XRI Stories

Suzanne Borders:

I distinctly remember the first time in my life I was told “Stop it! Girls don’t do that!”

I was 8 years old, trying to sit cross legged on the floor in my classroom. At home, my parents never factored my gender into any activities I was encouraged or discouraged from doing. Because of this, I struggled to understand why I, as a woman, couldn’t (in this case) sit crossed legged on the floor. But as much as I argued and fought against my teacher, the rule remained: all the girls in the class had to sit with their legs crossed in chairs, while the guys could sit however they wanted, wherever they wanted. I distinctly remember the anger, the deep feeling of unfairness, and the frustration I felt that day. Unfortunately, as time passed and I grew older, I became more and more accustomed to such situations, such feelings. As a pushy, bossy, very ambitious, “unfeminine” woman, I even came to expect such admonishments – from society, from teachers, from bosses, from friends, and co-workers. Luckily, thanks to my confrontational personality, none of their judgements ever affected any changes in my behavior. If anything, the disapproval of society for being who I am pushed me harder to achieve what I wished to achieve and made me that much less willing to ever compromise or change my behavior to meet any narrow gender stereotypes. 

It had always been a dream of mine to start a business and when I was in my late 20s, I found myself in a position to join a founding team. But again, the gender issue: “Look, we all know you’re really talented but we just don’t feel comfortable with a woman on our founding team and the appearance of weakness it signals to investors.” This was the first time I was turned down as a founder. It wouldn’t be the last. This happened several more times before I finally gave up and founded my own company with the only male I could find willing to have a female business partner. 

These are just a few examples of why I am so passionate about inclusion and diversity initiatives. All of my life I’ve been told I can’t, that I shouldn’t, that I really ought to just “go have children and find a husband.” The media has denigrated my dreams, told me they are not achievable, and filled the movies and books I’ve read with characters who never looked or thought like me. My entire life I’ve felt broken, like something was somehow wrong with me, for being a woman who didn’t act “feminine.” I’ve struggled to find heroes to look up to or mentors to connect with who even remotely experienced life as I did. All I want for this next generation is the ability for women like me to see ourselves represented in the world, to be supported and celebrated for being ourselves, and even encouraged to pursue our dreams with the same resources and passion with which men are encouraged to do the same. If I can save even one other woman from having to feel the same feelings I’ve felt: isolated, weird, broken, and unwanted – I will feel as if I’ve helped make the world a slightly better place. This is why I passionately support inclusive initiatives and why I will always continue to offer my support.

Taylor Freeman:

My story begins in Boulder, a relatively small city nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Growing up, I went to a small prep school where there was only one black student in my entire graduating class and only one black teacher in the entire K-12 school. Boulder’s population as a whole was over 90% white. I fit right in as a white, straight male with a supportive and loving family and didn’t think much of it. I played competitive lacrosse, basketball and tennis and was the drummer in a rock band with some of my best friends (I was known to wear leather pants on occasion). Like all people, I of course had my challenges, but in hindsight it’s incredible how privileged I was, and still am, and how I wasn’t even aware of how these things were playing such a significant role in shaping my worldview and life experiences.  

In the years following my high school graduation, I worked on a few projects that eventually led me to start a company called UploadVR with some of my best friends in San Francisco (all straight white guys in our early 20’s). Our mission was to “Inspire Virtual Reality” around a community of passionate pioneers, and we started by hosting parties and events with the goal of making VR technology feel more mainstream and accessible. The company grew quickly as we went through multiple rounds of venture capital funding, and a few years into the journey, an employee we had recently let go came back and filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, a hostile work environment and other things I would never have wanted anyone in my company to experience. This was a huge shock and wake up call that made me determined to understand what went wrong, and learn what it truly takes to create an inclusive company. Even despite my thought at the time that we’d created a culture that was empowering, fair and productive, I was clearly missing the mark and blind to some of the cultural undertones that had developed in the org. Once the initial shock of the news had passed and I was able to step back and see it for what it was, I dove in to examine my own belief systems. This process forced me to face my biases head on, and I became fascinated, and often horrified, by my unconscious biases and how they were shaping my perspective. As I read the first dozen books or so on inclusive leadership and unconscious bias over the ensuing months, I started to wake up to the true severity of the deeply ingrained patriarchal power structures and systems of oppression that drive our culture, and how our intersectional privilege, or lack thereof, can define our experience in the workplace and world at large. 

