Last week, I learned that Aetna doesn’t fully cover the costs of my therapy, not even half of it really, as Anthem did at my previous employer. Last week, Dawn, one of my excellent coworkers in HR, emailed Aetna on my behalf. Last week, we got a response that I didn’t really like from Aetna. Last week I was, briefly, really annoyed and unhappy with something to do with my job.
In that moment, in the middle of my unhappiness, I smiled as wide as my cheeks would allow at the situation. It struck me that in the 3.5 months I’d been at Slack, this was the first time I’d ever had any reason to be unhappy about something there.
People have asked me what the culture is like, how I feel about it, if I’m happier, and I’ve kept telling them that I’m going to write about it at some point, one day I’ll say how I’m feeling. Until last week, I didn’t have anything concrete to point to, nothing that I thought was enough to properly illustrate how I feel.
It wouldn’t have been enough to try to describe the elation I felt when I walked in on my first day and immediately felt like I wasn’t alone because there were three other black women in technical roles already there. It wouldn’t have been enough to say that though I was in a new role, using new tools, my coworkers gave me the space and time to learn, letting me get up to speed so I could confidently contribute meaningful stuff. It wouldn’t have been enough to mention the Slack channel dedicated to helping people handle difficult feelings, that is full of warmth, kindness and space to let people have those feelings without being made to feel shameful about them. It wouldn’t have been enough to say that everybody is empathetic and kind to a degree that makes me feel kind like I need to step my humaning skills up just to be on their levels. It wouldn’t have been enough to say that I have never felt more valued and included or less different and isolated anywhere in my life. Those things, while true and meaningful, wouldn’t have been enough to accurately reflect what the past 3.5 months have been like.
Last week, the feeling I got in knowing that the only bit of real unhappiness I’ve had at Slack was to do with insurance, perhaps the most mundane, uninteresting, and unworthy of discussion topic in the history of the world, was complete amusement, and that’s when I knew I couldn’t put off sharing anymore. The world, especially women and/or people of color in tech, had to know that there exists at least one place where the biggest and most pressing source of workplace unhappiness is insurance fuckery.
…even in the rough bits, I still feel like I’m ok to be myself. I still feel like I’m part of the team. I still don’t feel like I’m different. I still feel like I belong.
It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine, mind you. There are things that I think could be better. There are no women or people of color on the Slack board and, as far as I can tell, we don’t have any people of color in management, things I feel strongly about. There have been days when I’ve gone into the bathroom to have a quiet moment because I was frustrated with the slow progress I’d been making. Feeling like I’m not contributing doesn’t sit well with me, and learning a slew of new things on top of starting a new role has made contributing difficult. On days when yet another picture of a black body is being shared around the internet, attached to yet another hashtag, I still go hide in the library or an alcove so I can process the emotions I’m feeling. But the thing is, even in those times, even in the rough bits, I still feel like I’m ok to be myself. I still feel like I’m part of the team. I still don’t feel like I’m different. I still feel like I belong.
Stewart has many catch phrases. I won’t rattle them off here because I wouldn’t be able to do them justice, and I’m not really clear on what being the dog means anyway. One though, is pretty demonstrative of what I think makes Slack feel good to me: “We’re all in this together.”
That not-completely-covered-by-Aetna therapy I go to once a week helped me understand myself a lot better, and more importantly, how I tick and what makes me feel happiest: safety and security. My life hasn’t been filled with safety or security, and definitely not both at the same time. Moments when I’ve felt safest and life felt most ok usually preceded really bad times. Maybe this is just Life. At any rate, usually, when I’m happy, part of me is bracing for impact, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the bad thing to happen so I can deal with it. I don’t feel that at Slack, not even a little bit.
I feel Safe at Slack. Capital S.
I feel Safe at Slack. Capital S. No need to brace for the bad. I don’t worry about any incoming surprises, because I just don’t think they’re coming here. This stems from the “we’re all in this together”-ness that is part of the ethos. Everyone is willing to help everyone. I mean, sure, ask a question, get an answer is pretty standard in most places, but at Slack, you ask the question and the answer doesn’t come with any ego or annoyance. People just help and are happy to, often without your asking for it.
I was recently working on a thing that could have held up my progress and without my even asking for it, my manager asked me if I needed a hand with it. Honestly, I was taken aback at first. Was this his way of telling me I needed to get a move on? Did some plan change that I wasn’t aware of? Turns out neither, he just knew I was at a sticky part and wanted to lend a hand. It’s that sort of thing, not just being a good manager, or teammate, but a good person.
I talk a lot about diversity, but I’m learning that without an environment that encourages being good humans, without leadership that champions empathy, kindness, communication, and compassion, all diversity efforts are for naught. Hire all the “heads of diversity” you want, dump as much money into as many pipeline improvement non-profits as your bank account will allow, but at the end of the day, if you haven’t cultivated a culture that everyone feels welcome and included in, where nobody goes to work wondering which of their coworkers thinks they are lesser than because of their skin color or gender or sexual orientation, where everyone is human first and treats their coworkers that way, your company will see little, if any improvement in those diversity charts, because people can and will leave.
If a company has accepted the importance of a diverse environment, it’s imperative that they also accept that inclusivity is equally important.
This isn’t to minimize the importance of diversity. I’m certain members of a completely homogenous environment could feel very welcomed and included in that space. However, if a company has accepted the importance of a diverse environment, it’s imperative that they also accept that inclusivity is equally important, and inclusivity requires that everyone pay close attention to being good humans to each other. To be sure, though Slack is relatively diverse in comparison to many other Silicon Valley companies, I would not be interested in staying if I didn’t feel like I was in a healthy environment, working with good people.
There’s a lot more to say, but I think that’s really the crux of it: I work with a lot of really good people. Kind, empathetic, helpful people, who are trying their best to be good at humaning, every single day, and believe the effort is worth it. People who will offer to deal with insurance nonsense with me. People who ask each other how they’re feeling each day, and genuinely want to know the answers. People who care as much about each other as they do about the product they’re working on. People who inspire me to be better at my job. People who inspire me to be a better human. I’m grateful for that, I’m grateful for them, I’m grateful that a year ago life kicked me in the ass enough to make the changes I needed to make to be happy…and I am.
Erica is human who is also pretty happy outside of work, remains peeved about Aetna’s bullshit, and continues to feel weird about writing about herself in the third person. So weird.
Many thanks to B for proofreading and also for making excellent scrambled eggs.