dad, husband, Pioneer[guest blog post]

Len Shneyder,VP of Industry Relations | Twilio SendGrid Inc.

On more than one occasion, my wife has asked me what can we do to help people and make a difference during the pandemic that has swept our planet. I don’t always have a good answer. To be perfectly honest, more often than not, I have no answer and when I do it’s far from satisfactory or scalable. We try and do right by the people that depend on us, we support those who support us and again remotely contribute what we can. I spend time educating my parents and ensuring they don’t buy into the waves of fraud erupting like so many vampiric moths searching for flames fueled by fear. Other chunks of time are spent checking in on friends, or asking my elderly neighbors if I can fetch them something from the farmers market and leave it, in a socially distant manner, on their doorstep.

There’s so much fear and anxiety that at times it seems to be all there is. Then you go to sleep; wake up, make the bed, start the day with one small task in the rear view. You go downstairs, make breakfast for your family, caffeinate, catch up on the news, caffeinate again and then get to it, if you’re lucky. That’s a best case scenario. However, I’m completely aware that’s not necessarily everyone’s reality or routine.

Many of us have become school teachers overnight—in a past life I spent a year teaching at a community college—you have my respect for taking on the role of educator in a more substantial capacity than you probably ever imagined. Back then I used to joke that I didn’t have the patience to teach grade school, that the conversations weren’t interesting, or that I simply wasn’t equipped to mold young minds.

Well I’m here to tell you the times… …. …. ….they have cha-cha-changed. 

I’m now the parent of a young mind to mold, encourage, entertain, perhaps infuriate at times, engage, instruct, inspire, ground and turn into a person that one day will move mountains, slay dragons, write the great American novel, make music as haunting as Albinoni’s Adagio in g minor and walk everywhere with confidence, poise and her head held high and proud. But to be perfectly blunt we’re still working on balance and walking along the edge of the couch. My daughter is 14 months old but as you can see my wife and I have been hard at work, for better or for worse, planning the road ahead.

I’m heartened that much of the heavy lifting I, as the father to a very young daughter, have to do has been done by generations of suffragettes and those that followed them. At the same time I’m equally concerned that there’s more work to be done.

As you spend time with your children (perhaps more consecutive hours and days than you ever thought you’d have to), talk, listen, experience the world that is possible through dialogue and understanding, so that when we all break those six foot invisible walls, we are not simply running into the old glass ceilings that have prevented us from building the best possible world for everyone.

Gender equality in the workplace, unconscious bias, glass ceilings, these aren’t just cliches for gender stories and sound bites—the struggle, as they say, is quite real.

a movie about ambition

I’m heartened by the fact that films like Pioneers in Skirts approach the topic from a purely human perspective. We could all use a little more humanity in our life. I met the film’s producer quite by accident and not where you’d imagine: I was running an email marketing clinic at a digital marketing conference. Chew on that for a moment. Since that quite accidental and fortuitous event I’ve seen multiple versions of the film, had the pleasure of sharing a stage with the director, producer and blogging about it.

It’s really about the narrative. A good story has the potential to entertain and instruct—and this film tells good stories. The documentary features a host of engaging and illuminating figures, but at the heart of the film is the story of three girls finding their agency, strength and confidence by entering a robotics competition.

It’s such a compelling narrative that you can’t help but encourage families with children of the same, or close to the same age, to watch, listen, learn and engage in meaningful discourse about how we treat one another knowingly or unknowingly.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching audiences respond to the film’s narrative, insight and truly human stories on several occasions. The first time the film makers and I sat down to discuss the film and the issues it raises was in New Orleans at the Email Evolution Conference. We were joined on stage by Avis Yates Rivers, President and CEO of Technology Concepts Group LLC and board member of NCWIT and Dennis Dayman, Chief Security and Privacy Officer and Chairman emeritus of the Email Experience Council.

EEC conference

Lea-Ann W. Berst, Ashley Maria, Avis Yates Rivers, Dennis Dayman at the Email Evolution Conference.

A year later the filmmakers held a private screening and keynote at the Messaging Malware Mobile Anti-Abuse Group’s (M3AAWG) working meeting in San Francisco attended by over 500 people. It was evident that the film struck a chord with many in the audience—M3AAWG has for a number of years championed the cause of diversity and inclusion within the organization. However, the tech and cyber security world remains largely homogeneous and majority male.

The job of turning around an industry as broad and entrenched as tech seems daunting, but it happens slowly, one person at a time, that in turn inspires and paves the way for their colleagues and their circles of trust and influence to adapt, adopt and spread messages that lead to greater inclusivity and gender diversity in the workplace.

There was a moment during that screening in San Francisco when one of the attendees stood up and pledged that he would match donations to help the film’s completion up to $1000. I’m used to hearing this on NPR during their pledge drives but never so spontaneously and with such genuine support and admiration for the work.

As we physically distance from people outside of our immediate domestic circle we might want to pause and realize that at some point we will once again make contact with one another. The chrysalis of our social isolation is an opportunity to look at the world we knew as flawed and imperfect. The world we knew will not be the same one we return to when the shelter in place warnings are lifted. We will not travel the same as before, we will not see as many smiles as we did before because our faces will be willingly shrouded in masks. Caution and trepidation will outlast the virus, and I sincerely hope that is the only thing that remains in the wake of our pathogenic nemesis.

The world that we return to can be something altogether different and new—I’m not naive enough to think it will be perfect—however we can take this time, with our families, with those that matter most, and have conversations that fortify a moral compass that is compassionate, aware and engenders to correct the inequalities of the past.

Watch Pioneers in Skirts at home.Watch the film.

Watch it because stories like Pioneers in Skirts are what will build the genuine and compassionate leaders we need in the world of tomorrow.

Elie Wiesel wrote “After Auschwitz, anything is possible.” No one could’ve imagined a bureaucracy of brutality, extermination and murder on that scale—it simply defied imagination and had never been seen. It’s possible that Wiesel meant something much darker awoke and presented itself as possible if a thing like Auschwitz could happen. It was perhaps the darkest angel of our nature.

Be the Change. BE a Pioneer.After the coronavirus some things will seem impossible. Human re-connection will take time. After events, like the one we are all living through, things change. How that change happens begins in each of our living rooms, around our dinner tables, with our children and with each other.

Yes, the cliche of be the change you want to see in the world is highly applicable. However it’s much simpler—think about the world you want to inhabit.

Len Shneyder
Chairman, EEC Member Advisory Committee