POC Perspectives is a series of interviews, experiences, and stories from LGBTQ and allied People of Color from within our community. This project is beginning during Black History Month – a significant and crucial time to elevate these stories – and will continue throughout the year. Out & Equal is committed to elevating the profile of members of our community who have diverse intersectional identities. Click here to read other interviews in this series.
Tell us about your background, and how your family, environment, friends, geography (or anything else significant) may have shaped your journey in coming out?
I often reflect on the quality of my life today versus the statistical likelihood of how my life might have turn out based on the zip code where I was born. I am straight out of the Compton, Lynwood and Watts area of Los Angeles. Statistically, I should be incarcerated, a drug addict or dead. The William Sisters were younger than me at the time and stories of getting out of Compton were hardly mainstream.
Thankfully, my parents had a different plan for me and my younger Sister. “You will not be a statistic,” was their daily anthem to us both.
This would later have a profound impact on my coming out experience – which sadly had a devastating effect on my relationship with my parents and family that continues, albeit much improved, till this day. It was hard for my mother in particular. I graduated High School and was named part of an elite group of students dubbed the “Top 10 Outstanding.” To then profess I was gay was a punch in her gut, an assault on her religion. Through her lens, I came all this way – only to “throw it all away.” She simply didn’t understand and being a God-fearing woman, you can imagine what ensued.
It was at this moment that I made a promise to myself to never let another human being, not even family, place their values on my life and pass judgement on my potential. Coming out was traumatic, but I am thankful to have gone through the heartache and disappointment as a teenager. It set into motion a series of decisions and experiences as a young adult that led me to this very moment. Till this day, I am still figuring it out. You don’t come out once and are done. It’s a daily experience and for some of us, multiple times a day.
Looking back, how would you describe your professional journey? Are you there any significant bold moments, risks you took, allies/mentors who helped you and how?
There are so many mentors and allies whom – without their kindness, patience and grace – I wouldn’t have had chances to grow, learn and fail, often in epic proportions. Madison Kilpatrick, my direct supervisor in my early 20s and Prairie View A&M Alumni, caused an inflection point and forever changed the trajectory in my personal and professional career.
I was a loose cannon in my 20s. Bright and full of promise, I thought I knew-it-all and for the most part, I wasn’t all that wrong. Quick on my feet and quick to tell someone they were wrong often in a public setting, I quickly isolated myself and was dubbed the “know-it-all” to senior management. My “what” was strong but my “how” was a serious “needs improvement.” I was so oblivious to the damage I was doing to my reputation and credibility; it took Madison intervening (yes, they were going to fire me). He offered to take responsibility for me to stop the freight train heading my way.
From my perspective, I was behaving like everyone else around the table. Emulating the behavior of my peers and the leaders around me. What I failed to realize was everyone else wasn’t black and there was a double standard applied to me.
Madison took away my team, made me an individual contributor and forced me to work from home for roughly a year. He taught me how to conduct myself in the boardroom and navigate both the politics in plain sight and the politics just under the surface. He reviewed every email I sent and participated in every conference call I attended. He critiqued everything – from how I positioned my dissent to teaching me to ask more questions, rather than giving my opinion.
In large part, Madison shaped the leader I am today because he took the time to change the course of a young capable black man who didn’t realize there was a different rule book for people like me. My professional journey is full of people who did more than mentor me; they advocated and sponsored.
One final point – in my 25-year career, I have only had two African American bosses – Olivette Cooper and Madison. Each of them taught me invaluable lessons about being a black man in today’s society.
What would you share with young people of color and all who might be interested in your insights/wisdom/advice as they are climbing the ladder or helping pull people up behind them?
This is a complex question often thrown around without real reflection on the stark reality of the answer. For me, it’s important to balance the relentless optimism I have for goodness with the realities of society.
As young people of color, you must be twice as good for half as much. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s the sobering reality of present-day life and it’s not a comfortable or warm feeling. Rather, it’s a call to action: You have to be present, a first mover and always situationally aware.
This doesn’t, however, mean you allow any person or situation to rob you of your joy, hope, self-belief or optimism. Envision and believe in what you can be and know you have what it takes to succeed. You simply have to work harder for it. Never forget: “Fair” is simply a four-letter word. Don’t allow it to distract you.
