Reflections On Being Out In Tech

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be out in tech.

In the startup world, there’s a common understanding that we should bring our whole selves to our startup lives. When a well-known VC writes a blog about how he and his wife negotiate their partnership, we read it enthusiastically because we want to know about his whole self. Entrepreneurs who admit to and discuss their bouts with depression garner our respect and trust both for them and for their organization. I would argue that the “whole self” aspects of entrepreneurship are part of what makes this whole startup ecosystem so rich and exciting. As studies show, being our whole selves at work is also crucial for innovation. Being our authentic selves (and feeling comfortable and safe doing so) makes us more creative and engaged and better contributors at work. (Source)

But who gets to be their authentic self at startups, and who doesn’t? Which groups are still barely at the table, much less able to move through the startup world free to be themselves? As stats from tech companies brave enough to release them underscore, lack of diversity in tech is very much still a problem. While there are many aspects of this lack of diversity that need to be addressed (gender, ethnicity, age, disability status and more), for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about a particular kind of diversity that I personally come up against: being a woman and being gay.

For the past few years, I’ve been out to my startup clients. I used to ignore inevitable pronouns and questions that would crop up after a few months on a project, but I felt like I was hiding myself every time personal lives became part of a conversation and I neglected to mention it. I’m grateful to say that, so far, coming out on the job has never been an issue for me. I have felt only supported by the clients with whom I’ve worked. It turns out, being out at work has not been an issue for me personally any more than my being vegan and ordering tempeh Ruebens at business lunches. That has been my experience, but I know that for many LGBTQ people, coming out in tech brings substantial risk.

In the United States, it’s unfortunately still a privilege to be out at the workplace. A gay CTO in Salt Lake City may worry about telling his co-workers about his engagement, lest doing so get him fired. This may sound extreme, but in many states with vibrant tech communities, workers can still be fired based on sexual orientation. Other issues with coming out at the workplace include simply being treated differently after coming out–not get promoted as quickly, not getting the best projects to work on, having assumptions made about your work based on your orientation/identity, and on.

When Tim Cook came out, it mattered to our community and to young people and to the world. Being out in tech shouldn’t be an issue, but in today’s world, whether we’d like to admit it or not, it very much still is.

Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup

In May 2014, I founded the Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to create community around and bring awareness to a group who have been historically underrepresented in society and in tech. Since inception, we’ve grown to 100+ LGBTQ techies and allies, and have hosted diversity in tech-focused, dinners, panels, happy and coffee hours, and community networking events at local startups and technology hubs. The incredible people and co-organizers I’ve met as a result of this are now my friends and unending sources of inspiration (you know who you are).

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, founder of Fog Creek Software and out leader in tech.

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, out founder of Fog Creek Software, through Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup.

Boulder, CO, where I live and have clients, has come under fire for diversity and tech issues. It seems like we can’t go a week without some council member suggesting that growing tech in Boulder is just going bring more “straight rich white guys”. I recommend reading Brad Feld’s blog on the subject if you want to read up. Our group stands in the face of those criticisms. Our members are exceptionally valuable contributors to Boulder’s technology economy. Local and international companies and orgs have embraced us, and we’re exploring new ways to partner with allies and companies working to make things better.

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

Our group is now an official partner of Lesbians Who Tech 2015 conference and we’re a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance member. Our Meetup membership has been generously sponsored by Pivotal Tracker for 2015. We do volunteer work and community service (a few weeks ago 11 of us met to upgrade Out Boulder’s website, for example). Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup has done events with Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software,  gSchool and Galvanize and 500 Startups, Lesbians Who Tech, SendGrid, Trada, Quick Left, and more. And we’re just getting started.

Since I moved to this beautiful mountain town almost two years ago, a lot has changed. When I first arrived, same-sex marriage was illegal. Now we have marriage equality. We now also have a LGBTQ tech meetup.

These days, I do my best to bring my whole self to work. Every day I feel grateful for that privilege, and reminded of those who don’t yet have it, and the work that needs to be done.

Thanks for reading. – Sarah

Interview With Carly Brantz, Director Of Revenue Marketing At SendGrid

I’m so excited to share today’s interview with Carly Brantz, Boulder, CO-based Director of Revenue Marketing at SendGrid. Carly generously spoke with me about the challenges and rewards of leading revenue marketing for a successful tech startup, as well as insights into increasing diversity and empowering women in tech.

Sarah Brown: What’s your background, and where are you from? 

Carly Brantz: I am a Boulder native and have spent my life in the beautiful bubble of Boulder.  In college I studied Business and Spanish with big hopes of working internationally and using Spanish.  I found myself working in tech immediately after college, working for a data analysis and visualization software company.  For the last ten years, my focus has centered around email and email deliverability in a variety of marketing positions.  I began working at SendGrid when we were less than 30 employees and it has been an adventure being part of an extremely fast growing company.  Email is constantly evolving and it makes my job interesting to stay on top of the latest changes and how that is impacting what we do.

