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An inside look at how MongoDB is fostering inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people to be celebrated

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez November 14, 2022
We speak to three LGBTQ+ people working at MongoDB who share their experiences of working at the vendor and provide guidance on what it means to be a diverse and inclusive employer.

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(Image by Neo_Artemis from Pixabay )

For a number of years now diginomica has taken the view that diversity and inclusion topics should be central to our coverage of the enterprise B2B technology market - if you want to understand why, you should take a read of our explanation (dated 2016). In short, not only is fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion the right thing to do, it also makes for more successful companies, better products, and happier employees. 

There’s technology decisions to enable this, which plays a role in diginomica’s coverage, but it’s more about focusing on discussions that enable people to bring their authentic selves to the workplace. 

With this in mind, we jumped at the opportunity to interview a number of diversity and inclusion leads at cloud database vendor MongoDB, who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, to get a better understanding of how this company is fostering a safe and celebratory environment for queer people. 

The conversations were fascinating and informative, as well as useful for other organizations that may be thinking about how to improve their own workplace environments for queer people. 

First up, Cara Silverman, MongoDB’s ERG (Employee Resource Group) Global Lead, explains how the vendor tackles both diversity and inclusion as two distinct priorities. Silverman is responsible for MongoDB Queeries, a closed, safe space for queer employees at MongoDB, and the company’s Queer Collective, which is open to allies too. Silverman says: 

As far as structure goes, one of my favorite things about MongoDB is that we approach diversity and inclusion as two separate things. Diversity, being diversity recruiting - and then inclusion, we have a manager of inclusion who works closely with our ERG groups and puts everything into practice. It’s important to highlight because they're both two very different things and I feel like they often get lumped together a lot. 

I really appreciate that MongoDB invests in them collectively, but also has designated teams on each side. 

Silverman has been with MongoDB just over two years and says that the Queeries community has nearly tripled in size over that time and that the Queer Collective is now made up for more than 300 people. They say: 

It's very exciting to see that momentum. 

There's been a lot of support and investment from our leadership team. That really shows me that they really practice what they preach and embody our values of diversity.

Understanding why

I ask Silverman and their other MongoDB colleagues why a focus on diversity and inclusion is important for a company in 2022, as this is often used as an argument by people to not invest in D&I initiatives. With so many competing priorities, in an increasingly complex and difficult macroeconomic environment, why focus on D&I? Silverman explains: 

I think that creating a space where people feel comfortable, allows them to do their best work, without having to worry about how they're being perceived - and investing in that. Some companies are like: ‘Oh we have a D&I manager, here’s some stats for you, we’re good to go’. 

It's really refreshing, being a queer identifying person, coming into a place that it's baked into all different parts of the business.

You see that comfort coming out of people and the different projects that they're a part of - in how empowered they feel to share their opinion, whether it's about LGBTQ issues, or business issues, or whatever it is. There's just this safety net that exists because of that. And I think it's really powerful for business, to have that for their employees. 

And personally speaking, I've worked in other environments that were not as forward thinking. I was closeted for a lot of my career because I thought that's what I was supposed to do, until I started working in tech and seeing that openness. 

I didn't even know it was an option, honestly. And it changed me. It changed how I was able to move forward in my own career and my own personal life. It changed how I was able to feel comfortable interacting with executives and business leaders. I think it's incredibly impactful. 

As part of MongoDB’s recent Pride events, they recently held a get together at the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City, which is where the liberation of the LGBTQ+ rights movement is often cited as having started in the US, following the Stonewall riots in the late 1960s. The event was open to customers and partners, and Silverman notes how MongoDB’s focus on D&I is having an impact on the company’s customer base too. They add: 

You can really see that impact, internally and externally. When we did our Pride event at Stonewall, we had it open to customers and sponsors, which is really exciting. 

And we had this customer send us a really amazing email about how his loyalty stems from our value. We were like, wow we didn’t realize that that's trickling past the employee base. 

Angie Byron, MongoDB’s Community Programs Lead, adds that there are famously bad examples of organizations that didn’t have diversity in their teams and released a product that didn’t take into consideration the needs of a certain group. Byron says: 

Avoiding those kinds of gaps, getting diverse perspectives to move things forward, makes stronger products. It means making things that resonate more with the general public. 

A celebratory environment 

Byron adds that MongoDB is the biggest company they have worked for, but has been leading communities for a number of organizations over the years - in areas that cover everything from a queer punk community, to hackers, to the open source community. They say: 

I'm trying to grow a community here, so I lead community programmes, which are things like our community champions, our MongoDB user groups, and our mobile community stuff. 

And for me, I've never been at a company that’s big enough to have things like ERGs. And it’s just been like night and day, because at my previous companies, the values were always aligned - I wouldn't work for a company that didn't value diversity and didn't care about its employees - but you could tell it was very much something that they were doing to make a number go up in the right hand corner, so that they could say: ‘see, we're doing diversity’. 

