Friday, July 21, 2017

A funny thing happened while I was just doing my job

This week, my employer, D2L Inc., held it's annual users conference Fusion in Las Vegas. One of the main stage keynote sessions is called Solutions Spotlight, and it is focused on the new products and features that we're about to release. The hallmark of the keynote is that we demo new things that aren't live on the product yet, and we demo them live. My role at D2L is Product Management Director for our corporate segment, which basically means I drive strategy across development, marketing, support, and sales to meet the needs of our corporate customers. I was invited to do the portion of the keynote focused on the new corporate features, and while I practiced more for this demo than anything I've ever presented in my life, it was an honor to represent the work of the team at Fusion.

My mom has been asking me for the last year or so if there was a chance for her to see me in action at work. She obviously knows me very well, but she has told me she doesn't get to see "Work Koreen" and so, when our CMO took a picture of me onstage in one of our practice sessions, I posted it up on Facebook and tagged her in it, as well as my husband who was holding down the fort at home and who loves to see me present. So I posted the pic quickly in the minute or two I had to myself that day, thought nothing of it, and spent the rest of the day in customer meetings and more practice sessions.

When I got back to my room late that night and finally had a chance to talk to my husband, he asked me, "Did you see the comments to your post on Facebook?"

I of course had not, as I had been working hard for about 16 hours that day.

This was the first comment on my post:

I know the guy who posted the comment only as an acquaintance. I met him years ago through some learning industry event or another, and we had somehow ended up as Facebook friends. I know that he's retired, I know that I don't agree with his politics but I appreciate that he seems willing to agree to disagree. I know that he likes to make controversial (but I've never thought offensive) statements at times on people's Facebook posts. I know that he often will post complimentary things on my own Facebook posts, about my kids or family, etc. I was surprised by his comment on my picture.

Now, if you remember, I had tagged my mom and my husband in the post. So the first thing they saw after seeing my pic was this comment. My mom was upset. My husband was upset. My sister saw it too and was upset. I mean, it's pretty upsetting, right?

So here's the sad truth. I wasn't actually that upset. It wasn't, to be honest, the worst thing that had been said to me even that day. And over the course of my career in tech and gaming, the most dismissive, sexist, over the top things have been said to me that I think I have become numb to a lot of it.

The obvious sexism rarely bothers me anymore. It's the subtle stuff, the things that happen by well intentioned people, that accumulates and over time suffocates me.

What DID upset me, though, was that my family was upset. My mom doesn't know all of the overt and subtle sexism I have to navigate. My sister hasn't ever worked in tech. My husband has heard my stories, but I don't think he always gets what it's like; he can sympathize but not empathize. And here was a really crude comment that showed them all, more than I intended to, what it's like to be a woman in tech leadership.

Here's where things get pretty amazing. Other friends that I've met through work started commenting on my thread. Some of them copied the comment and posted it on their walls, calling out the bad behavior. Some of them replied back directly to the poster on how inappropriate it was. But the best was when people started posting comments about what I'm like professionally, where they first met me, what they thought of me both personally and professionally, and how I've impacted them and their careers. And my mom, my sister, and my husband got to see all of that, too.

In honesty, I wasn't able to respond to the hundreds of people who reached out to me over the past few days. I hope that this post helps in way of explanation: I was full stop working and connecting with folks at our user's conference, and I'm happy to say that not only did the live demo go off without a hitch, but I didn't fall off the stage or accidentally curse during the demo. I did read all of your incredibly kind words. I was lifted up by the memories of when we first met, and how you've all impacted me and my career as well.

It has crossed my mind that I'm sorry it took such a bad situation to hear all of the incredibly humbling things people said about me, but I am so grateful that I did. In the balance, more happy tears were shed than sad. That's all you can ask for, really.

And the guy who posted the comment? He never responded to any of the subsequent comments and posts. He hasn't deleted the comment. Maybe he was serious, maybe he was trolling us...I don't know.

Last night when I finally got home from the conference, Sallie, my 10 year old daughter, asked me how my trip went. I told her pretty good, and that I had presented that day. She said, I know, I saw the picture of you on that BIG stage. She said, "You're pretty badass, mom."

I think I'll excuse her cursing, just this once.