April 25, 2011, was a momentous date for me.
Before I explain why, I’d like to share a bit about my background. I was born and raised in Malaysia and came to the United States for college, where I studied industrial engineering.
I came out of the closet in college. For me, that was a positive experience. When I graduated, I worked as an engineer at a factory located in the small college town of Columbia, Missouri.
My next two jobs were also in the manufacturing industry. These were great jobs that taught me a lot about operations and the industry, but the work cultures were more traditional, or “old-school.” The factories I worked for were in small Midwestern towns and most of my coworkers had been there for decades.
These places didn’t exactly embrace diversity, and it was hard for me to feel as if I fit in.
LGBT people often feel compelled to maintain two lives: a personal and a professional one. When discussing our weekends, the bars we frequent, and the people we vacation with, we learn to be vague and elliptical, to conceal who we truly are. That was my life when I worked in manufacturing: I was not “out” to any of my coworkers and my professional relationships suffered as a result.
My coworkers and I were polite to one another, but we never became friends. It was rare for us to have lunch, and rarer still to go out for happy hour. The office culture was not cohesive. I would go to work, do what I had to do, and then go home to my “other” life.
Given the changing nature of the manufacturing industry overall, with jobs being outsourced overseas while many companies struggle with traditional work cultures, the places I worked never saw the need to push for diversity and inclusion.
Those companies weren’t changing, but I was. I was beginning to realize I’d never felt happy at work because I didn’t feel connected to the people I was working with. My job was merely a way for me to make a living.
So on April 25, 2011, I decided to switch from manufacturing to a completely new field: management consulting. When I started to work at West Monroe Partners, I didn’t know at the time that this transition would eventually lead me to feel much more comfortable and confident in who I am.
At West Monroe Partners, I have experienced the total opposite of the workplace cultures I’d tolerated before. We definitely pride ourselves on having a unique culture, but we also challenge the status quo on our employee-led council, which addresses inclusion and diversity within marketing, recruitment, retention, work-life programs, training, mentoring, performance management, and many other areas. I feel so much more connected to my work, my clients, and most importantly, my colleagues, and I can honestly say that since coming to West Monroe, I have learned to be more comfortable with myself. And because of that, I am more confident about my skills and abilities both at and outside of work.
Ultimately, career satisfaction isn’t determined only by the work that you do. How you feel about the people you work with can also have a huge impact on personal happiness and overall productivity.
That’s how I know that promoting diversity and inclusion isn’t just good for individual employees; it’s good for entire companies. I’m living proof.