Tips from a Queer First-Time Manager at Grammarly

Tips from a Queer First-Time Manager at Grammarly

Last week, I presented at Lesbians Who Tech & Allies’ (Not IRL) Pride Summit, which Grammarly proudly sponsored. I’ve admired and attended LWT’s events for years—and so even though this summit felt different, with everything done remotely, the opportunity meant a lot to me. Now that it’s over, I wanted to share here in writing what I shared with the community in my presentation.

I’ve been managing people for about three years. I’ve been out as queer at work for around four. If you check my LinkedIn, you’ll notice that I’ve been at Grammarly for a little over four years, and that’s not incidental. Grammarly was the first place where I felt comfortable being out at work—due to how strongly the company holds empathy as a value and to the early queer connections I made within the team. 

Shortly after that coming out, I made my first gay friend at work. More out lesbian, gay, bi, queer, and trans folks have joined Grammarly since then. Along with many other factors, those hires have contributed to a rise in awareness of and appreciation for queer community needs. I’m not saying Grammarly is some sort of rainbow utopia—we still have a ways to go—but the sense I’ve always had here is of extraordinary openness, compassion, and sensitivity. I knew that when I started to manage people, I wanted them to feel as comfortable being themselves as I do—hopefully, even more so.

I don’t think I’ve mastered being an out manager at work yet—I probably never will. Much like coming out, management is a process full of stops, starts, and redos. Just when you think you have the hang of it, you meet a new challenge.

For me, one such challenge came toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as my team—like the rest of Grammarly—started to work entirely from home. Just a few months before, I had welcomed a new boss and built a new team. I was managing more folks than I ever had before. This was all part of my career vision board, but the changes were happening more rapidly than I had anticipated. I had to find ways to make it all work—and work fast.

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Growing, remotely

I’ve tried a few different ways to adapt to our new circumstances. Some of them have worked, some of them not so much. This has been a particularly strange time to grow into a management role, but I’ve found that my queer identity—and my desire to make people feel comfortable as themselves—has helped me learn from experience and navigate it all. Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Inclusion should be inclusive

When Grammarly announced that we’d be going 100% remote, I was concerned. We have a strong in-office culture—one in which I could talk about my Scorpio moon sign at lunch or take a quick break to find out what folks around me were reading. My team also has strong office-based rituals. From happy hours to cookie runs to a whole desk dedicated to desserts, we are serious about our foodie social events. How could I possibly recreate this culture from my couch?

At first, I thought more video calls would solve the problem. I assumed that if I collected enough people in a virtual meeting room, we could recoup some of our office culture. But I was wrong.

This decision didn’t take into account the diversity of my team. Some folks aren’t extroverts like me, or they have family members to care for, or their cat sits in front of their webcam all day. While trying to recreate an inclusive in-office environment, I had inadvertently alienated several folks on my team. And as someone who knows what it’s like to be different, this broke my heart.

Through this, I was reminded that including others isn’t about doing the most. It’s about asking each individual what they need at work and making sure that everyone on the team can work in a way that works for them. 

My team still hops on a video call from time to time. But I’ve tried to limit these as much as possible. I’ve also set an expectation on the team that it’s okay to reschedule a meeting or turn off your video if you prefer. 

Write everything down

I lead a team of content marketers, writers, and editors—and so I have felt that written communication is already a strong suit of ours. But when we started working remotely, I realized how much crucial information about our work we didn’t usually write down. I’ve made it a goal to support my team members in creating documentation for everything. This helps everyone have access to the information they need when they need it, which ultimately gives them more control over their time and respects whatever unique challenges or needs they might be facing on any given day.

Feed yourself first

If you’re like me, you’ve tried to put your team first. And some traditional management advice encourages leaders to “eat last.” But I’ve learned that I’ll always be my most important teammate, and that means I have to take care of myself first. I’ve prioritized saying “no” more, pushing back, setting boundaries, and stating my needs upfront. This helps me to show up for my team, but it also sets a good example so that people feel comfortable making their own needs known.

Lead with empathy

To my mind, empathy is a skill every manager should possess. At Grammarly, it’s one of our central values. We consider the importance of treating others as they want to be treated, and we try to actively listen. We talk about being willing to put yourself in another person’s shoes—then responding accordingly. 

Since I became a manager, I’ve been seeing this value in a new light. Active listening is now not just about being a good colleague to those around me—I consider it the first tool in a Batman toolbelt of management resources. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. If you’re listening to your team, you’re probably learning something. And maybe that makes you uncomfortable. 

I believe in leaning into that discomfort—it can be a very powerful thing. As a queer person, I’ve often been the one asking others to step out of their comfort and appreciate other perspectives. As a queer manager, I can use that understanding to try and make sure I’m ready to listen to all members of my team, step out of my comfort zone, and treat people in the way they want or need to be treated. Doing so is central to being my full queer self—and being the kind of manager my team deserves.

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