Hillary Lehr
Senior Strategist | Brigade

What do you do and what have you done in the past, professionally?

I am a Senior Strategist at Brigade focusing on building partnerships with advocacy organizations. I joined Brigade last year as part of our acquisition of Causes.com, the world’s largest online campaigning platform. At Causes, I led a campaigning team that worked with grassroots activists and nonprofits to launch petitions. I had transitioned to Causes from the nonprofit sector where I worked on organizing and digital campaigning on issues such as money in politics and rainforest conservation.

Has your sexuality initially shaped your career decision? If so, how?

The desire to leave this world better than I found it has always been a central part of who I am. In that sense, being queer has shaped my career in two ways. First, it has been a core piece of the motivation behind the political activism that is the backbone of my career path. Getting stared at for holding hands with my partner definitely makes me want to dig my high heels in and fight injustice. Secondly, being queer has given me a perspective on privilege and oppression that has taught me to be more conscientious of language, assumptions and inclusivity, both on digital platforms as well as in the workplace.

When and how did you open up to your company about your sexuality?

In my first interview. Since I’m femme, often people don’t immediately assume that I am queer. Instead, it just came up as the conversation turned to campaign strategies around the then-upcoming Supreme Court decision that struck down Prop 8 and DOMA. The ruling was a great campaigning moment, but it also meant winning the freedom to marry my amazing partner (now fiancee). I am thankful to live in a time and place where I didn’t feel like I needed to hide that, so I didn’t. It’s simply always been out in the open.

How exactly did you open up about your sexuality within your first interview?

My (future) boss and I were reviewing interesting campaigns that could be launched on Causes.com related to topical news issues. This was in spring of 2013, so I was sharing some potential campaigns that could respond to the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and California’s Prop 8. It was a while ago now, but I mentioned something along the lines of how bizarre it was that a such small group of individuals was about to make a decision that would so significantly affect my own future.

Many interns I’ve spoken to (interns who are not open to their companies about their sexualities) don’t see a purpose in discussing their sexualities or same-sex partners at work. Why have you chosen to do so? Why do you think it is beneficial?

Make no mistake about it: despite some major recent victories we still live in a time when homophobia is a dangerous reality that queer people have to face, often on a daily basis. LGBT people can still be fired or evicted for their sexuality or gender identity in 29 states. Many LGBT people may chose to not take on that risk to their safety or job security by being out at work (at least for those of us who have that choice and posses privileges that accompany ‘passing’ within common gender norms). It’s hard not to internalize the repercussions of that reality. However, for those who do have the safety and support of an inclusive workplace, being out can be an important flag to fly. It signals that LGBT people shouldn’t have to hide their identities to feel safe and thrive at work. It further amplifies the fact that the lack of workplace discrimination protections in the U.S. is absurd and harmful.

I’m out at work simply because I’m out pretty much all the time. It’s a core piece of my identity, and I’m proud of it. Being queer is a part of who I am, but it also makes me who I am. I love campaigning for LGBT rights and justice. It gives me fulfillment and purpose. I love my LGBT community. We’re funny, and good-looking to boot. :)

Also, I believe that being out at work can help LGBT folks considering joining the tech industry know that they won’t be ‘alone’ in the sector. We’re here, we’re queer, we’re hiring!

What’s your experience of being a LGBTQ+ person in tech been like?

It’s been great. I get to come to work each day with an inclusive, diverse and talented group of people who are committed to using technology to scale social change and empowerment. When I started a staff LGBTQ and allies group at Brigade, nearly half the company joined. When my partner proposed, my colleagues organized a big lunch outing to celebrate the news. Working with an amazing team matters.

I also like being able to support LGBTQ folks around the world who are using technology to scale bold and courageous grassroots efforts in places that are openly homophobic. Since I am privileged to not live in an aggressively homophobic environment, I love being able to leverage my organizing skills in support of the broader LGBTQ community.

Last but not least, connecting with groups like Lesbians Who Tech has been key. I am inspired by the brilliance and resilience of other queer women in tech. To me, the challenges of being a woman in tech are more noticeable than my experience as a queer person in tech. LWT has been a great support and motivator, especially as I was first navigating the transition from nonprofit life to the tech sector.

What diversity initiatives at work or in the tech industry as a whole have been useful and beneficial for you?

I am a big fan a cohort hiring. Last year, Brigade hosted an event called #StartupDiversity to focus on specific actionable steps smaller, younger startups could use to increase diversity early in a company’s history. I like to focus on real action over words, and used an exercise to collect input from attendees on what they were going to take away with them and put into immediate use.

Our team since has made strong efforts to engage in cohort hiring practices. I definitely suggest putting a diverse representation of your company on your hiring teams! It can help candidates from diverse backgrounds feel more comfortable and succeed in the interview process more readily. For example, in 1:1 conversations with female candidates, women will often ask other women about gender diversity at the office whereas they might feel intimidated to broach the subject with others. I like when hiring teams create that space for candidates to speak their mind comfortably.

How do you think your company or the tech industry as a whole can be more LGBTQ+ inclusive?

One of our values at Brigade is to #ownit, and this is especially true when it comes to diversity. It should not only be on women, queers, and people of color to move the ball on diversity initiatives. That commitment has to come from the whole company. Making sure folks from more privileged backgrounds know that they are a vital part of the solution is key for getting results.

Trainings on hidden bias are spiking in the industry and have enormous potential to eliminate those evaluative cracks that can drain away the fairness of reviews of diverse candidates and workers. The trainings are particularly effective because they are framed in a way that replaces less-productive emotions of blame or guilt with strategies to identify and mitigate assumptions.

I think tech is a remarkably curious and solution-oriented culture, but we all need to be more disciplined about not letting inclusivity shift to the bottom of the priority list. Inclusivity is absolutely vital to success. I think the industry would benefit from learning about LGBT history and culture, especially here in San Francisco. Companies should support tech workers in being good colleagues and good neighbors. After all, it’s not just about marching in Pride parades once a year. It’s about making sure we’re stepping up to meet the needs of the LGBT community within and beyond tech.

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