Importance of Diversity In and Outside the IAM Space

May 26th, 2021   |     |  culture and news, product & technology

Who are you? What makes you who you are? Do you belong where you are? Does the person nearest you? How do you know? How would you prove your identity? What do you do when your identity is challenged? These are questions we encounter in the identity and access management (IAM) space. In life, we expect to provide some proof of identification to gain some level of access - be it for employment, leasing or buying a residence, or to purchase a product with a credit card. Everywhere around us there are implicit and explicit requirements for identity. Within these requirements is a vast diversity of people and experience and the requirements should fluctuate to match.

I first encountered a diversity oversight early in my career when I couldn’t change the surname of an employee in a piece of key software. The database was designed for both the given and surname to be immutable. Hopefully, you can already see where this is an issue. If you can’t, I’ll elaborate - many women in the US and some other countries often take on their spouse’s name in some form. This limitation in this surname data field required any woman to either continue to use their unmarried name or have an entirely new account created in the database for them. I worked in an organization largely composed of women. I had to create a new account and migrate data every time someone returned from their honeymoon or from a divorce finalization. It was a frequent enough occurrence that I eventually wrote an automation script to handle the work. An oversight in the program design cost my employer time and resources to resolve - because whoever developed it didn’t understand that names are changeable - aka mutable.

When my partner and I married, we chose to hyphenate our surnames as a reminder of our two families merging. We chose to slightly alter our visible identities we share with the world. We’ve encountered a handful of technical systems where the hyphen is not supported - resulting in our last name being one of three options: with a hyphen, a space in place of the hyphen, and a string of both my and my partner’s surname with no separation of characters. I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I encounter a system that is equipped to deal with two surnames or hyphenated surnames, because it is also common in Latino culture to have two surnames. 

After our marriage, I attempted to get my partner lower-cost life and accident insurance through my college association before we traveled on our honeymoon. The insurance company couldn’t process it. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t. It was that their system had not yet caught up to the life affirming events of June 26, 2015 - when the US Supreme Court struck down all state laws banning same-sex marriage. You see, my partner and I are the same sex. The insurance company data fields were set to an immutable male and female sexed spousal configuration. They were an otherwise great insurance company, but they would have to expend extra time we didn’t have to implement workarounds to the limitation imposed by their technical system. As a result, they lost our business. Society had evolved, but their technology hadn’t.

Today, as our society becomes more globally connected, we are encountering more and more the absolutely critical need for diversity of experience in our system design process. What we see as immutable in our own individual microcosms may not in-fact be immutable. Previously immutable identity attributes like name and gender have become changeable as we increase the diversity of our experiences.

During my time at OneLogin, I’ve witnessed the diversity of our employees and customers grow which helps us improve the diversity in our systems. From expanding the ISO character sets we support in our front and back-end systems to the continuing expansion of our translated UI so that customers can more easily utilize their native languages —- our diversity of experience improves our value.

In this month of June, of LGBTQIA+ Pride, I marvel at how far we have evolved as a society because at every stage of societal change someone has challenged what we thought was unchangeable and instead said it’s only unchanging - not that it can’t or shouldn’t be changed. I hold many beliefs about identity - perhaps the most important is that it is at times incredibly fluid and transitory, yet there is always a tether to some trusted truth of who I am. You have it too —- that core of your identity that only you and those closest to you know - a small unchanging core inside a larger mutable identity shaped by life experiences. As for me, I am a spouse, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend, a mentor, an advisor, a software developer, a philosopher, a student, a teacher, the youngest of 7 siblings, a Gen-Xer, a queer non-binary member of the LGBTQIA+ community. My pronouns are she/her/they/them. I am OneLogin.

OneLogin blog author
About the Author

Nancy Lambert-Brown is a software engineer at OneLogin with a passion for solving complex problems. With more than 20 years of experience in both engineering and customer facing roles she’s a champion of holistic solutions that make it possible for customers to refocus on their mission rather than their IT infrastructure.

View all posts by Nancy Lambert-Brown

OneLogin blog author
About the Author

Nancy Lambert-Brown is a software engineer at OneLogin with a passion for solving complex problems. With more than 20 years of experience in both engineering and customer facing roles she’s a champion of holistic solutions that make it possible for customers to refocus on their mission rather than their IT infrastructure.

View all posts by Nancy Lambert-Brown

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