During Pride Month we are sharing stories from members of Qualtrics Pride – our Q group dedicated to ensuring members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe and included. We are sharing stories about the challenges of coming out, understanding identity, allyship, and unconscious bias.
In this story, Qualtrics Pride Leader Sam (SS) sits down with Global Champion for Qualtrics Pride, Wojtek (WK), to discuss his personal journey of identity, authenticity, and involvement with Qualtrics Pride.
SS: What’s your background with Qualtrics?
WK: I joined Qualtrics about a little more than 3 years ago. Here, I’m a Director of Product responsible for a large portion of the employee experience portfolio. My team oversees everything from integrations, reporting and analytics, employee 360, and a couple of other areas. I've been in tech pretty much my entire career – I started at Google and bounced around for what is probably now 15 years. (That's terrifying!)
SS: Since you've been here 3 years, what's getting you motivated to become more of a Qualtrics Pride champion, and to get more involved in Qualtrics Pride?
WK: I want to give back. I wasn’t super involved in college or even in business school, because I came out pretty late. Part of my drive is to help others wherever they are in their journey. The other part is because in certain places, it’s just a lot tougher for folks to be themselves. I’m originally from Poland, and that's a tough country to be different in. And I want to help however I can.
One of the things that dawned on me the past couple of years is that things are much easier for me, because I am a 6’2, white male, and relatively masculine-acting. I don't have a lot of what someone might describe as intersectionalities, and I think being more involved with a group like Qualtrics Pride allows me to understand more of others’ experiences - where people might still be struggling inside or outside of our company, and that's important to me.
SS: Moving into that space about coming out. When was your first “Aha” moment about your identity?
WK: I think trying to be in a relationship with a woman in my early twenties and having this thought of, “No. No. This isn't working, and it will not work.” And that triggered a whole lot of, “Whoo. What do I do with this?” Thinking back on it, a lot of my thoughts were pure denial. It was a mix of the culture that I came from, family expectations, being an only child, and all these things. With my friends, things were super easy; with my parents, they were a lot harder.
SS: So your family is originally from Poland, can you talk about that a little?
WK: I was born in Poland. I lived there until I was about 3, when we moved over to Chicago, which, for all intents and purposes, when I was growing up, was Poland for me. There was a massive Polish community in Chicago, both a religious and culturally conservative community. There were expectations placed upon you; such as you will have a successful job, you’ll find a wife, have a family, etc. When you start realizing that may not be you, there’s a lot of fear involved. I had to navigate, what does it even mean to be myself, and what does that future look like?
One of the things that was interesting for my family is that when I did come out to my parents - it was tough, but a lot of it came from a place of them being protective, being afraid, and not understanding the world that I lived in. For example, one of their reactions was, “Well, you can’t ever tell anyone at work.” In reality, work already knew. I think we’re very privileged to live in a world and work at a company where we can be ourselves.
SS: It can be hard to be your whole authentic self when your background, something you want to embrace, is not accepting.
One last key question for you. Everyone is still on the journey of living most authentically, but since you’ve tried to embrace your authentic self, what has been the biggest impact you’ve seen in your life?
WK: Coming out to my family and not having to constantly worry, thinking, “Oh, crap! Did I put something on social media that might out me? Did I do something here? Did I do something there?” And also having my parents and broader family be much more involved in my whole life, because we do have a close relationship. Before I always felt, “Well, I can't show my complete self.” And now, it's completely turned around where we go on vacations together with my partner, my entire family in Poland has met him, and everyone is super welcoming and accepting. Sometimes I wonder what I was afraid of. At the same time, there was a learning curve for my family as well.
SS: Since our theme this year is Authenticity for All, do you want to share what authenticity means to you?
WK: People's barriers to be their authentic selves can come from many different places. You can't presume that if somebody went to a more liberal school, or that they work in a supportive and welcoming workplace, for example, that those environments will be the key to unlock authenticity for them. There could be other factors like family, religion, and culture that make it hard for a person to be their authentic selves. And sometimes that examination takes a while to figure out, on their own timeline.
I think that when you feel like your authentic self is when you don't have to worry about it - when you don’t really think about it. But finding and being in a community where you can be your authentic self also helps make you more resilient to tougher times.
May 23, 2022
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