Posted: 5 Min ReadDiversity & Inclusion

Visibility represents possibility: how employee resource groups launched my career

Cass A. shares his career journey from a frontline phone technician to the global lead for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and what employee resource groups had to do with it.

My name is Cass Averill, and I started with NortonLifeLock (formerly Symantec) over 13 years ago as a frontline telephone technician for our flagship enterprise product. At the time, I was really excited to be hired by a well-known tech company into my first full-time technical role. I had worked many jobs before where I was the unofficial IT-person because I had a natural aptitude and interest in tech, but had no technical education nor any documentable technical work experience. I was young, passionate, and committed to giving my all. I believed I had landed my dream job, and that I had finally found a career that I could thrive in. I wasn’t wrong – I just didn’t realize then that my tech career would take a drastic turn and lead into a career path that suits me even better. But how did that happen?

I have always been a hard worker, and historically I have also been a loner at work. I did not see myself represented in my peer groups or leadership at the company, and as a minority, I did what many marginalized folks do, I kept my head down and worked hard. All of my aspirations at the time were centered around doing good work while NOT being in the spotlight. If you were to tell me then that I would work my way into a non-technical leadership position I would never have believed you and thought you’d me confused me with somebody else. Now I know that I have become that somebody else.  

Through my own experience I have come to learn that career progression isn’t always linear. Sometimes career progression does look like a straight line or climbing a ladder and other times it jumps around and looks more like a scatter plot diagram – moving from one kind of seemingly unrelated skill or job role to the next. It is in this non-linear way that I went from being a shy frontline phone technician to the global lead for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion!

Visibility represents possibility, and I didn’t see a lot of possibility represented for me on where I could go or what I could achieve.

To offer context, when I started at this company I was a woman. I was one of only three women who got hired in a batch of 25 new hires and there was only one woman in leadership in my entire department at the time. Visibility represents possibility, and I didn’t see a lot of possibility represented for me on where I could go or what I could achieve. This amplified a few years later when I came out as transgender and transitioned on the job. There were no policies or procedures, no guidelines or documentation on how to handle, process, and support someone transitioning genders at work. The transition itself was riddled with hard decisions, hard conversations, and being much more vocal, visible, ‘out’, and vulnerable about private, personal matters, than this shy technician had ever wanted. I had to advocate for myself constantly because no one else could. There was no precedent for what I was doing. 

Then I began experiencing healthcare and insurance discrimination. In 2009 transgender healthcare exclusions were the norm for most companies and insurance providers. Once I was labeled as transgender on my paperwork, I could no longer access the healthcare benefits I paid for – not even to go to the doctor for the common cold. This is the moment that everything changed for me. This is the moment when my career path split, even though my job didn’t move away from technology for another 8 years. It was in this moment that I found a well of passion inside me that existed for something outside of computers. It was from this low place - when I couldn’t access my healthcare benefits, couldn’t go to the doctor, couldn’t have my medical needs met – that I found my voice.  I realized then that all the bias I was experiencing was not specific to just me, and that quiet person of my past made way for the loud advocate for equity and justice that I am now. I knew I had an obligation to use my voice and passion for all those who had yet to find theirs.

While I was going through this, I joined SymPRIDE - our LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG). I needed peer support. I eventually went on to lead the SymPRIDE ERG, and through that organizing body I partnered with the business to implement transgender-inclusive healthcare in our United States locations, all-gender single-stall restrooms in two of our largest locations, and global “how to transition in the workplace” guidelines. I organized many workshops and trainings on building LGBTQ+ awareness and organized a whole year-long workshop series on “How to Be an Active Ally to People Not Like You” across different areas of marginalization. I did all these things and more while working my technical jobs. I put all of this extra time into championing diversity, equity, and inclusion through my ERG work because it was the right thing to do, and my passion for the subject wouldn’t allow me not to anymore. I was committed then, as I continue to be, to reducing the chances that other people would have to face the same struggles that I did.  

Being a part of the ERGs gave me a place where I belonged, and the representation I did not see previously.

Being a part of the ERGs gave me a place where I belonged, and the representation I did not see previously. It connected me to a network of employees from all different business units, departments, and levels of the organization who were similarly passionate about equity and inclusion. I was finally able to see more people like me in positions of influence and leadership - showing representation of career possibilities for me inside the company.  Up until then, I couldn’t even imagine that there were possibilities beyond my technical track. Visibility drives possibility.

Then one day I got a phone call that would change the track of my career forever. Someone in leadership had noticed all of the hard work I had been doing for the equitable treatment of our workforce through the ERG program. All my years of doing the right thing through my ERG work is exactly the reason why I am the company’s DEI lead today. My life experience is what sparked and fueled my passion for something different, and it was my time working in the ERG program that gave me the necessary work experience to change my career.

It was my time working in the ERG program that gave me the necessary work experience to change my career.

The ERG program of the Symantec-days still exists and is now known as the Business Impact Communities program. These employee-driven Business Impact Communities play a vital role in creating an inclusive work culture where everyone is seen, heard, respected, and valued - where everyone feels like they belong. Here at NortonLifeLock, diversity is more than just race, gender, ability, and ethnicity. It is also about diversity of thought, experiences, identities, and backgrounds. We aspire to support a workforce across cultures, language, age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, background, and experience. Amplifying and centering these voices is how we define inclusion, and we rely on our Business Impact Communities to help define the standards to which we hold the business accountable.

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About the Author

Cass Averill

Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Program Manager

An out transgender man, Cass is a passionate activist and corporate advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. His mission is to help build institutional support for all to bring their authentic selves to work (and to life) without fear of repercussion.

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