Growing in Pride.

People-Centered Leadership
Hermes Huang
June 2022

Here I am

In Spring 2021, I was speaking with Athena Lam from Pitch and the AsiaBerlin conference about my experience as a queer founder. At that time, the title “queer founder” was not one that resonated with me as a small business owner. At that time, It wasn’t clear to me which parts of myself were truly, deeply influenced by my experiences of the queer community. I realize now that I hadn’t put in the time needed to reflect deeply on how I came to be the founder I am today. In order to move forward, I needed to look back and reflect upon all the different parts of myself, especially my experience as a gay man, to understand how they have helped me become who I am today. This work has helped me solidify my belief in the values of inclusion, wellbeing, diversity, and equity, and I’m ready to put my experiences out there as an offer of support to anyone who wants or needs it, as the queer community has always done for me.

It’s hard for me to admit that I can be fearful. This is especially true within the context of my leadership role at InsightPact. But, I have thought about fear a lot in my reflections. Even as I write this blog, I feel a lump in my throat and a tension in my shoulders as they lean over my keyboard. There’s an apprehensiveness that I still feel whenever I come out to someone as a gay man. I have come to realize that it doesn’t really ever end, the feeling of apprehension, the sense that maybe I'll be rejected by trying to put a bit more of my whole self into the open. I don’t wish this feeling of fear or apprehension on anyone. As a facilitator and as a leader, I know now that my experience of fear and apprehension deeply influences how I work to accept people as they are when they arrive in whatever space I hold for them. My approach, as a facilitator with our partners and as a leader at InsightPact, is one that is an active rejection of fearful spaces and judgment.

While I know that feeling of apprehension or fear probably won’t ever go away, I’ve also gotten to a point where that fear is tempered by the support that I’ve learned to ask for, and to receive. It has never been easy for me to ask for help, or to receive it when it’s offered. In the past, my inability to ask for help contributed to conflicts that led to broken relationships, and broken teams. It’s a problem in my family; I can see it in multiple generations, and it’s a problem that is self-perpetuating because at some point not asking for help just became “normal.”

Somehow, I was able to break this cycle. In the last few years, I began to learn how to ask for help, and to receive it. However, it wasn't until recently, like June 2022 recently, like in the middle of writing this blog recently, that I realized how or why I’m one of the few in my family to break out of this cycle.

Even now, I’m feeling emotional and vulnerable. I feel myself catching my breath, my fingers freeze up a bit, as I try to articulate the gravity of what I realized for myself about my family and how the queer community has supported me, with these words.

I was able to break this cycle because the queer community offers an alternate pathway to that of my blood family’s example of how to give and receive support.  My experience of the queer community’s “normal” meant asking for help when you need it, providing support unconditionally, and a language of love that was different from my family’s. My blood family provided and continues to provide me with unconditional love and support, but only in the ways they know how. When it comes to the specific piece of asking for support and receiving it, however, the queer community offers a pathway that is radically different, and opposite, from the “normalcy” I had learned of NOT asking for help.

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that the title “queer founder” did not resonate with me, and I didn’t embody it much at all. Despite this, the queer community offered me culture of support even when I didn’t acknowledge it. I realize now that I had undervalued and even downplayed how deeply impactful my queer experience has been for me as a person. I see now that being a part of the queer community have given me the support and freedom to become the person and leader I want to be. I feel grateful that I had an alternative path to learn what support could be and mean for me. I am grateful that the freedom the queer community has given me can be shared beyond the queer community through my work and actions, including to my blood family, team, and community.

I feel the weight of responsibility of making sure that the privileges of growth and learning that I’ve had are used in ways that enable others to show up as they are, become who they want to be, do their best work even if it means challenging the norm, and feel whole and fulfilled in their lives.

This feeling of responsibility is well captured by what Charlene Sanjenko, Indigenous Impact Producer of reGEN media, recently said at a conference I attended. She spoke about how she believed that the first job of leaders is to heal, and that their next job is to ensure that that healing is passed onto the next generation, and the next generation after that. This resonates with me strongly because it captures the idea that leadership is a deep practice in reflection and understanding of oneself, the people around us, and the possibilities for actions that we can take. I think that it is also powerful because it illustrates that whole, healthy leaders are not only excelling at the professional level, but have strong wellbeing at the personal level as well.

