Laura Mesa
Product Marketing | Yahoo | Lookout, Mozilla, Apple

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

I’ve been working for about 8 years. For all 8 years I’ve done consumer marketing for software, with the last 6 years focused on product marketing for mobile and desktop software in the utility category: browsers, security, search, homescreens etc.

In what way has your sexuality influenced what companies to apply to?

I feel lucky to say that I’ve worked in the Bay Area for my entire career, and in my opinion it’s one of the most (if not the most) accepting communities in terms of sexual-orientation in the country. I’ve never felt that I could or couldn’t apply to certain companies or organizations because of my sexuality and I’ve had positive experiences with every company I’ve worked for.

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

I’ve worked at 3 different companies so far and I’ve done it pretty much in the same way.

For context, I’ve never felt comfortable mentioning it interviews, mostly because I don’t think an interview should ever be about that — I should be offered a job because of my qualifications and culture fit, not because I’ve mentioned or not mentioned my sexuality. If I ever have mentioned it, it’s always been as a gender neutral “partner”.

Once I’ve started the job, I usually find an opportunity to casually mention my partner in the first week or two to my manager or a colleague. I make sure it never feels forced or out of context and I have always gotten a positive reaction/response. As the first year rolls on, I make sure to bring her to company events, to introduce her to my coworkers and talk about her as often as any coworker would talk about their significant other. I know this sounds like I’m being guarded or more guarded than a cis heterosexual would have to be, but i think being sensitive about the information you share about your relationship with your significant other in the workplace applies no matter your orientation.

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

Overall, I’ve had mixed experiences. I say that because I feel like the issues I’ve seen and experienced stem mostly from gender or gender presentation, not sexuality (although they are very linked). I’ve never felt uncomfortable or been harassed at work because I’m a lesbian, but I have felt “held back” or not as respected because I’m a woman.

Our industry is in a weird space when it comes to gender and sexuality. Silicon Valley/Bay Area has always been heralded as cutting edge when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, and so in the companies I’ve worked for, taking extra steps to make sure LGBTQ+ people feel safe has taken precedence over gender/pay equality issues. Maybe it’s because males are part of LGBTQ+ communities that we’ve seen more progress in LGBTQ+ issues than in gender/pay equality. Maybe it’s because LGBTQ+ issues are seen as the “sexy” issue to address in HR departments. Maybe it’s because discrimination against women is so ingrained in our culture and industry. I have no idea why, but at the end of the day I think it’s hard to be a woman in tech, regardless of your sexuality.

What would make your work environment or the tech industry as a whole more LGBTQ+ friendly?

One relatively easy thing to do is more education around assumptions. For example, encouraging the use of gender neutral nouns or terms , both in regards to orientation and gender presentation in HR documents, in trainings, and even in just casual conversation.

I would also love to see:

  • a movement for gender neutral bathrooms
  • better new child leave for new parents
  • inclusion of gender transition benefits in health insurance
  • support of non-discrimination laws for transgender people

What advice would you give to queer employees entering the tech industry?

  • Be yourself, however you feel most comfortable.
  • Don’t shy away from coming out in office settings.
  • If you feel comfortable, educate your coworkers about the words that make you feel included.
  • If you meet resistance in the way you present or your sexual orientation, push your company and coworkers to be accountable.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away or start looking for a new job if you need to. It’s not worth feeling unsafe, misunderstood, or unappreciated for who you are or how you present.

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