In a study conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, they found that nearly a third of young LGBT people avoid careers in science and tech due to discrimination fears. Here at Cogo, we make a concerted effort to ensure nobody avoids reaching their potential in tech through open doors and inclusive employees. Over the next few weeks, we're featuring voices of Cogo and Cogo portfolio company employees who have experienced what it's like to be "Out In Tech". Kenzie Marsh, Cogo Spectra group co-leader and Analyst at Minerva Analytics, discusses her experience with coming out and the transition to being out while working at Cogo. Read her story below.
In middle school, the only plot lines on television that I cared about were Emily's in Pretty Little Liars and Santana's in Glee. I had an Edward Cullen cardboard cutout and a team Jacob t-shirt, but I had a picture of Alice taped to the back of my journal. On my 15th birthday, I threw a pool party and invited the boy I was “dating,” along with the girl that I wouldn’t admit I had a crush on.
A couple of months after that party, I accidentally came out to my mom. She found a rainbow bracelet (one of those Livestrong rubber types that were cool in 2011) that I had ordered online for no apparent reason and wanted to be a secret. She asked if I was a lesbian, and somehow - panicked as hell and not planning on it - I said yes. By that point, I was relatively sure that that's what I was, at least sure enough to say it out loud. One of the first things she said was that she'd known since I was 5. She also told me that the rest of my life was going to be harder than everyone else's. The subtext was that I shouldn't go around wearing rainbow bracelets unless I was prepared to take some grief for it (wait till she sees what I wore to Boston Pride).
All in all, I got lucky - my first coming out could have gone a lot worse. Eight years later and I still have yet to mention it to my dad… but we all have things to work on.
Every coming out since that one has gotten a little bit easier, but they're all still challenging in their own way. One time that I came out that always sticks out: senior year of high school I had my first girlfriend, and I couldn't bear the thought of going to my (Catholic) school's prom without her, but as far as I knew, no one had ever taken a same-sex date. I had not yet grasped the phrase, "better to ask forgiveness than permission," and I decided to sit our Dean of Students down and ask him if it would be alright to bring my girlfriend. He responded very matter-of-factly that I could bring her, so long as we both wore dresses. Ouch. We went to prom nonetheless, but with the sting of knowing that we were on thin ice and just barely accepted.
The thing you don't realize as a budding young gay is that you have to keep coming out forever. I always find myself wishing that everyone just knew without me actually having to say it. It was shockingly hard for me to figure out how to say at work. For no fault of Cogo's, I came in with a preconception that one's sexuality shouldn't be discussed at work unless explicitly proven acceptable (aka someone else says it first). I waited and waited, and it never seemed to come up naturally. No one in life ever really asks point blank if you're gay (which I'm sure is out of courtesy), meaning you've got to work it in as casually as possible to whatever conversation seems to warrant it the best. I'm not always an expert at this (apparently it takes more than eight years of practice), so let me know if you have any casual-conversation-coming-out advice.
Because of this, it took me somewhere around 4 or 5 months to mention it to anyone higher up at Cogo. Nervous and likely blushing, I slipped it into a 1:1 with my manager that I was going to visit my girlfriend in New York, and hoped that bit would get breezed over. It did, and work-life continued without any difference at all. But it shouldn’t even be that hard. At a place like Cogo, where employees are more genuinely accepting than average, any new hire should immediately know that they are welcome to both live and speak their truth without fear. That’s what Spectra is looking to accomplish, and in my opinion, the reason that it should exist. If we can build a community that from day one encourages any new hire to be more freely themselves, we’ll have succeeded. We can’t presume to know or to be able to change the discrimination, oppression, and obstacles that anyone in the LGBTQ+ community at Cogo has faced. What we can do is make sure that they feel safe, supported, and affirmed while at work. Providing a safe space for everyone is what motivates me to make Spectra as present and loud as possible in the Cogo-verse.
Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is inherently being an ally. We’ve all collectively either gone or are going through a process that’s difficult to navigate and difficult to understand. It’s one of self-discovery and self-acceptance. It’s one that anyone in the community can sympathize with, and it’s one that often needs a little bit of sympathy to get through. That’s also the purpose of Spectra - to bring together individuals who might not otherwise have the chance to speak, but who might benefit from one another’s experiences. I have a lot more stories about my own journey to self-acceptance and about that girl from the pool party, but a blog post can only be so long. Know that I, for one, am always willing to share my experience or talk about whatever you’re going through, and I know there are at least 90 other #cogo_spectra channel members who are too.
To learn more about Kenzie, Cogo Spectra, and our growing inclusive environment, click the link to apply for one of our open roles. We welcome all who welcome all!