Thinking back, I used to feel super awkward talking about privilege, but I’ve come to realize it’s simply a reality that must be acknowledged. When I have conversations about privilege with other white people, I still get a huge amount of pushback and responses like “I don’t have privilege, I’ve had to work hard for what I have”. Sure you’ve worked hard, but if two people run a mile down the same path, and only one is carrying a backpack full of rocks, it’s not a fair race. As a societal collective we need to acknowledge the severity of bias and privilege that is fueled by the media, history and culture at large and actively work to remove the systematic barriers that create such an uneven playing field. We need to own up to the fact that we have biases and engage in active allyship to support those whose voices have been overshadowed. We can consciously create behavioral design systems and cultures that account for these inequities and enable people of all backgrounds to feel seen, heard and empowered to be their authentic selves. Think about how amazing it feels to be surrounded by people who you know respect and appreciate you. Everyone should have that opportunity regardless of how they look or sound, or where they happen to be from. 

I’m deeply passionate about the work we’re doing at XRI because it’s an opportunity to learn from people’s unique experiences, share lessons learned and build more awareness for these issues at an early stage within a budding industry. As we build the future, it’s heavily in the hands of professionals in AI, XR and other future focused industries to ensure that biases and inequities are not written into the code of our future. I think back to building the foundations of my company, making the early hires, setting the initial structure and defining the culture, and I wish I’d been more aware. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work alongside such an amazing and diverse group at XRI to continue learning and helping others avoid the same mistakes.

Stacey Gordon:

At a time when corporations and communities are pledging that Black Lives Matter, statements are plentiful. However, this toolkit is something that can aid you in walking the talk and taking action. I hope it’s apparent to you why diversity, inclusion and equity are concepts that are important to me personally, as well as professionally and I can only hope that these concepts are also important to you. I urge you to use the resources in this toolkit to move from concept to action because without your action, the status quo will remain.

Brian Seth Hurst:

It was 1998. The boss called me into his office. “I have a special assignment for you.” At the time I was an EVP working for an international entertainment branding and marketing firm that, thanks to brilliant and innovative creatives, had come to dominate the industry with major television networks and movie studios all over the world as clients. The company was going after a huge potential account, the branding of a major cable television network, and the sales team was getting nowhere. “I’d like to set up a lunch meeting- just you and the president to see if we can close this thing,” said my boss. This was a piece of business that I had known about but in which I had no participation. In my head I’m thinking- “I’m on the digital side of our business and this is out of my lane.”  And so I asked, “Why me?” The answer: “Because he’s gay and you’re gay.”  Worse than what was said was the look on his face which seemed to imply that something other than business might happen between the president and me. “You know what I mean? It’s like a club, right?” he surmised. Realizing I was being played as the “gay card” in the deck it took me a few beats before I was able to reply. “Um, I don’t think you can do this, I’m mean I don’t think you can ask me to do this.”  “Why not?” he asked. That was a discussion I was not prepared to have at the time for many reasons.  I quickly suggested that I would be happy to meet with him as part of a team but no, I was not going to meet with him because we were both gay. The conversation wasn’t about my skill set, my ideas on how the pitch might be improved or even asking me to become part of the team to show the value add of our digital division. It was insulting and it was degrading and the boss had not a second thought about it. Headed back to my desk I thought about how strange it was on the one hand that I had domestic partner benefits but on the other hand that the head of the company was using my sexuality as a sales tool. I realized that it wasn’t just an “incident” but a state of mind in the business environment. At the time, saying “no” would have to be enough. Fortunately respect and honoring people in the work environment is in transformation. This is why I am happy to be a part of the work being done by XRI. 

Bruno Pedroza:

I was born in a capital city called Goiânia, located in the countryside  region of Brazil, and grew up influenced by a very conservative, and somewhat racist, homophobic and misogynist culture. My family is part protestant, part  catholic, with most of my uncles being pastors. Until my adolescence and since I remember, I was with my parents in the catholic church every Sunday, sometimes even helping with the ceremony. 