Who is/are some of your favorite heroes in your personal and/or career journey? Black/queer/otherwise? Who inspires you, do you have a favorite quote or wisdom you draw from them?
How long do you have? There are so many African American unsung heroes in our history for us to learn from and admire. They inspire me and I hold myself accountable to do my part to respect their sacrifice and honor the road they paved for all of us, but in particular, future African Americans.
A few come to mind, like Madam C.J. Walker – inventor of the first line of hair products for the African American Community. We all know about NASA’s “human computers” Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan via the film Hidden Figures. But what about Mamie Phipps Clark, a Social Psychologist, famous for her research focused on defining race consciousness among young children. Her “Dolls Test” provided insight influential in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Then there is Rebecca Lee Crumpler who was the first African American woman in the United States to earn a Doctor of Medicine in 1864; and Marie Maynard Daly, who became the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States in 1947.
I draw wisdom and an immense sense of pride and responsibility from the poem, Still I Rise by Maya Angelo. “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”
I have zero intention of letting them down.
Tell us about your recent shift to RTS from BoA, what excites you about this opportunity?
For nearly most of my 25-year career in fintech (financial technology), technology was used to improve the financial lives of financial services clients and customers. Often, in the form of generating personal wealth and corporate profit.
As I contemplate the next 25 years of my career, I think about my two amazingly bright nephews and the world they prepare to enter as one of them exits college and the other starts his senior year in High School. I want to use what I learned in fintech and focus on climate change. Specifically, diverting recyclables and waste to energy material from landfills. If, humbly, I have the opportunity to leave a legacy, I want it to literally be that I left the earth a little better than I found it.
Recycle Track Systems (RTS) is a purpose driven company using technology to help commercial companies and municipalities rethink their sustainability programs in light of the facts surrounding us. The extreme weather conditions we are experiencing around the world are no coincidence. RTS gives me an opportunity to take all I have learned in banking and apply it to do good for the environment.
What was a favorite moment from the recent summits? What are you proud excited for Out & Equal to pursue this year?
I am excited to see the partnership between O&E and Bank of America accelerate the process of getting more LGBTQ leaders of diverse backgrounds into the C-Suite by 2030.
I can attest that when you have a seat at the table you not only influence the outcome, but your mere presence enriches the day-to-day dialogue. The bigger the table, the more impactful our ability to drive progress. I would submit, making the leadership table bigger should be one of the top priorities for O&E as the organization adapts to the needs of the workplace of today.
Our theme this year is “The Business of Belonging” which will highlight moments in the workplace where this concept of belonging that some people consider to be “soft” comes to life. Do you have a favorite example where belonging was made real – where a human connection or structure positively impacted individuals, a team, or the company?
I respect the sentiment but challenge the concept that belonging might be ‘soft.’ We should all ideate how to measure belonging, so it doesn’t get tossed in the preverbal ‘junk’ drawer.
We know companies don’t manage what they can’t measure, so let’s get ahead of this. “The Business of Belonging” is about ownership. It’s about accountability. It’s about the fact that words matter.
Speaking of things that matter we can never forget that advocating for others, when it doesn’t benefit us personally, creates a moment that matters. Bias that feeds inequality often asserts itself in the background, behind closed doors or outside the ‘meeting.’ Therefore these moments matter.
Courage is a massive component to the success of changing human behavior. So, the next time you experience or witness inequality, have the courage to call it out. Hold others accountable. It’s the raw fuel powering the engine of belonging.
Allyn Shaw is the President & Chief Technology Officer at Recycle Track Systems, and a passionate advocate for inclusion, sponsorship and building successful, diverse teams. He joined the board of Out and Equal Workplace Advocates in 2018.
Allyn previously served as COO of Global Information Security at Bank of America. While at the bank, he served on Bank of America’s LGBT Executive Council and Black Executive Leadership Council, was the executive sponsor for the Charlotte, NC chapter of the bank’s Black Professional Group, and was a member of the Global Technology & Operations Diversity & Inclusion Council as well as the Women in Technology & Operations Global Advisory Board.