Xebians Unveiled; David

"Embracing a Non-Binary Identity in Tech" - Discover David's path to self-acceptance as a non-binary individual in the tech industry. Overcoming challenges of societal expectations and advocating for queer inclusivity and psychological safety.

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Programming in a skirt

The Story of David
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David, a software engineering consultant at Xebia, was assigned male at birth. It wasn’t until a year ago that David finally felt comfortable enough to openly identify as a non-binary person and use the gender-neutral pronouns “they/them.” It has been an incredible ride of self-discovery and self-acceptance for them. Now, they make it a personal mission to be a queer advocate, helping others navigate this challenging path. 

A young techie who took a leap of faith

“I grew up in Johannesburg but spent my last three years in South Africa in Cape Town, which I preferred much more.” Since early childhood, David has had an intense fascination for computers, particularly in game design. Unfortunately, the market for game design was almost non-existent in South Africa at the time, making their dream of becoming a game designer sound nonsensical. However, David’s parents supported their dream at a time when it seemed to be a poor career decision, not realizing the industry would grow to be a billion-dollar global business. David was determined, they set their mind on learning programming and turned out to be very good at it! They spent the next two years at a corporate-sponsored programming boot camp and secured a position at one of the biggest tech consultancy companies in South Africa. Soon after, David’s reputation grew, and they moved to Cape Town to join the world’s largest cloud computing company. Even though they had secured a great job, David knew deep down that they wanted to move out of South Africa.  
The only thing David had heard about the Netherlands was that they had a well-developed public transportation system and an abundance of bikes, but when a Dutch recruiter reached out, they took a leap of faith and packed their bags. Finally, it was in the land of bikes, buses, and trains that David found their true self. 

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Femininity and masculinity are not mutually exclusive 

South Africa has not always been a place where a person who wasn’t traditionally masculine could express themselves. “South Africa is not an easy place to grow up. Especially if, you know, the traditionally masculine people make fun of me a lot. […] Growing up, people made fun of me and bullied me for how I acted. I had to build a shell around myself and go through life with this mask on. I felt like I needed to act the way people expected me to so I could survive.” The conservative social pressure that David experienced made their self-exploration process more challenging and surprising. Not only did they learn about their gender identity, but also insights into their mental conditions. The process of having to confront everything at once was beyond overwhelming. “I realized I was queer last year, and it was so hard. I mean, it was autism, ADHD, and then my realization within the span of a few months. All this while I was the most depressed, I have ever been in my life[…].” 

The challenge of finding a balance between feminine and masculine energy has played a big part in their journey to feeling complete. “I do see value in both femininity and masculinity. I was forced to play sports and behave like a man. I soon realized that both masculine and feminine energies are important in a healthy functioning society; it’s the toxic aspects of both that we don’t want. I think it’s healthy to acknowledge that everyone has a bit of both. Some might be more masculine or feminine than others. I tried to aim for a balance between the two. I think I probably do side a bit more towards femininity. It just feels more natural to me.” Femininity and masculinity are not mutually exclusive! They can and should exist together, helping people navigate through the nuances of life. When people think in binaries, they risk excluding genuinely great and valuable ideas. “Let’s celebrate people being thoughtful; let’s celebrate people showing that they’re passionate about what they’re doing. I think that just understanding that all people are thinking and feeling humans — men, women, and anyone else that doesn’t fit into those labels. And, as I said, just fostering an environment for psychological safety and emotional safety for everyone is important. It doesn’t have to be men vs women; it can be both women and men, and everyone who does not fit into those labels can share their emotions in the workplace. Just in general, acknowledging that we are people.” 

Even though their journey of self-discovery was extremely tough, David grew immensely through the experiences. Being and becoming their true self has been an inspiring process, but it came hand in hand with judgments from the outside world. “Sometimes I walk down the street in a skirt, and people give me dirty looks. But I do not give them any of my attention. They don’t deserve any of my time. They don’t deserve a reaction. I’m going to be who I am. And I’m going to be in the same space as you!” 

I’m going to be who I am. And I’m going to be here in the same space as you!”

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A psychological haven 

A critical factor for David, when it came to being their authentic self, was the psychological safety they found at Xebia“It was so important how open and welcoming everyone was. I guess at Xebia, I felt safe enough to just start admitting to myself who I actually am. I don’t think there was anything specific; it just clicked. Things have just worked out very nicely because I chose such an inclusive company. It’s the most enjoyable company that I‘ve been at. Everyone’s warm, welcoming, and helpful.” 

People need to know that they are safe”

Being supportive of employees’ mental well-being all starts with creating psychological safety in the workplace. “People need to know that they are safe. They need to feel they can be who they are without hiding any of it. It just starts with everyone fostering an environment of inclusivity. It definitely helps if the workplace is already diverse. Xebia has been very good in that regard.” It’s essential that inclusivity is built into a company’s culture and that it is a collective effort of all individuals. “I don’t think anyone has ever given me any problems for painting my nails or wearing skirts and all that. No one’s had issues with me saying, ‘Hey, I’m autistic. Here are a few things you can do for us to collaborate better.’ I experience a lot of openness and willingness to listen.” 

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We are all in this together 

David recognized the importance of establishing and protecting their personal boundaries throughout their learning journey. With that valuable lesson learned, David wants to share their insights with those battling to stand their ground and be comfortable in expressing themselves. “It’s a learning journey every day. It can be as simple as just practicing saying ‘No.’ I find a lot of people worry that if they want to say ‘no,’ they need to have a reason or excuse or that they need to apologize for it. Sometimes, we don’t know that we’re testing boundaries until we surpass them, and at that point, if the foot is already in the door, it’s much harder to enforce those boundaries. And, even if that happens, you should start practicing enforcing them. And even when your boundaries are neglected, showing emotion is also something that you need to accept. We are not machines. We are human beings; we have feelings, and those feelings can be helpful. Especially in the workplace.” 

David wants to share their story with those on similar paths, those who need guidance yet are afraid to speak up or simply have no one to confide in. “At the moment, I am looking more into a coaching angle. I want to help out other neurodivergent people, such as myself so that they can survive in the workplace. I’ve been working for seven years, and I have seen a lot of mistreatment of people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etc. People who don’t fit into these neat little boxes. So, I’m busy with learning skills in that regard so that I can help advocate.” They are actively participating in Neuroqueer movements, in which people are both neurodivergent and queer. “I think giving this group a voice is something I have always wanted to do, but I didn’t understand what I was looking for.” Working on their development and healing the traumas from their youth were so important to David, and they would recommend the same to those struggling. “I think finding a good psychologist and finally working through all the things I dealt with growing up made me move past the past. I was very angry and felt I needed to take on a lot, and I didn’t have a good outlet for it. Now, I can finally let go of my anger, and I feel so much lighter. It doesn’t feel like I have the world on my shoulders anymore.” 

Stay tuned for more profiles on the amazing people behind Xebia.  

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