As a Kid I always loved experimenting with science toys, learning about animals,  drawing, reading, writing stories, and playing as well as inventing games.  When the time came to choose a profession I felt pressured to follow my father’s craft, who was both a farmer and an engineer. I ended up graduating from a business school, and working with my father between the farm and the construction company. In my early 20s I was becoming very conservative myself and a very different person from who I was as a kid, then I decided to change the direction of my life.

It took some time for the idea to sink in, but my parents ended up supporting me, and I left Brazil to study Computer Animation in the US. Since then I’ve opened myself to meet more people and connect with different cultures and ideas, got married with a great person who helped me to open my eyes even further, traveled around quite a bit  – both inside my country and worldwide – and worked closer to art related fields such as communication, film production, and immersive / interactive technologies.

I am now in my early 30s and still have a lot to learn. It took me a while to realize,  but now I am confident about the path I should follow and every day I learn a little more about those who I must stand for. I want to keep listening and observing, to support and build on love and respect, to find ways to defend equal rights and equity – from small day-by-day situations to bigger endeavors – and do my part to ensure that people have the rights that I was born with.  In my country the reality is very sad, and we still have a long way to go since in Brazil there are people who don’t have access even to the most basic needs, such as food, security and health. I am a very privileged white, with higher education,   christian , straight man,  and at first I wasn’t even sure if I should write a story here. But again, whoever is in a position of privilege must learn, change and stand for those who aren’t. I am glad that I’m part of this community and glad to be here to share my story, support and stand by the idea of empowering diversity, inclusion and equity in XR.

Armand Aguirre:

What Do Diversity and Inclusion Mean to Me?

Words have power, and diversity and inclusion are two of the most powerful words gracing social media and today’s work world. To understand what diversity and inclusion mean to me, let’s first look at the definition itself. According to Ferris State University’s Diversity Office, “diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.” The diversity of lived experiences that come with these differences bring a variety of thought, which we should embrace in the workplace and our everyday lives. They also state that “inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized.” It’s not enough to hire people from various backgrounds; they (and their ideas) need to be wholeheartedly embraced.

Choosing My Culture

My parents were not from the United States, and their reason for migrating was a common one: to find a better life. I am the firstborn in my family and first-generation. Growing up in the USA and being first-generation wasn’t always the easiest, and I was faced with many challenges. How do I fit in? How do I make sense of it all? When going to school, I would pretend to be the “ideal” American. I had friends that spoke only English. I would learn about the history of the US, attend English class, science class, etc. and then I would go home to my parents and pretend to be like them. I’ll be honest: there were times when I was ashamed of my heritage and would ask myself, “why can’t I be like my white American friends and have a family like them?” Understanding two cultures was a challenge; what it took to be an American and what it took to be like my parents. I thought I had to pick a culture in order to adapt and fit in, and I started to forget my heritage. It wasn’t until I graduated high school and moved to San Francisco to further my education that my way of thinking changed. During this time, I realized there was much more to American culture than had previously been shown to me through school, the shows I watched, and government activities, which were all aimed at a predominately white audience. San Francisco is 7 miles by 7 miles, and in such a compact space, diversity thrives. It was here that I learned to accept myself and that there was nothing wrong with being different.

Learning Never Stops

I’ve heard this phrase more times than I can count, but it’s worth repeating, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Learning to accept me and embracing what made me different was all well and good, but that doesn’t mean I became the perfect champion of diversity and inclusion overnight, a title that is impossible for anyone to reach. We’re all human, after all. I’ve made my share of mistakes, but the important lesson here is that you learn from them, make it right, and move forward. I’m proud to work with a diverse set of people every day, and for the chance to encourage a culture of inclusion at our company.

Emerging Tech as a Bridge of Understanding

I believe that virtual reality, augmented reality, and AI can help us understand each other even better than before. I predict that these technologies will break down walls, allow us to celebrate the diversity of our cultures, and reach a new level of inclusion in our everyday lives. My hope is that we use XR & AI to bring each other together and celebrate our differences, we are XRI.