Culture Spotlight with Cass Averill: Sometimes Being Excluded Has Lifelong Effects
The Culture Spotlight series illuminates what culture means to us as individuals so we can collectively create the culture that supports us all.
We've all been excluded and made to feel less-than. And, we've all had someone stick up for us and make us feel like we belong. We've all had opportunities to step out of our comfort zone and be an ally for people who need our support. Culture doesn't happen to us; we create culture.
In today's Culture Spotlight, Cass A. shares stories of being excluded because he was obese as a kid, starting a transgender support group, what it really takes to be an ally, and how Symantec has supported his professional and personal journey over the last twelve years.
Please share an experience from your personal or professional life when you were excluded. How did that affect you?
When I was young I was obese. In school when it was time to pick teams for sports or other physical activities I was often picked last. People assumed that my being overweight meant I was lazy, weak, or incapable of participating – that I would just drag everyone else down. In fact, I was quite strong and agile, and motivated to prove everyone wrong. These experiences continued all throughout my school years, greatly affecting my confidence, self-image, and self-worth. Even though I’ve since lost a whole person worth of pounds and am no longer considered obese, I still hear those voices from long ago telling me I’m fat and worthless every day. Sometimes being excluded has lifelong effects.
Please share an experience when you were included but noticed that someone else was left out. How did that affect you?
Many years ago I started a support group for transgender people. I started the group because I needed support myself. The group began as a group for trans men, because I needed to know I wasn’t alone. It only took one meeting to realize that trans women and nonbinary people also needed and deserved support. I didn’t feel good about keeping the group exclusive to only one kind of transgender identity so I opened it up to all those who identify as transgender or nonbinary. Since opening the group, our community has outgrown my wildest dreams. We are a caring and connected group who have learned how to support each other in a world that is often unkind or cruel. Learning how to be more inclusive is what taught me the strength of community.
What role does allyship play in creating a more inclusive culture at Symantec?
To be an ally, we must be aware of people who are different from us, and what their experiences can look like. Cultivating this awareness is the first step in building compassion and learning how to be an active accomplice. Understanding and supporting people "not like you" is how we build a culture where everyone feels seen, heard, valued, and respected – not just those who are part of the majority. When we value and seek out all voices we become more creative, innovative, dynamic, and powerful.
What motivates you to work towards an inclusive culture here at Symantec?
I have challenged the company to do the right thing in many ways over my twelve-year tenure here, and every time the company has risen to the challenge. Again and again the company has stepped up to make sure I felt like I belong here. Being a transgender individual means my mere existence challenges people and can make them uncomfortable. Symantec has done nothing but support me and it has greatly affected my life both professionally and personally. I’ve grown immensely as an individual because of the support I’ve received. This work is personal for me. It is my life. I live and breathe it. And I’m very committed to doing the hard work required to ensure that everyone feels supported, respected, valued, and like they belong.