Work and Money
Meet The CEO Creating Safe and Inclusive Work Spaces
Andrea Breanna, the founder and CEO of RebelMouse, identifies as a non-binary, transgender lesbian (transbian). Today, she’s happily married and lives in New York City with her partner and four children. While Breanna has the safety and security to be herself now, to get there, she’s had to overcome many barriers throughout her career in the tech world.
Before starting RebelMouse in 2012, Breanna was the CTO of HuffPost, helping to run the product, design, and engineering teams. Her company was one of the first in the tech space to create a "social front page" model, used as a hub for users to aggregate their social feeds all in one place. Now, RebelMouse’s proprietary content management system (CMS) is used to solve the complex intersection between product, engineering, editorial, and revenue for companies around the world.
Breanna’s career has shaped who she is today. She’s used her personal platforms to promote LGBTQ+ awareness on social media, and is very vocal about promoting inclusivity in the workplace.
CircleAround talked to Breanna about how tech companies like hers can better create inclusive environments and opportunities for their employees. Here’s what she had to say:
1. Ensuring Inclusivity in the Tech World Is Important
Whether or not you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to ensure your employees feel safe and valued, regardless of how they identify. Breanna has always known how important this is, given that so many LGBTQ+ employees don’t feel comfortable being themselves at work. In a recent report conducted by Boston Consulting Group and New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, out of 2,000 LGBTQ+ employees surveyed, 40 percent said they are not out about their sexuality at work.
“I feel very lucky that we can have a company that acts against unconscious bias,” she tells CircleAround. “For me, it is really important because we have big clients, multibillion-dollar public companies. In the process of meeting us, you have to sign a deal with a trans person, a transwoman, and a gay man.
Her team creates a safe, inclusive environment by checking people, especially clients, who present bias, whether conscious or unconscious. But, in doing so, she has seen more positive reactions from clients than negative. Most of them are open to learning from Breanna and her team and maintaining positive relationships thereafter.
“In the struggle or fear, takeaway what that would be,” she advises. “Fighting for yourself is not selfish."
2. Inclusivity Has to Come from Leadership
Breanna says that, in order for companies to successfully provide opportunities for a more diverse workforce, leadership must actively and publicly support people of all identities.
“If the CEO of a company is a straight, white male, being explicitly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community can mean a lot,” she says. Breanna only felt comfortable being her true self when she was running her own company, and even then, it took her several years to come out as trans to her RebelMouse staff.
“As a CEO, you do not want to be scary; you do not want to be intimidating.... Being openly trans makes you extremely vulnerable, but the connection that was created in the company has been really actually very beautiful.”
She goes on to say that RebelMouse has actually grown since she came out; the team is up to 60 employees in 28 countries. Sixty-eight percent are female and 30 percent identify as LGBTQ+.
Having strong leadership that promotes inclusivity can help employees, who might otherwise feel alienated or persecuted, thrive, and be themselves. Breanna says this is the ideal workplace. “It’s so very hard for trans people to come back to a home that treats them poorly,” she says. “That is why the suicide rates for trans people are so high. So many people feel rejected.”
“For me, it has been very important to be out of the closet. There are enough horror stories of being trans. I feel it is really important for young people to have hope.”
3. The Actual Tech Needs to Change, as Well
Breanna fell in love with technology at an early age because it was a space she felt she could be herself, and one that couldn’t be accessed by outsiders. “I wrote a basic program and had a password-protected file. That was the very first time that I had a diary… It was the first time that I could express who I was in a safe way.”
Internet technology became even more important for her as a trans person because that was where she could be “Andrea.” She could express herself and still be safe. As she began working in tech professionally and grew into larger roles, she began to realize that the tech needed to change to reflect diverse lifestyles.
People in marginalized communities often find solace and connection in emerging social platforms that bring like-minded people together. But Breanna saw first-hand how these platforms could also employ algorithms to shut out people like her. As a result, LGBTQ+ users are often an afterthought, both when it comes to user policies and algorithm design.
She and her team work to reverse these algorithmic issues as much as possible, through RebelMouse’s software and product.
As the tech industry becomes more inclusive, she knows it’s possible to create a more inclusive internet culture, too.
“I feel very lucky. I am extremely grateful. To just be able to wake up, have this beautiful time with my family. A lot of transphobic stuff happens in my life, but I am able to have so many beautiful things. If you take all the beautiful moments, they still far outshine, outnumber, and outweigh the bad moments.”