Insight from AlertMedia’s Maddy Reid
Maddy Reid was in a one-on-one with one of AlertMedia’s customer success team leads when they were asked how they identify at work for the first time.
“It was within my first couple of weeks [at AlertMedia],” recounts Maddy, who had joined the emergency communication software company as a customer success manager.
Per Maddy, their manager turned to them and asked, “So, how do you identify?”
“I had never been asked that in a work setting before,” says Maddy. “It was so cool. And I was like, ‘Actually, now that you ask me that, I am nonbinary.’ At work, I’ve never pushed that because people don’t think to add that other option. But [my manager] had a child who’s nonbinary, so it was a really cool moment for both of us.”
We sat down with Maddy, who has since become a product manager at AlertMedia, to hear more about how they're building a career around good people and also about how others can embrace their identities at work and find companies that celebrate the diversity of their employees.
Finding the “really great humans”
Maddy started college thinking they’d become a math teacher. But an internship at a radio station introduced them to mass media, where they got to connect with others and be creative. “I realized talking to people could be fun! I wanted to do that continuously—talk to people who are nice to me,” they say.
It was in college where Maddy first came out. “I came out as gay, because I thought lesbian was a bad word. I had a lot of unlearning to do. As a kid, I was afraid to identify as anything other than straight, cis lady. Now I’ve done the work, I’m feeling good,” they say.
It took Maddy some time to find their ideal career, too. They left radio because it didn’t pay well, then tried a few other customer-service based roles. They were working at a tech company they hated, sending out dozens of resumes a week, when they connected with a recruiter from Austin-based AlertMedia.
“Everything changed in that moment. She was just so kind. It didn’t feel like every other phone call. It was very much like she was a friend calling me up and we were chatting,” Maddy says. “And when I went in for the actual interview, the way the team is, they want you there and they want to get to know who you are, and it was incredibly welcoming and comfortable. I was like, ‘Alright, sold, I’m in.’”
Their first few weeks on the job, Maddy was convinced their coworkers couldn’t possibly be that nice. “I figured they were saying all these things because it’s the nice thing to say,” they note. “But then I would come in after a long weekend and they’d be like, ‘Oh, how was your trip to go see your parents? How cold is it in Chicago right now?’ I’m like, I barely know you and you actually care. It’s pretty cool. Just a lot of really great humans.”
After Maddy shared with their manager that they were nonbinary, they started noticing things. New people joined the company and added their pronouns to their Slack profiles, for one, which made Maddy feel like they could reach out and share their identity.
“It was like, ‘I can tell you now, you’ve just shown me it’s okay,’” says Maddy. “It’s become more and more common that people outside of work, too, are willing to listen, willing to hear, and if they’re not…do I want to associate with them? Probably not.”
Maddy says that their coworkers will now step in and correct someone who uses the wrong pronouns on Maddy’s behalf. “I’ve never been in an environment where we’re always here for one another and we’re uplifting each other not only professionally, but also personally,” they say.
That sense of support helped Maddy grow from their original role in customer success into a product management role. They’d shown interest in the technical side of the product, and the director of product management noticed and asked if they were interested in transferring over to that side.
“I still work with customer success pretty often, because we’re very customer-centered,” says Maddy of AlertMedia’s products, which include emergency communication software that allows organizations to send SMS pushes, mobile app notifications, and make phone calls to people in emergency situations.
“Right now we have a whole lot going out about the terrible winter weather,” explains Maddy. “People are able to let their employees know about office closures or say, ‘Hey, the roads are looking pretty dicey, respond back to us if you're having trouble getting to work.’”
3 approaches to finding places where you can be your full self at work
We asked Maddy what advice they have to share with other people who might not have always felt comfortable bringing their entire identity to work. Check out their perspective:
- “Always work on your own timeline. You can put a lot of pressure on yourself when you're thinking about other people's expectations,” says Maddy. “When I first started in radio, I wasn't even telling people that I was gay because I wasn't ready for it. Nobody had an issue with it, but I had a lot of self discovery to do and a lot of things to figure out for myself. With identifying as nonbinary, it wasn’t until that conversation with my manager that I said, ‘Okay, maybe I can get comfortable with it.’ If you're not ready, then you're not ready, and you don't have to be. You don't owe that to anyone.”
- “Reach out to people who are reaching out to you. It really is a community thing. If someone is putting themselves out there, adding their pronouns to Slack or Zoom or their email signature, even if they’re cis straight, they’re saying, ‘Hey, I’m a safe person; I’m welcoming you in any way that you are,’ in regards to pronouns. Reaching out to those people is incredibly empowering because you have at least one person you can dip your toes in the water with and see how it goes.”
- “Remember you can leave. There are other jobs, there are other companies, there are places that want you to be who you are. And you deserve to be in that place. So if you're ever feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, get to a point where you can feel safe and comfortable.”
Bekah Nye isn't particular about pronouns.
"I honestly don't care if anyone calls me sir, he, they, she. I don't care what someone calls me at this point; I don't feel like I need to label myself for anybody else," says the Manager of Business Operations at mobile game developer Zynga.
