Wrapped in Rainbows: An Inclusive Robot and Real Progress

Roger Mozbot, Moz's mascot, gets a new Pride look.
Roger Mozbot, Moz’s mascot, gets a Pride look.

Last Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that legalized marriage for all adults regardless of gender, Moz was one of the brands who decided to rainbowfy their social media icons.

Now, you might be surprised to learn I wasn’t behind this decision. I am one of the community team members, and yes, we’re responsible for social media. Instead, my manager Jen, with a thumbs up from our CEO Sarah, made it happen. The rainbow was all done before I was even in the office. Or had a cup of tea.

For the most part, Moz’s community was very supportive. However, a few community members and a handful of customers complained. They spoke to typically “arguments” about gay marriage — everything from it being political to outright saying they disliked queer people and yes, the illogical jump to sex with ducks. (Don’t worry, it’s a humorous music video.) Poor Roger even had his sexuality mislabeled. He’s asexual because he’s a robot!

I am the community team member who’s point for responding to “situations that require escalation” aka when someone’s having a freakout, legit or otherwise. And I could talk about how I responded, what I did as a representative of the brand, and what I really wanted to say to those particular bigots.

Instead, I wanted to share about what it means for me — as a queer employee — to have my employer publicly support my civil rights and stand for something. Even if it’s only changing their social icons to rainbow colors. TAGFEE isn’t a poster on the wall. Moz didn’t de-rainbow Roger due to a handful of customers threatening to cancel or unfollow us on Facebook.

We talk a lot in tech about attracting a diverse workforce and what that means. When I was looking at jobs — hoping to jump from e-commerce to a startup — company culture became paramount of where I’d consider putting in my resume. I’d been in places where it was acceptable to stack rank all the women on hotness; places where 70% of the workforce was female and 100% of management was male; and places where clearly, they accidentally hired a queer woman. (I’m bisexual and femme in appearance, so I’m often mistaken for a straight woman.) I’d also interviewed with places that looked incredibly fun on the outside, only to be soulless and sad on the inside.

While I’ve learned to be unapologetic about who I am, being out and supported at work didn’t always seem like an option. I grew up in rural, conservative Oregon. I grew up where public school teachers got away with lending homophobia a helping hand, and where my parents thought it was okay to therapy the gay away. (Luckily, they weren’t exactly hip to what the DSM panel ruled in 1974.) A smallish number of my family still thinks LGBT rights are something only liberals from big cities are in favor of.

While I’m not a fan of marriage and I don’t believe it’s the most important battle to be fought for queer rights — let’s talk about housing, employment, etc. discrimination — the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t something I thought I’d see for another decade or so. (You know after the Ted Cruzs of the world go the way of the dodo.) Especially as I saw States vote in hate laws and the entire Bush Jr. administration happened.

I wish I was an optimistic as Janet Mock on the Nightly Show Monday. Instead, I’m perhaps a little more like Guy Branum, who jokes, “When I was 14, I thought I was going to have to hide who I was forever. Three days ago, my black president turned the White House rainbow. That’s how drunk I got.”

That’s a bit how stunned, but elated, I was to see the world in a rainbow celebration, while thinking about both the future and the past.

Paige, Megan, and I at the Dyke March
Paige, Megan, and I at the Dyke March for Seattle Pride 2015.

It felt right that Megan was one of the people I spent Pride time with. Megan and I have been friends for 20 years. She was also my first girlfriend and many other firsts when we were 16. Megan came up for Pride from our hometown because she couldn’t not celebrate.

Megan and I walked half of the Dyke March together, and then I walked with my friend and coworker Maura for the second half. Maura and I, along with a handful of others, make up the queers at Moz. Of which, we do little things — moderate an LGBT email alias, have monthly lunches together, and be visible — to encourage inclusivity of people like us and try to help keep Moz a place we like to be at.

There were many reasons why I knocked on Moz’s door; but one crystal clear moment where I learned something about Moz’s culture was this Pride 2010 photoset Geraldine posted of her and her husband Rand, founder of Moz and then CEO. If the straight CEO attended Pride, then maybe something culturally at Moz was happening I hadn’t encountered elsewhere.

When we talk again and again about diversity, I think of this serendipitous blog post. Of conversations about not making your company sound like one big frat party or listing that you offer generous parental leave for a new child or if your insurance policy covers gender reassignment surgery. Of my conflicted feelings about major companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, AT&T, Walmart, T-Mobile, Starbucks, Facebook (who engineered the easy rainbowfying), and more having floats in Seattle’s Pride Parade. I think of sincerity in action. Roger wasn’t rainbowfied because marketing. Roger didn’t get taken down when someone complained either. And Roger wasn’t filtered only for Moz’s queer customers like say Bud Light plastic Pride beads don’t get shown in their very douchebro Super Bowl commercials.

Moz isn’t perfect by any means. I’ve been there long enough to see the warts too.

But on a day of celebration of a civil rights for people like myself, to have Roger rainbowfied felt like a high five and an affirmation that I made the right choice in my employer. And maybe Lily Allen’s “Fuck You” played in my head to all the haters I’ve encountered over the years as I responded with polite words of equality statements and thought about all the work we still have to do.

2 Replies to “Wrapped in Rainbows: An Inclusive Robot and Real Progress”

  1. Great post, Erica! It’s good to hear that Moz is actively supportive, although it doesn’t surprise me. I recall Geraldine posting her Pride post and was pleased to see it. I also recall thinking ‘why should this be the exception, rather than the rule?’
    Slowly but surely, people will get it… being gay has no more to do with someone’s ability to be a kickass team member than being Baptist, left-handed or allergic to shellfish!

  2. I feel so humbled and honored you wrote this Erica, and even more honored to call myself your co-worker. I never knew that the photos Geraldine posted impacted your decision to consider Moz – suppose that’s one more notch on the belt of serendipity 🙂

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