Director of Employee Engagement and Experience
As I round out my second year in my current role, and approach five years at Toast, I wanted to take time to reflect on how Toast has always pushed me to think differently. This started in how we approach building incredible experiences for our customers, and more recently has been directly focused on creating an extraordinary experience for our Toasters. How can I, and my team, find new ways to ensure Toasters feel they can be their authentic selves? How can we make sure they are realizing that this can be a place that they can do the best work of their careers? And, where my passion truly falls, how can I help them foster a deep connection to our mission?
Our mission is to empower the restaurant community to delight their guests, do what they love, and thrive.
In April, I represented Toast at the Out & Equal Conference through our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) partnership with the Out & Equal organization. As part of Toast’s commitment to DEI, we partner with a range of organizations like Out & Equal to build an inclusive and equitable environment where our values drive behaviors and advocacy, embracing diversity and strengthening the sense of belonging for everyone. This gave me a chance to dig deep, be vulnerable, and lean into different aspects of my identity. I’m so grateful to Toast for helping me to grow in this way, and finding opportunities to infuse my learnings into the larger Toast culture.
The leadership forum was designed to bring LGBTQ+ leaders from across the world together to think about how we help create opportunities for advocacy and mentorship in everything we do. As excited as I was about this opportunity, I was really nervous as I headed to the event. I have been out and proud for roughly 12 years now. I came out when I was 20 years old, and even though it has always been who I am, it’s just one part of my full identity. Admittedly, I have never spent a ton of time immersed into the LGBTQ+ community.
Typically, when you are looking at leadership development it's in your function, or for situational leadership or how you develop your teams, or how you think about creating programs for scale, but this was about leadership development in the sense of being an LGBTQ+ leader and what that means for your community. This event provided me with a new perspective, and will allow me to approach leadership with a different lens moving forward.
The importance of belonging
We talk a lot about belonging at Toast, and the importance of having a strong sense of belonging in the communities you are a part of. However, I'll tell you now, that was not the case upon arrival at the conference. I felt like a fish out of water. But rather than run, it drove me to think about why, and use the three days to find that space for myself.
Throughout the event, we focused on authentic leadership- what that means, and how you bring that to life. I would think, “Should I be doing more? Should I be doing something differently? Should it be more of my identity?” A lot of reflection happened on the first day. One of the first questions asked at the conference was, “Where have you seen yourself in another leader?”
I could comfortably say, or maybe uncomfortably, I've never seen myself in another leader, in regards to the LGBTQ+ community. I shared that for me it was my current manager as they’ve given me the opportunity to see how to present yourself in an authentic way, be vulnerable and really bring your whole self to play - in any situation.
But when I thought about it from the LGBTQ+ perspective and how I see someone represented in how I identify myself, as a leader, I never have. That stuck with me and pushed me to think about how I can do more in my role to be that representation for others.
Our gifts fuel our purpose
A quote was shared that read, “The meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away.”
We shared our coming out stories which brought us to storytelling. I love being a storyteller. It is so fun, and it's something that I've been told is one of my superpowers. During the event I discovered how I came to develop my storytelling ability, and it was a tough realization. Growing up closeted, not able to be who you truly want to be – because even 12 years ago that was very different – you have to be prepared to tell a story in a moments notice so that someone doesn’t tell one for you. And while this was a harsh thing to come to reality with, it connected so many dots for me. In my current role when I’m telling stories and diving into how we think about our narrative, I pull some of those skills from conversations and situations that shaped me as I grew up.
We also talked a lot about how to “supersize” your superpowers. For me, as an example, we talked about me being a storyteller - but once we unpacked it - it was truly that I enjoyed being an amplifier.
I like being able to give a platform to people to showcase the amazing things they're doing on a regular basis so they can see and understand their impact and continue to drive their passions forward, inspiring others in the work they're doing while simply being themselves.
At Toast, we have built such an amazing community of individuals who all bring their own superpower to the table to help us to deliver on our mission.
Keep an open mind
There was a big thing I noticed at the event, people were talking a lot about their decisions to come out at work. And that hit me in a big way.
The LGBTQ+ community has gone through so much over the past several decades and continues to make strides like a lot of minority groups have. We continue to have our ups and downs and each one of us struggle in that. I also believe that sometimes there are specific assumptions made about how someone may present themselves. It could be their religion, color of their skin, whatever their identity might be - but remembering that everyone has their own story, their own struggle will help us all thrive in a new way, together.
So, sometimes it may look or seem like someone’s got it figured out, but maybe they're struggling to come out at work or come out in general. While having a conversation they may say, “oh my partner” and just leave it there. The simplicity of that is so important, but not everyone feels comfortable to be able to do that and that's what is so hard for me to hear. It's heartbreaking, to be honest.
One of my core takeaways: How can I continue to utilize my platform in order to make a difference here at Toast? We have a very open community, and we continue to strive to maintain that openness, and I hope most, if not all, Toasters feel comfortable enough to always be who they are.
But if they don't, I would love to have a conversation, and help figure out how we can help achieve that as well as help people feel more comfortable in who they are being in this company and being authentic in this business.
My other takeaway: What else can I do as an LGBTQ+ leader to be that leader someone may think of when they are asked the questions we were asked? How do I become their answer?
And finally, if you’re nervous about attending one of these conferences, lean into that feeling and know you're not the only one who feels that way. But you were asked to go for a reason. You’re there to continue your journey. Get excited about it.
*We love any chance for a great bread pun
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