Sarah: What’s your favorite part of your job as a revenue marketer for SendGrid?

Carly: I love having clear goals and expectations of me so the transition I’ve had over the last year of being tied to a revenue number and having a quota has been exciting.  I am so proud of my team and the extremely sophisticated programs they have created.  It is rewarding to see them in a constant state of improvement.  The executive team has given us the freedom to try and test new opportunities, which allows us to be creative about new things to experiment with.

Sarah: As a revenue marketer, how do you fit into the bigger picture of the goals of your organization? What departments/teams do you usually work with directly?

Carly: At SendGrid, we have four primary revenue stripes: Direct, Self Service, Partnerships and Customer Success.  My team is responsible for supporting each of those stripes with relevant content, lead generation, outbound advertising, nurture programs and optimizing landing pages and emails. In addition to that, I am responsible for the Self Service revenue number with clear goals and focus around growing that revenue number and making it simple for customers to sign up for a SendGrid account on their own.  I work very closely with others in the Revenue department to ensure we deploy tactics to improve conversions, close business and provide an excellent customer experience.  I work with and depend on our Business Information team to provide the details on each stage of the sales funnel to make informed decisions.  Lastly, I work closely with Finance for closed loop reporting and ROI so that I can analyze the impact of programs and our revenue attainment.

Sarah: What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis working as a revenue marketer? How do you meet those challenges?

Carly: With my team supporting all four revenue stripes, it can be a balancing act to figure out the right resources to allocate to each of those stripes.  Much of that is addressed by continuously tracking and testing everything we do in order to find the sweet spots.  I am a very data driven person and I’ve never liked the assumption that marketing decisions are based on a hunch.  That being said, it is sometimes challenging to find the data or know where I need to dig in deeper to find the answers I need. Fortunately, we have great tools and people to help provide me the analysis I need but there are times that customer behavior changes or website traffic is in flux and I don’t have one clear explanation.

Sarah: As someone who blogs on the subject, what do you think are the biggest challenges women face in tech?

Carly: I have been reading a lot about women and our hesitation to try new things or take risks because we are afraid to fail or lack the confidence to take a firm position.  I can certainly relate to that as I am pretty risk adverse. I believe many women in leadership roles and in tech lack the confidence and the feeling of being worthy to try something that may not work.  There is beauty in mistakes because you learn how to improve.

Sarah: Are you connected to other women in tech? If so, what has it been like to compare roles and discuss the growing trend?

Carly: I wouldn’t say that I specifically seek out other women in tech roles to form relationships.  I am connected to other women, but it has developed more naturally. I think it is important to identify themes that women are noticing in technology, to share what we are learning.  I am always fascinated to hear how other companies break out their teams and learn from where they have found success or where they noticed changes needed to be made.

Sarah: On SendGrid’s blog, you wrote a great post about “sitting at the table.” Can you share more about what this entails?

Carly: I was inspired by Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In.  She articulated so many of the things I have felt and seen in my career but couldn’t quite pinpoint. I know personally, I have a tendency because I am grateful of everything I have in my career, to limit myself by not asking for more. Men ask for more, all the time, I see it every day, they don’t think twice about it.  We need to ask for what we want (and more!) and encourage other women to do the same.   I also find it easier to advocate for others rather than for myself.  I have been extremely fortunate to have an incredible role model and boss, Denise Hulce, VP of Revenue, who has encouraged me to ask for what I want, to voice my opinions and speak up when something doesn’t feel right.  This has helped push me out of my comfort zone.

Sarah: SendGrid is an active ambassador with NCWIT. What is the organization working on and why should people learn about their efforts?

Carly: Since our inception in 2009, SendGrid has partnered with NCWIT—the National Center for Women and Information Technology. NCWIT is an incredible organization that provides resources, research, and community outreach that help to create more opportunities for women in technical roles.  Over the past few years, we have sent groups to NCWIT’s summits and we are committed to continuing to participate in discussions that will create more opportunity for women in technical roles here at SendGrid and at our fellow tech companies as part of their Entrepreneurial Alliance, Pacesetters program, and their “Sit With Me” initiative.

Sarah: Anything else you’d like to share or elaborate on?

Carly: As a mother of two young girls, I have learned a lot over the past few years about treating myself with understanding as they grow up and as my career grows.  I think all moms have guilt one way or another and I was someone who was limiting myself because I was a mom and I was judging myself if I wanted more in my career because I didn’t want it to negatively impact my kids.  I think it is really healthy for women to have passions outside of their children and I believe that my kids benefit from seeing me in a successful career and having a focus in areas that are not centered around every move they make.

Carly Brantz of SendGrid featured on Sarah Brown MarketingCarly Brantz is a veteran in the email deliverability space working to make email simple and easy for developers by regularly writing whitepapers, research briefs and blog posts about email, technology and industry trends. Follow Carly Brantz on Twitter.