That’s not the case at MongoDB, where Byron says that the focus isn’t just on acknowledging people for how they identify, but actually celebrating those identities. They add: 

What I appreciate about MongoDB is that it's very much not about that. The end user experience for someone working here is that it's this opportunity to be celebrated in various ways. 

About a month after I started, there was this National Coming Out Day and they asked, who wants to be on this panel? And I was like, yeah, sure, I'm game for whatever. And it was really well done. The opportunity was there for everybody to express different viewpoints, and this was put out to the whole company for something to look at. It felt very much like wow, this is something where it's not just telling people that we care about diversity we're actively celebrating. 

And I found time and time again, they've found a way to put all of their employees, whatever their identity is, in the best light.

Again and again and again, we are given the opportunity for something that’s in a really celebratory light, it's not just an acceptance thing. It's actually more than that.

This celebratory approach to diversity and inclusion extends to MongoDB’s recruitment practices too. Speaking with Cian Walsh, a senior recruiter at MongoDB, they explain that the recruitment strategy at the organization is holistic and organic, with the focus on aligning recruitment to the company’s different ERGs. Walsh says: 

We're very fortunate here that we have a number of ERGs and we're introducing more into the fold as well. So partnering with employer branding is a big part of what we do from a diversity recruiting standpoint. We have some wonderful people that work here and what the employer branding team does is work with them to capture their story, and then to give it a platform to a wider range of audiences. 

This can come in many forms. So, for example, this year, we've done a national community video where we interviewed 24 employees globally and shared that internally, but also externally. We’ve also done different events for Pride, for Trans Awareness Week - really giving those employees a voice and a platform. 

According to Walsh, MongoDB also has a huge ally network, where a focus is on using events and partnerships within the organization to enable employees to be better allies. Walsh says: 

There's the programmatic side of things, which is the events, partnering with recruitment, partnering with external bodies. But then there’s also the education piece, the panels that we do, the events that we do. And that provides, not just training, but more of an enablement for people to be better allies. 

Always learning

Often people, and organizations, shy away from D&I initiatives not because they don’t think it’s important, but because they worry that once a focus is placed on this area for improvement, there is a (false) expectation that they always have to get things right. Or, to put it another way, they are simply worried about getting things wrong and opening themselves up to criticism. 

But as Silverman notes, even within the LGBTQ+ community, people are always learning and part of an effective D&I initiative is listening and learning to other people about their experiences and finding out what they need to have a positive experience in the workplace. Silverman speaks about the trans community, for instance, which is currently experiencing huge amounts of unjust media attention and are being used as a political football by those in power that wish to distract from other issues, for which they are actually responsible for. 

The fear mongering is very reminiscent of what gay men experienced in the 1980s, which is now considered a shameful era for media pundits and politicians. But it seems lessons haven’t been learnt and so it’s crucial during this time to be mindful to listen to trans people and what they need from allies. 

Silverman says: 

I think one of the more challenging things is understanding where the gaps are. Because I think as humans we don't know what we don't know. For instance,  in trying to be an advocate for the trans community and making sure our messaging is coming across in the right way. 

I am part of a community of trans people who are friends of mine now, who I met through the Lesbians Who Tech Summit. They often tell me: ‘I never set out to be a trans leader, this is not a goal that I had’.  But they made the decision to not hide and with that people kind of gravitated. 

But what they say that resonates with me is: ‘a lot of us don't really want to be seen, we just want to live our lives as we are and that's where our comfort level is’. 

And that makes sense. So it's important ,as we do programming and try to raise awareness, that we're not just doing what we think is right, but we're listening to where our community wants to be heard. 

Byron adds that companies need to think about the complexity between including allies and education, whilst protecting groups that find safety in their respective ERGs. One way MongoDB is going to do this going forward is by incorporating mandatory training for people looking to be involved. Byron says: 

I think that idea of how to include allies in a way that helps the affected group still maintain psychological safety is a big question. The natural draw will be to have a closed safe space, where we just talk to each other and we know everybody's safe.  But then you don't raise the awareness and you just end up recycling the same problems. And if allies don't know about the problems they can't help, right? 

So something that's interesting that MongoDB is approaching with a new ERG, that I’m also leading, is the Neurodiversity and Disability ERG. But as part of that new ERG spinning up, what is going to happen with that is that there's going be required allyship training for everybody. 

So it's important to me, that even within my own space, I can be an ally in certain respects. Required allyship training just explains to people what being an ally means - it's not like a little check that you do to make yourself feel better, it's actually showing up, it's doing work. It's educating yourself. 

Sharing those kinds of best practices, getting the ERG leads on to talk about different aspects of allyship that are important to their group - having that upfront for people to join ERGs - I think can yield really positive results because then you can better trust that when someone enters. 

My take

Nothing to add except to extend my thanks for Cara, Angie and Cian for such an open and honest discussion about diversity and inclusion. And that I hope other organizations can take their comments and learn something for themselves. 

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