Updated: Nov 15, 2021
I started at my first "real" job in 2001 just a few days after my oldest was born. I had been working at fast food restaurants, the Census and other entry level positions but never at a truly technical place till then. Worldspan was a GDS (Global Distribution System) that was used by travel agents and travel related websites to book airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, tour packages and associated product. They had more than 10k employees worldwide with the headquarters being in Atlanta, GA and with Kansas City, MO being a solid second.
As a young man fresh out of college I was anxious to make a name for myself and sought out ways to get involved. Consequently I found myself involved in a lot of small committees and clubs. I was in the outdoors club, a monthly coordinator of the potluck sign up and a co-founder of the green initiative that worked to find more ways for the company to be ecofriendly. My favorite however was the Diversity Council. We were a collection of employees from the English speaking offices (primarily Atlanta, Kansas City, London, Ft Lauderdale and Salt Lake city) who were "committed to empowering our employees to realize their full potential in an open and accepting environment" or so our mission statement read.
Similar to the House of Representatives our membership was based on the number of employees at each site and we were nominated and voted into office for 2 year terms. Due to my drive to be involved and (I'd like to think) positive attitude I was accepted into the council the first year I was eligible. Also like Congress we had a variety of committees and each had a chairperson to drive their associated initiatives with the expectation that they would report back at the monthly meetings with the whole council. My first year I was the head of the guidelines council and also led the Taste of Worldspan event.
Taste of Worldspan was an idea I dreamt up that involved soliciting dishes from the vastly diverse backgrounds of employees to be shared in a potluck style event in each office. Additionally we worked with local eateries to donate food to be shared in exchange for some free advertisement. The turnout was remarkable and the event became annual right up until the eventual downfall of the company.
Since we operated in the travel industry it was common for us to travel to meet up. This began as a monthly occurrences and eventually shifted to quarterly then finally once a year before the company was massively downsized. We would fly to Atlanta and host all day events where we discussed ideas and spoke with company coordinators.
At one such event I sat down next to an elderly gentleman and introduced myself before asking if he had been with the company/council very long. He was dressed down and had a sort of calm Mr. Rogers type demeanor. We had a polite, brief exchange before he excused himself and left. A friend came over to me barely able to contain her laughter and announced that I just asked the CEO how long he had been with the company. I was still pretty new myself at this point and had never seen him in person or in any communications. The company was large enough that there was no way I would have otherwise interacted with him before that. I was teased about that for a long time. It did however pay dividends as I was later called out specifically by him for being so welcoming of others.
My second year on the council I was nominated to be co-chair of the council. As an active member with lots of friends on the board I received more than enough votes from a secret ballot election. My fellow co-chair was Ana (not my wife obviously) who lived in Atlanta. The council decided that having one chair from each of the two largest offices would help with coordination. She was a young up and comer too. We worked well together and had a lot of video conferences to discuss various goals and prepare presentations for the executive team on where their allocated money was being spent. This was back when video conferencing was uncommon and frankly pretty dang cool. There was a single conference room in each city with the necessary equipment and we used it whenever it was available.
Our membership evolved over the years but the backgrounds included people who had immigrated from India, Australia, China, Egypt, Pakistan, Brazil and beyond. Our diversity extended to gender, age, the differently abled and represented all walks of life. As one of the few straight white males there was a bit of a learning curve for me to set aside my white privilege and incorporate all viewpoints. As I grew up in a biased household going to private schools that were predominantly white it was a whole new world for me. I hope my fellow council members remember me as open minded and flexible. I know I think back on them fondly and the experiences I had with the council still benefit me in my interactions to this day. I am still friends with a few folks from that time in my life and we chat occasionally to remember the good work we did and catch up on each others lives. At the end of a council members term they were awarded a plaque to commemorate their time. The plaque I received is still proudly displayed in my office.