Bekah realized she was nonbinary when her younger sister saw that an actor had recently come out as nonbinary and asked Bekah what it meant. (Bekah is fine with people addressing her with "she/her" pronouns, as that's how she presents, so that's what we'll use in this piece.)
"As I was reading about it, I realized, 'This is me.' I was explaining about the actor and myself at the same time," shares Bekah. "I don't need to identify as non-binary to identify as who I am, though. I'm simply trying to be myself to the fullest, and it's come naturally along the way."
After growing up in a religious household and navigating the impact it had on her identities, Bekah came out as bi in high school, and now prefers to identify as queer—though she still has a strong aversion to labels.
"Labels are important; I understand the use of them," she says. "They're very important for us to be able to communicate with each other because otherwise we don't know how. But trying to fit that label into a box has been difficult."
Bekah has realized that she does best in environments without boxes. And that's exactly what she found at Zynga when she joined four years ago.
Finding the right environment for her
Bekah first heard about an opening at Zynga via a close friend. "I got this text, 'There's a position open that's perfect for you, send me your resume this second!'" remembers Bekah.
That's how she got in the door—but she didn't take the job just for a chance to work with her friend.
First, Bekah wanted a more flexible workplace, one that wouldn't ding her if she arrived ten minutes past her usual time. She liked Zynga's relaxed and non-micromanaging approach to work culture.
Second, she wanted a place where she felt like she could really be herself. "I had a little bit of whiplash from past managers; I hadn't really had a good long-term manager up to that point," she said.
She got a good first impression from her would-be manager at Zynga, and it turned out to be right. "He saw my potential and my personality and simply kept encouraging it," she says. "I realized that Zynga was a safe space to be. It helped me realize that I can allow my personality to come out safely without fear of my job, and in turn that's what helped me feel more comfortable in coming out in the LGBTQ world."
Feeling safe at Zynga and confident in her work skills helped Bekah feel confident in who she was, and in communicating that to her team. Now Bekah is out at work and has joined Z Pride, Zynga's LGBTQIA+ ERG.
And she's excited to share her experience with others and to let them know there's room for them at Zynga, too. Even doing this interview is an example of that.
"Somehow, I made it through the obstacles and hardships of my early life. Somehow, I made it here. I'm at Zynga with awesome benefits, a good-paying job and amazing coworkers. How can I not use this platform to speak from the rooftops of what a human-being can accomplish?" she asks.
Navigating a world of labels
Bekah recently applied for a home loan. When she filled out the paperwork, she decided to leave the gender section of the application blank. She'd heard how single women got offered worse APRs than single men. "I didn't want to be treated any differently based off the gender I was assigned at birth," she says.
She's run into the limitations of gender at work, too. Bekah is currently mentoring two young women, one of whom is a new manager; in a recent meeting, Bekah gave her advice she'd been given earlier in her own career: "Be more assertive."
"She straight out asked me, 'But what if I don't want to be?' I had never thought about that before. I'd been working so hard to fit in that I automatically did away with being softer; I was more assertive so I could actually speak at meetings, so I could properly represent myself," says Bekah. "I'm still mulling about how women can come up in an industry that is male-dominated and still keep their feminine sides while still being heard and working effectively in the workplace. I don't have a good answer for that right now."
When it comes to asking about gender identity, whether at work, at the bank, or in life, Bekah generally believes in letting people define for themselves how much they'd like to share. For example, a manager might be well-intentioned in asking everyone in a meeting to share their pronouns, but that can put some people in an uncomfortable position.
"Asking people to share their pronouns in a way is asking them to out themselves," says Bekah.
One of the issues Bekah has with labels like man/woman or straight/bi/pan is that they mean something different to different people. "Take gender fluid—I understand what gender fluid means to me, but I don't fully understand what it means to everybody else. With that being said, I don't know if I can take that label because I don't know how others define it," she explains.
4 ways to find the right space for you
Bekah has some advice for people who might be struggling with expressing their full identities at work:
- Be true to yourself. "It's going to make you a hundred times more comfortable than anything else," says Bekah. "You're the only person you have to live with for the rest of your life. You have to put up with yourself, whether you like it or not. So be true to yourself first."
- "You don't have to share if you don't want to." Bekah urges "patience, empathy, and understanding, not just with self, but with others too, because you can't expect everybody to be the same."
- Create a safe space for yourself first. "Maybe you can't have a safe space outside of your home or in a work environment, or maybe it's even hard to find a safe space in your home, but there's always the opportunity to find a safe space within yourself," she says. She suggests trying activities like meditation, yoga, swimming, drawing, or breath work to find an outlet for emotion. Bekah's personal favorite is singing, particularly Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy." "I usually think, 'It's too quiet, it's not going to affect me.' Two minutes later I will be singing at the top of my lungs, tears running down my cheeks. Singing really helps," she says.
- Be patient. "Don't let go of either a dream or who you are. In time, things will change, and things will shift," she says. "Consistency and determination will always win in the end."