My values and my behavior as a small business founder, and as a human being are deeply influenced by my experience as a gay man. The queer community has given me opportunities to understand all parts of myself in ways that allow me to continue identifying patterns of behavior that I want to change, and to grow as the leader I want and need to be for my team at InsightPact. For my clients and partners, I know that my experience as a gay man has only made me a better facilitator and collaborator because of the personal reflection I’ve done with the opportunities and support I’ve received from the queer community to be more myself everyday in all parts of my being.

Today, I am proud to say I am a queer founder, and that InsightPact is a queer-owned and operated business. I know now that as I continue to learn to bring all parts of myself to every aspect of my life, personal and professional, I will continue to grow in ways that I never knew I could. By bringing my whole self to work and enabling others to do the same, I have already developed relationships in and outside of work that are more loving than I could have imagined.

Our whole selves at work

Perhaps, because InsightPact is queer-led, and so perhaps a little queer itself, we are in a position to embrace our whole selves, flaws, strengths, identities, patterns, traumas, and everything else that we carry with us. When we accept our whole selves, we can also accept our collaborators and partners as they show up, and to build greater trust and be better, together.

I’ll take it a step further to say that perhaps to think that we can bring our whole selves to work is already a bit queer. Perhaps it can be queer to say that we want to build a loving workplace. I continue to be proud to say that our leadership style is not “normal”.

It’s clear to me that to be queer-led, women-led, person of color-led, led by people who are marginalized, InsightPact can be whatever it wants to be and whatever it needs to be to achieve our mission and vision for the world. The same kind of leadership, the same kind of organizational structures, the same kind of capitalism that we’ve been trying to utilize has taught us a lot about what works and, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t. The status quo is resulting in the climate crisis, worsening wealth inequality, unaffordable living standards, lack of pandemic preparedness and various other global issues that we have the resources to tackle, but which we struggle to effectively address because of how we are working together to resolve them. Bringing our whole selves to work is a first, and accessible step to changing the status quo because we simply need new combinations of perspectives, experiences, and knowledges to create new futures.

At InsightPact, by inviting each person as they are in their needs, their flaws, their skills, their identities, their cultures, and their personalities to work on some of the world’s biggest challenges, I can see that we’re already doing something different. And, when I talk to other founders, team members, investors, and leaders - I know that we’re on the right path because I can see that people recognize that we are growing as a company, despite not following the standard formula of business. We work on a 32 hour week, we explicitly recognize different forms of labor delivered throughout the work day, and we consider and honor the various perspectives offered from every level of the organization within our policies as much as we can.

The challenges we believe we need to solve deserve our whole selves to show up at work and in our personal lives to deliver a meaningful impact.

Growing in Pride, for me as a queer founder, has meant that I can see the full power of what I can bring to the table as a leader. Embracing my own queerness has helped me build a culture of consideration throughout the organization helps InsightPact open conversations about who can have a seat at the table, and how we operate the business.

A riot here, a protest there

Pride is about accepting and celebrating our gender and sexual identities and embracing all parts of every person as they show up and are striving to be. This is radical. In a world where different parts of people are not accepted or even tolerated, to be fully accepting of a person as they are, is radical. It is a protest against the rigidity of what’s “normal”. At least from my experience alone, I believe that the queer community offers everyone insight into what it means to build trust and provide support, to accept and include people as they are, and to move forward together.

To my fellow queer founders and organizational leaders, I’d like to open a conversation with you about what it means to be a queer person, or a queer organization.

I want to thank each member of the InsightPact team who supported me in writing this blog because they pushed me to be more fully myself at work and in my personal life more than they could know. They recognize my strengths and flaws as a leader, and as a person, and yet continue to engage with me to build the trust and confidence that our collaboration and relationship can be even more loving in the workplace than we think it might be at the current moment. Thank you especially to Irene Laochaisri, Athena Lam, Eleanor Meegoda, Pang Khee Teik, and Alec Fischer for pushing me to dig deeper than I thought I could on this piece of writing.

I want to finish off by acknowledging that the black transgender women whose leadership led to the first Pride, which was a protest in the form of a riot at the Stonewall Inn. I also want to recognize the varied approaches to protest, struggle, and action of diversly gendered people and sexual minorities in every culture and context on the planet. It is important recognize the multitudes of histories and futures that have been and will continue to be shaped by queer people from all walks of life.