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You Belong Here: There is Power in Being Different

Below is an article originally written by Cass Averill, Program Manager for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at PowerToFly Partner Symantec, and published on November 5, 2018. Go to Symantec's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Cass Averill, Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Program Manager, reflects on the 2018 Out & Equal Workplace Summit and why this year's theme of belonging meant so much to him.

I've been fortunate enough to attend the Out & Equal Workplace Equality Summit for the last five years. While each summit is distinct, there are two common threads each year:

  1. I always come home with more cutting-edge tips, tools, and best practices for improving our internal corporate culture; and
  2. The reason I go to the summit and do this work is very personal to me.

As some of you may know, I am a transgender man who transitioned in the spring of 2009 after two and a half years working as a female employee at Symantec. I was the first Symantec employee to transition on the job, and I can still remember how nervous and scared I was then. I had no idea how people would react or how the process would unfold. Thankfully, the response was, and continues to be, nothing but positive. Symantec's willingness to be open and accepting of who I am has created an environment where I feel comfortable to bring my authentic self to work, and can go forth and affect change across the entire organization. This, then, is the lens through which I go to the Out & Equal Summit.

The last four years of attending the summit I took what I learned back to Symantec and helped implement policies, procedures, and guidelines that help us address inequities for our global LGBTQ+ employees. All of this change was achieved not because I was a manager or because I had great personal influence in the company, but rather through working with our PRIDE Employee Resource Group (ERG). Even though I was a lower-level employee at the time, as an ERG member I was able to drive change that affected the entire organization.

This year I attended the conference from wholly new perspective as a Program Manager for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). I met and networked with many other DEI leads from organizations around the globe who are doing the difficult work of changing their internal culture from one of bias and inequities to a culture of inclusiveness. I learned that we all struggle with our cultural and historical contexts around this topic regardless of geographic location. The good news is that when we share our stories – as well as our processes and procedures – together we can create lasting change. A change that shifts the tide in our internal corporate culture, and extends beyond into our lives and communities outside of work.

A driving theme at the conference this year was sharing a sense of belonging. The message of "You Belong Here" was weaved all throughout the conference and even existed as a larger-than-life sign above the main stage. For a community of people who have been told over and over again that we are not welcome or don't belong, seeing this message in so many places – and said by so many people – had an incredible impact. Despite all the self-critical internal dialogue that can still happen inside my head, seeing this message everywhere reminded me that I do belong here, that my story is worth sharing, that my thoughts and ideas are valuable precisely because they are different, and that my sexual orientation and/or gender identity do not define what kind of employee I am.

The message I bring home from this conference for you all is this: Don't let anyone stop you from reaching for equity and inclusion. No matter your seniority with the company, your tenure, your job title, or position – everyonedeserves to be included here at Symantec. We value all of our beautiful, inspiring, and thought-provoking differences. We understand that it is exactly these differences that not only make our products great, but also make Symantec a great place to work.

As someone who has been told my whole life that I'm "different," I want to reach out to everyone else here that has been told that for any reason and say: "You belong here! I value you, and I want to work together in all our differences to make Symantec your second home – a place where you are excited to come and where you feel appreciated, seen, valued, and heard."

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