com/talks/
2015 – 2016
In July 2015, I met Shonnah Hughes and was introduced to the Salesforce #Ohana. I attended the Salesforce Admin Study Group that Shonnah was leading and was welcomed to study with this group. After the class was over, and we had all obtained our Admin Certifications – Shonnah let me know that she and Toya were starting a WIT Diversity group and was I interested in that topic. I was very excited to hear of this and wanted to know more. Shonnah and Toya invited me to join their group and I have been listening and learning about other’s stories. It is marvelous!
- Got to meet the WIT members in person, those who I followed on the virtual WIT Diversity calls.
- Networked with many other #Ohana allies.
At Dreamforce 2016, I was able to speak with Marc Benioff who issued me a challenge to reach out to my local schools. I have taken this challenge on!
- I have met the local school leaders. (The local school I am working with is 93% minority and 94% economically disadvantage.)
- I have been appointed to serve on the Career and Technical Education Advisory Board.
- I have committed myself to adopt a local school program and help them with Funding, Volunteering, and Programming.
- Expect to see more in upcoming posts on this challenge and my response as time goes on.
Advice for other White Male Allies
1. Don’t give into FEAR.
It took me some time to realize that being afraid of others is only holding me back. (Who holds the privilege? – “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh)
2. Listen and Learn.
- Join a Resource Group / Affinity Group at your work.
- Say YES when asked to volunteer (Junior Achievement, Girl Develop It, Pride Parade Volunteer)
- Attend local WIT Events that are open to Allies (ask first)
- Go to the WIT Event the day before Dreamforce (please tell me they are doing this again!)
3. Make it personal.
- “Make a Friend and Be a Friend”
- Be Brave – Find a cause that you really believe in and make it your goal to support it.
4. It’s not all about you.
- It’s hard to fathom, but sometimes your Privilege can get in the way. (WHERE I STUMBLE)
- It’s good to KNOCK before opening a door. I knew Shonnah and Toya were starting the WIT Diversity, but did not assume I was invited. I asked Shonnah first.
Overall, My journey has only begun. My journey will continue through networking with other colleagues, diversifying my feed on social media and news sources, deepening my relationships with others around the world and working with the students who I will be working with over the coming years….
thanks to Toya, Shonnah and Jen for asking me to speak at the WIT event, and thank you all for supporting my journey.