January 22, 2021

A Personal Journey To Equity, Diversity, And Inclusion

Written by dunja


As the lead of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee here at TextNow, I’ve spent countless hours researching, learning, and talking to people about this subject, which I am extremely passionate about, for an extremely personal reason. As a newcomer to Canada myself, I've had recent first-hand experience with the struggle job seekers have with regards to equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and the tech industry specifically.

When the TextNow EDI team was assembled, I set out to gather as much information as I could around what other companies are doing in this space, and what I found was a lot of company blogs with commitment promises, declarative statements, and stats.

So when I was asked to write about this topic, I thought I could do something similar --  share the steps we took to build this plan, sprinkled with some exciting stats we got from the survey we sent to employees, and then go into what we’re planning to do in the future, and attach some numbers next to our promises. But I realized something. That’s exactly the kind of dry, mechanical diversity report you can get from every other company when they talk about this topic. And numbers are cool and everything, but numbers are the most superficial way of discussing our EDI initiative. Because behind those numbers are actual narratives, actual life experiences, actual people.

So instead, I decided to share my personal story that will, more than any dry numerical rundown would, tell you about equity, diversity and inclusion at TextNow.

My story starts ten years ago when I immigrated to Canada, with my non-Canadian work experience and English as a second language. My master’s degree didn’t really help me in my job search, unfortunately. Every company here is looking for Canadian work experience, and really no one was willing to give a chance to a woman who speaks English as a second language and who was a newcomer to Canada. I started over from scratch, even though I had a great job as a PR manager for a city Mayor back home, I realized that I had to start from zero and work hard every day to build my way up.

So, I did what I do best – I started learning. I went back to school and found a job as a receptionist. With that as my starting point to help me to build confidence and improve my language skills, I could start believing again that there is much more I can offer to this world.

Five years ago, I started my position at TextNow, after one of the recruiters reached out to me and told me about an opening for an Office Manager. An Office Manager role didn’t sound like a particularly amazing opportunity for someone with higher education, to be honest. But I’ve learned that many times in life our ego can be our biggest enemy. We all need to keep our egos to one side and focus on how we can learn and grow.

That moment of starting my new role was scary, and it was far outside of my comfort zone --- I remember telling myself: there are only two paths to take from here and you are the only one who can make the choice of which path to take. The first path is: let your fear overtake and paralyze you. Or: go forward, face my fear, and make the choice to grow and learn. I decided to choose courage over comfort. I decided to push forward, no matter how hard or scary it might be.

Building relationships and gaining trust of my co-workers is where I started at TextNow. It’s the foundation of everything, but it was also the hardest part. And after a year in the Office Manager role, I knew that my passion lay with fostering and developing company culture. But my first question was, can I do it? Was I capable of shepherding our culture initiatives, and going in this direction for my career? There are a lot of people in this job market who can speak English better than me, who have more experience in this area, who finished school here.

TextNow Culture Manual

And again, I decided to choose courage over comfort and to have this conversation with my leader at TextNow. I was promoted to Culture Manager where I was given the opportunity to build employee programs and company values. I took pride in all that work and wanted to show the world what TextNow culture looks like. This led to the creation of the Culture Manual, a unique document in our industry. The manual underscores our core beliefs: Don’t wait for others to tell you what to do; don’t look at your bosses’ leaders and managers to micro-manage your role; take responsibility, action, and ownership. Choose courage and just keep going. Never stop. And even if that means you're crawling, crawling forward is still progress.

In the past I worked for a company when, after I came back after taking maternity leave, I had a really terrible experience reintegrating back into work. Flash-forward a few years, and it was time for my second maternity leave, but this time at TextNow. And to be honest, it really made me anxious. What if anything I did before taking mat leave didn’t matter? What if being off for a year was too long? What if I wasn’t given the opportunity to go back and work on the things that make me happy?

But I’m happy to report, this time, at TextNow, everything was different. After being off for a year I got promoted to Director of Culture and, more importantly, the things I did before were not simply forgotten. Having my work be recognized and validated – that matters more to me than any bonus or salary bump.

After six months as Director of Culture, I had a conversation with our CEO (don’t forget - courage over comfort!) and we decided I would continue my career at TextNow as Chief of Staff. Today, my focus is on organizational change, which includes Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, company culture and values, overseeing objectives and monitoring key results performance for senior management.

English is still my second language and it will always be, but because my work environment is open and diverse, I feel much better about it and more confident. I’m making mistakes, I still question every day if I can do this as an immigrant/woman/busy mom of 2. I’m not going to lie, it still feels messy and painful to face my fears every day, but this is when I have to push the hardest, this is where I must give myself permission to be vulnerable with my leader, to cry if needed, to be honest and say what I'm feeling, even if I’m falling apart.

If you are in a workplace that truly values diversity, inclusion, and humanity, your courage to have those conversations will be recognized as your strength, and not weakness.

And I’ll tell you one more thing: When I share my story with people around me --- new immigrants, women, majority groups, etc. – many of them say “Well, you were lucky.” Yes, maybe I was. Starting my journey at a company like TextNow was luck. But the more courage you have, the luckier you will find you will be.