PEOPLE OFTEN DESCRIBE ME AS: The person that cracks himself up. A QUALITY ABOUT A PERSON THAT CATCHES MY ATTENTION: Diction. SOMETHING PEOPLE DON'T USUALLY KNOW ABOUT ME: I’m an Eagle Scout. SOMEONE I ADMIRE: Dr. Russ Harris.
Embracing diversity begins from the top
DISRUPTING MORE THAN JUST INDUSTRIES. At Roundtrip, a marketplace for healthcare transportation, workforce diversity is a priority and Mark Switaj, CEO and co-founder, believes that it must first be reflected in the company’s leadership for it to work. “It starts with me and the board. We were vocal from the beginning on our position on diversity,” Mark says. From hiring, to the creation of a diversity and inclusion committee, to things as simple as giving shout outs to employees who do something that celebrates Rondtrip’s values, being inclusive permeates the company culture.
But Roundtrip seeks to change more than just its target industry; it wants to shake up workplace cultural norms. It is all too common for companies to preach inclusivity yet fail to live it, Mark says. He recalls a client meeting, where even though the client talked about embracing diversity, their team was all white males in their 40s and 50s. Even if their company truly had diverse talent, their team provided the optics of a homogeneous workforce. “Unfortunately this is very common in the healthcare industry, as well as around the world. I wondered how they perceived us; did they perhaps see a group that didn’t represent them?”
AVOIDING PAST MISTAKES. The turning point for understanding the importance of embracing diversity was when Mark started becoming more vocal about his sexual identity at a previous workplace, which turned out poorly. He had gotten to a senior position in the company and started opening up about his personal life, when he was released with no reason given. “It seemed unlikely to be performance-related, and today I still don’t know if being let go was related to me being more open about my identity. But one thing is for certain is that I don’t want others to experience this same thing that I had.”
Anyone can start companies, but being an entrepreneur is knowing where to find strength. Companies can be much stronger when its people can be genuine to themselves and their coworkers, Mark says. “The majority of my career I was led to believe that you can’t be successful if you don’t meet the cookie-cutter criteria set out before you, but I learned from organizations such as Gaingels and from setting up my own company that is not the case.”
People will find moments where they fear their careers might be at risk for being truthful to themselves. “I lost my job, but did I lose my career? Maybe not.” Instead of being upset, he took his release as an opportunity to learn and start new experiences—ones where he didn’t need to hide himself.
“I’m happier now than I’ve ever been with my previous jobs. My relationship with my family and partner has been stronger than its ever been,” Mark says. Staying closeted professionally might have spelled more money, but at what cost? When he started opening up to other people, he found that people also started opening up to him, and that made him realize he was not alone.