How Intersectionality Led Me To Co-lead the LGBTQ+ ERG At My Company
I came to Affirm from a fairly unusual background. I’d never worked in tech or recruiting and prior to Affirm, I helped run a private optometry practice in Downtown San Francisco. Now I’m a Technical Sourcer on Affirm’s Talent team and co-lead our LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG). My career trajectory is untraditional but that’s always been me – I’ve always been a bit different.
A little about my past
I was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica until I was 10. Since then I’ve spent a majority of my life in San Francisco (hence the American accent). Sometimes I forget my immigrant status until my partner who is a 5th generation African American makes an obscure cultural reference that puzzles me. Although I appear to be African American and technically hail from Kingston, Jamaica, there are gaps in my knowledge of both African American and Jamaican cultures. These distinct markers, cultural knowledge gaps and all, make me the complex person I am.
Outside of being Jamerican, I’m also a queer woman. During high school, queerness took over my life. I was on the softball team, both of my coaches were gay women and I had my first crush on a girl. If you know anything about being queer and Jamaican, you know it’s hellish and a bit of an oxymoron. In my experience, Jamaicans can have vehemently anti-queer views. You can imagine the confusion in my adolescent mind. I was now holding three key identities in my life: Jamaican roots with an American adolescence and burgeoning queer identity. All of these identities have equal footing for me, but they sometimes felt at odds with one another. I have often felt the need to “choose” one or the other, as if such a decision were at all legitimate. These contradictions are dynamics I continue to navigate today.
When I joined Affirm, I carried each of these identities with me. I didn’t sign up for just one, or two or even three ERGs, but four! (Women@, BLACK@, Immigrants@ and LGBTQ+@.) After a few months, leadership positions opened up in BLACK@, LGBTQ+@ and Women@. Once again, I felt the internal pressure to “choose” one of these identities.
“identities occur simultaneously and should not be divorced, segmented or compartmentalized.” – Kyle Chu
In the end, I chose to pursue co-leading LGBTQ+@Affirm. Becoming co-lead was important to me because as I struggled with showing up for each ERG community fully, I knew I wanted to support other queer Affirmers in battling this feeling. It’s also true that many LGBTQ+ events/organizations are helmed by cis white gay men and I wanted Affirmers to see that LGBTQ+ leadership can be diverse and complex, much like myself. My coworker Kyle Chu once shared the following definition of intersectionality: “identities occur simultaneously and should not be divorced, segmented or compartmentalized.” I realized I wanted to be a visual representation of this sentiment.
Leading with an intersectional lens
Since becoming co-lead of LGBTQ+@ I’ve strived to lead with this inclusive and intersectional mindset. During Pride Month, LGBTQ+@ hosted a series of events to engage Affirmers with our ERG. We ran features in our company-wide newsletter on Trans Identity, held a Fireside Chat on Workplace Equality and hosted a “Coming Out Stories” breakfast that all Affirmers were invited to attend. The result was not one I could have anticipated.
I’m proud to say that folks from a variety of backgrounds, ages, genders and sexual identities lead and engaged in our events! Members of Immigrants@, Women@, BLACK@ (and more) enthusiastically took part in our gatherings. One of my colleagues (and co-lead of BLACK@), Tigray Kahsai, even pinged the entire BLACK@ community about participating in some of the LGBTQ+ events. To me, this was a triumph; this kind of work and collaboration, across identity groups, departments and ERGs reassured me that Affirm is an environment that could embrace my complexity. It is this ethos that drew me to Affirm and drove me to become a co-lead in the first place.
My experience co-leading the LGBTQ+ ERG has helped assure me that my identities don’t need to be at war. I’m a queer, black, immigrant, woman – all encompassing. I am an intersectional being and will show up in all spaces as such. This is the lens through which I see my world and it will continue to inform my entire life. I am thankful that this authenticity is embraced at Affirm. I am also thankful to my co-lead Brooks Hosfield, who’s been a considerate thought partner as I work through this process.
The work continues
The work doesn’t stop after Pride Month ends. There are many voices that have yet to be heard and more support to be given within our ERG. An internal survey found there are some LGBTQ+ Affirmers who do not feel they can be their authentic selves at work. Brooks and I hope to aid in rectifying this.
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” – Fannie Lou Hamer
As Affirm moves forward and grows, it’s paramount that no one gets left behind. If anyone is left suffering, then we all are. I truly believe that intersectional-minded collaboration between ERGs is a good way to start. Affirmers should not have to choose between identities or communities because we all truly have the same goal – to build an inclusive, engaged and community-centered space.
All in all, this untraditional girl is hoping to bring new traditions of inclusion to Affirm.