April 25, 2011 was a momentous date for me. Before I tell you why, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about my background. I was born and raised in Malaysia and later came to the United States for college. I studied Industrial Engineering and while in college I decided to come out of the closet, which was a positive experience for me. Upon graduation, I worked as an engineer at a factory located in the small college town of Columbia, Missouri. My subsequent two jobs were also in operations within the manufacturing industry. These were great jobs that taught me a lot about operations and the industry, but their cultures tended to be more traditional, or “old-school”, and had changed very little over the decades. Factories were generally located in small Midwestern towns and most of my coworkers had been working at the same factory for the past 20 to 30 years. It was interesting having to navigate who I was “personally” with an environment that didn’t openly embrace diversity.
You often hear how Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) employees would maintain two lives: a personal and a professional one. We are the best at being vague when talking about our weekend plans, which bars we often frequent and who we went on vacations with. I was definitely living that life while working in manufacturing. I was not “out” to any of my coworkers and our professional relationship suffered as a result of that. Everyone at the office would be polite with one another, but we were never friends. It was a rarity for any of my coworkers to have lunch together, let alone go out for happy hour after work. The office culture was just not there. I would show up to work and do what was required, and then leave to go home to my “other” life. Because of the sun setting nature of the manufacturing industry where jobs are being outsourced for lower wages in other countries, and tendency for some companies in this industry to be more traditional, there was never any real impetus for the companies I worked for to create a unique, fun and inclusive culture that values diversity. Diversity was not part of the recruiting strategy and the office just did not have an inclusive culture. Up to that point, I had never felt content with the direction of my professional career because I did not feel connected to the people I worked with. My job was merely a way for me to make a living.
On April 25 2011, I decided to make the transition from working in manufacturing to a completely new field – management consulting 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 both with who I was personally, and with my skills and abilities professionally.
In contrast to the less inclusive culture I had experienced, my experience at West Monroe Partners has been the total opposite. I continue to learn and be challenged on a daily basis, but I also feel so much more connected to my work, my clients and most importantly, my coworkers. We definitely pride ourselves on having a unique culture, but we also challenge the status quo and feel empowered to bring inclusion and diversity to the surface by creating an employee-led council that addresses inclusion and diversity topics within areas of marketing, recruitment, retention, work life programs, training, mentoring, performance management and many more. I can honestly say that since I joined here, I have learned to be more comfortable with who I am, and because of that, I am more confident about my skills and abilities at and outside of work.
I have a whole new take on the direction of my career and as a result of that have significantly increased my job satisfaction and naturally my productivity at work. Ultimately, career satisfaction isn’t just tied to the work you do. Companies today have to address the professional and personal values and needs of their employees, and having happy, engaged and productive employees is the fundamental reason why companies should never hesitate to create a culture that addresses inclusion and diversity within the workplace.