Upon receiving my employment offer from Appian, I only had one reservation.
Let’s back up for a second.
I wasn’t actively looking for a new position. In fact, I had been employed as a Campus Recruiter for a global management & technology consulting firm — a firm consistently and formally recognized as a corporate leader in supporting the LGBTQIA+ corporate community (in fact, the firm received a perfect score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index).
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, formal corporate commitment to and inclusivity of all employees regardless of sexual orientation reigns among the most important characteristics I had been seeking in an employer (remember, the job search is a two-way street!).
Formal LGBTQIA+ corporate commitment aside, accepting an offer with Appian appeared to be a no-brainer.
Or was it?
For my readers who are unfamiliar: in the state of Virginia, there is no statewide law to protect people from discrimination on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and expression in the private or public workplace. A person can legally be fired or refused employment by any employer in Virginia (large or small) on the basis of that person’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
Ipso facto: a person can be fired because someone *thinks* that they are gay or lesbian or because they are not masculine or feminine enough in dress or demeanor.
Hmm. Back to that statement about accepting the offer being a no-brainer…
Despite not being able to find any formal commitment to LGBTQIA+ corporate equality efforts, in my view, Appian’s charismatic culture of generosity and integrity spoke to its obviously unspoken inclusivity. What did I have to lose? I identify and present as a woman, and to be safe, I’ll just remain in the closet; no one would ever suspect that I am a part of the LGBTQIA+ community!
I congratulate myself almost four years ago in retrospect for accepting Appian’s offer — the self who trusted her instinct about this wonderful company — regardless of the absence of a formal corporate commitment to LGBTQIA+ equality. As a Talent Acquisition Manager, however, I immediately recognized that the lack thereof was presenting (and would continue to present) obstacles in maintaining and attracting candidates of this community.
Knowing that Appian operates under the “Best Idea Wins” philosophy, from day one, I made it my mission to ensure that I would have a hand in the creation of something resembling a formal effort (or at the very least, I would attempt to construct an informal community group of employees). I also quickly realized that I might be one of the only actual members of said community at Appian (at the time, we were a company of approximately 200 employees).
…which led to Problem #1.
To my knowledge, I had been one of the only open LGBTQIA+ community members at Appian (our community tends to be quite small, and therefore, we tend to “find each other,” if you will). Informal conversations were had, excitement had ensued, but the metaphorical ball had been dropped; the few of us who had found each other realized that there were, indeed, too few of us to begin an endeavor of this nature, nor could we fathom rallying the non-community members of Appian (which likely consisted of 99.9% of the population).
…which led to Problem #2.
At the time of our discussions, the Women’s Leadership Program wasn’t even a Thing yet (in 2013, there were actually no formal programs or affinity groups/communities). I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the WLP’s sheer existence and success gave me confidence that, with a methodical approach and robust support, a formal LGBTQIA+ community group could become a Thing, too. The only question was When?
Fast-forward to Appian as a 750+ person company (aka, a couple months ago). For those of you who don’t know me: I have the great fortune of managing Appian’s Campus Recruitment Program, with goals of historically bringing in 50–60+ university hires into Appian every summer. In my tenure, several hundred university graduates have joined Appian internationally (all of whom I welcome into the “Appian Family” with open arms and a big hug). I view myself and my team as “Keepers of the [Appian] Culture”; our mission is to represent Appian’s core values and holistically embody the Appian population. We pride ourselves upon the bonds we create and maintain with our hires, and how we continue to function in mentor capacities after they’ve started with Appian.
Something I love about working with college students: they aren’t afraid to get personal. Year after year, and school after school, I’ve been asked point blank if Appian has any formal diversity initiatives. Prior to the WLP’s existence, I regretfully answered: “By the very nature of our culture, we just are inclusive to everyone!” The students would raise an eyebrow. Furthermore, when asked about an LGBTQIA+ community or formal support directly, I responded with, “No…but I’m gay and everyone who knows accepts me!” While I’m 100% comfortable outing myself, you can only imagine how awkwardly the conversations ended (and how many LGBTQIA+ candidates we’ve lost in the process).
I realized I was the only person standing in my way of actualizing a formal effort. This “not having formal corporate commitment” wasn’t flying in the university recruiting realm (and this is just one realm), let alone with the current employees who belong to the community.
We had finally become a “mid-sized” company — a company where most all faces were familiar to me. Having many friends within the organization, I knew that, at the very least, more than just my recruiting colleagues would show up to support even an informal LGBTQIA+ effort. Moreover, I had the unwavering support of most (if not all) of the recent university hires, giving me the confidence to post a solicitation (otherwise known as “The Day Courtney Outed Herself to an Entire Company”).
Over 50 employees showed up what we now know as the AppianPride community group interest meeting — and this number does not account for all the folks who emailed saying they could not make the meeting, but were excited to participate in future events.
The group selected a Steering Committee — for which I am Chair — and together, we fleshed out a proposal, and were approved for a budget. Our inaugural meeting buzzed with a myriad of organic dialogues, and I was impressed to see business leadership at every level in attendance.
As far as programming is concerned, we function akin to the Appian Women’s Leadership Program; we will sponsor professional events, offer voluntary trainings, and work to ensure our corporate policies reflect our commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community. If you haven’t noticed yet, we’ve ensured our bathroom signage reflects a sensitivity toward gender expression. We also have pretty cool swag (laptop stickers and t-shirts!) to share our existence with the outside world.
This post is a very long-winded way of saying: while an AppianPride community group had been long-overdue, the group’s come to fruition is an example of how, despite Appian’s rapid growth, the Best Idea [Still!] Wins.
The mission of AppianPride is simple: to celebrate and foster a safe, equal, and affirmative environment within the larger Appian community and beyond; to attract, retain, and develop employees within the LGBTQIA+ community. As Appian continues to grow and further establish a global brand, we must explicitly commit to an organized and evolving committee, formal initiatives, continued education, and community-wide awareness for LGBTQIA+ individuals, issues, and organizations — and thanks to all of you, we’re doing just that.
*Originally published on Linkedin Pulse.