Aiven Blog

Jul 1, 2022

Leading over the rainbow

As a part of Aiven's Pride partnership, we wanted to talk to our community members and allies. Read about what Pride week means to James Arlen, Aiven's CISO.


James Arlen

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Chief Information Security Officer at Aiven

Before I get into the main content of this blog post, I would like to take a moment to pause and honour the memory of those affected by the senseless violence in Oslo Norway last weekend. Two people murdered and 21 injured in an act intended to terrorize and marginalize people who are still struggling with issues of basic equality and human rights around the world. There are no excuses for this behaviour and it cannot be tolerated.

I’ve been thinking about Pride Week and what it means to me. This leads to a question that many leaders struggle with, especially white hetero cis-male ones who don’t know how to work across all worldviews but are actively trying to learn more: “What can I as a leader do to enable an 2SLBGTQIA+ inclusive workplace?”

The things we can do are both very easy and very difficult.

Embracing what I do not know

Everything starts with admitting that this is an area in which I lack experience and expertise. It’s OK to not know things. It’s OK to educate yourself and find the support you need to help others who depend on you. This is the point from which I draw strength.

This kind of vulnerability is not an easy thing to accept It can even lead to feelings of inadequacy or weakness. That’s also OK. Just keep going regardless.

Executive allies

I aim to connect the members of Aiven’s #ProudCrabs community with the Executive Team. This way I can serve the greater good and offer my support, enabling a systemic, structured, and accountable relationship between all of us. This work should be visible within the organization. We should always be open and talk about how to act inclusively. We must also ensure that the company supports all 2SLBGTQIA+ colleagues and families, not only with internal actions but also through public actions, like our support for Helsinki Pride. This is what being an ally is.

Diversifying the cast

As a Canadian, I live in a very multicultural society. One of my core visions is having a team that looks like my community - diverse in as many ways as possible.

Despite our multiculturalism, Canada has made some significant errors in how we treat people that are perceived as different. I believe that we are consciously improving and that we have made some progress. It’s not enough yet, but it’s there. I can mirror this within Aiven by leading the hiring of diverse people. I’ve often said, I want to hire the best brains, regardless of the container they arrive in. But saying that and actually following through are two very different tasks.

You can’t hire a diverse staff in an environment where harassment and other inappropriate behaviour happens. These things can’t be tolerated, and we must take measures to ensure that everyone feels safe to be themselves at work.

Saying “do not tolerate harassment and inappropriate behaviour” sounds disingenuous, because it kind of is. Harassment and inappropriate behaviour is often insidious and structural, and that means it’s hard for outsiders to see. But even though it’s hard, there’s no room for excuses, just doing the right thing.

Final bit of advice

The most important advice that I can give to other non-minority leaders is: take the opportunity to learn from the experience of working with as many diverse people as possible. You got to where you are because you’re good at something, but no one’s good enough at everything to be above learning more.

Take the advice of others, make it safe for them to challenge you on your preconceptions and limited point of view. Let them help you be better. Then you can say that you’re living and working to support Pride.

Show your 2SLBGTQIA+ staff that you can be a real ally and support them the other 51 weeks of the year with Pride.

*2SLBGTQIA+ may be a bit of a Canadian-ism as it references an Indigeneous North American notion of “Two Spirit” (2S) and includes Intersex and Asexual people explictly. Also useful to read: DEFINING 2SLGBTQ+ TERMS.


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