Throughout June, we’ve published a series of Q&As at WordPress Discover featuring members of the Automattic team. These conversations explore personal journeys; reflections on identity; and diversity and inclusion in tech, design, and the workplace. Here are highlights from these interviews.
Gina Gowins is an HR operations magician on the Human League, our global human resources team. In this interview, Gina examines identity and language; communication and trust-building in a distributed, mostly text-based environment; and how her life experiences have informed her work.
I am particularly attached to the term queer as a repurposing of a word that was once used to isolate and disempower people — it was used to call people out as problematically different and other. From my perspective, there is no normal and no other; instead, we are all individual and unique. Identifying as queer allows me to take pride in my own individuality.
Language changes over time, and how we use language shapes our values and thinking. In a culture that is aggressively governed by heteronormative values and where it can still be dangerous and lonely to be LGBTQIA+ — such as the United States, where I live — defining myself as queer is also my small act of defiance. It is a reminder of the consistent fight for acceptance, inclusion, and justice that so many people face, and our inherent value and validity as humans.
Echo Gregor is a software engineer on Jetpack’s Voyager team, working on new features that “expand Jetpack’s frontiers.” In this conversation, Echo talks about gender identity, pronouns, and names; and how xer identity and experiences have impacted xer approach to development and work in general.
Earlier in my transition, I called myself “E” sort of as a placeholder while I pondered name things. One late night, on the way home from a party, I had a friend ask if they could call me Echo, as it was the callsign equivalent for “E.” I immediately fell in love with the name, and gradually started using it more and more, until I made it my legal name.
I like that it’s simple and doesn’t have many gendered connotations in the modern world. I also appreciate it’s mythological origin! In the myth, Echo was a mountain nymph cursed by the goddess Hera — to be unable to speak, and only repeat the last words said to her.
I think there’s a lot of parallels in our world to that idea. We’re part of systems that are so much bigger than us that it’s rare any one of us can be loud enough to bring meaningful change, to speak new words. But echoes don’t perfectly repeat things. They reflect what is given, and in so doing change it a little. I like to try and live up to that by bringing a bit of change to the world, not by being the loudest, but by reflecting things back in my own way.
Mel Choyce-Dwan is a product designer on the theme team. In this Q&A, Mel tells us how she got involved with the WordPress community through a previous WordCamp, about her observations of tech events as a queer designer, and about the importance of inclusive design.
Show a lot of different kinds of people in your writing and your imagery, and don’t make assumptions. Talk to people from the communities you’re representing if you can, or read about their own experiences from their perspectives. Don’t assume you know better than someone else’s lived experience. When in doubt, talk to people.
And don’t just talk to people about how your product should work, talk about how it shouldn’t work. Talk about how people think others could hurt them using your product. People of marginalized identities often have stories of being harassed, stalked, or abused on the web. We need to think about how our products can be used for harm before — not after — the harassment.
Niesha Sweet, a people experience wrangler on the Human League, says she feels like she was destined to work at Automattic. In this final interview, Niesha reflects on her Pride Month traditions and what she finds most rewarding about her HR work.
I would say that we all have to apply an additional level of empathy, understanding, and openness when working together. Just with communication alone — English is not the first language for some Automatticians, and some cultures’ communication style is direct. Assuming positive intent and having an additional level of empathy for one another allows us to effectively communicate with each other, while also appreciating our differences.
The reward that comes with our diverse workforce is that every person and voice has the opportunity to be heard. Impostor syndrome is real, so some Automatticians may not feel as though they can share their ideas with anyone at the company, but we truly can. Our level of diversity is truly outside of what the typical company is aiming to achieve. That’s not to say we’re not looking to hire more diverse Automatticians, or increase our workforce with non-US hires, but we’re not limited by age, sexual orientation, race, and gender identity. Diversity has a different meaning in a lot of the countries where we have Automatticians, and that alone is rewarding.