Austin S. Lin: Featured LGBTQ+ Ally

AIChE presents the most recent post in this series featuring LGBTQ+ engineers and their allies as part of an ongoing effort to share stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Other related efforts include the LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Engineering (Workshop & Panel), held at the 2019 Annual Meeting, leadership receptions for LGBTQ+ members and allies, as well as Safe Zone LGBTQ+ Ally Training workshops. 

All aforementioned initiatives are supported by the AIChE Foundation's Doing a World of Good Campaign. In this installment of our series, we interviewed Austin S. Lin, who shared his story as an LGBTQ+ ally and chair of the AIChE Management Division.

Where did you complete your chemical engineering education?

I received my BS in Chemical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

How many years have you been a member of AIChE?

I have been a member of AIChE for 12 years.

Tell us a bit about your personal life.

I was born and raised in Tennessee and grew up in a working class family. Throughout my career I moved up and down the East Coast with stints in New England and New York City. I later relocated to San Francisco where I now live with my wife and daughter. I chose my college as an undergrad because of the strength of its creative writing and English programs, but later switched my major to chemical engineering.

Today, writing still remains a super important part of my life. I’m a competitive athlete (competitive being a relative term) and I try my best to not finish in last place when competing in fencing, climbing, or archery. I love AIChE especially because of the people. AIChE events, from Annual Meetings to local section programs, are places where I get to  interact with some amazing colleagues.

I’ve shared Caribbean food in the middle of thunderstorms while planning conference sessions; I’ve sat in dingy hotel bars while discussing career development slides for students with co-presenters; I’ve planned local section budgets over pizza and karaoke. These experiences have been part of why the AIChE community has been so important to me. 

Tell us a bit about your job and your job responsibilities. What’s a typical day at work?

About one mile away from the geographic center of San Francisco stands Sutro Tower, a three-pronged radio transmission antenna that’s almost 1,000 feet high. From its neighboring hills of Twin Peaks, the view of San Francisco is all encompassing, from the Golden Gate Bridge, to Alcatraz, to the Bay Bridge and the skyscrapers of downtown and the Pacific Ocean just beyond it all.

I work in Silicon Valley and each day I head to the office, seeing Sutro Tower against this shimmering cityscape first thing in the morning never gets any less breathtaking to behold and continues to make me grateful. I’ve really enjoyed my involvement with the AIChE Management Division because like Sutro Tower at the center of the city, management and leadership practices are at the center of any well-executed technical discipline. 

San Francisco is definitely facing its own challenges in equity and representation, but leadership can come from anywhere, from grassroots efforts in addition to top-down changes. Supporting "leadership from anywhere" regardless of title, role or position, is part of what the Management Division is trying to promote.

An executive manager is tasked with leading people — all people — towards a common objective. You are simply limiting yourself as a leader when you exclude certain groups from your team for any reason other than talent, expertise, and ability. One goal we have in the Management Division is to create an educational space where LGBTQIA+ managers and managers of LGBTQIA+ employees can share and educate other leaders on the challenges they face.

Engineers are part of the societal fabric that bridge amazing ideas to real world impact. Sharing a good idea with anyone doesn’t take much effort, but having hundreds or thousands of other people get excited about your idea, follow your vision, and offer to help make it a reality is pretty amazing. That’s part of what real leadership is about.

In a typical Management Division meeting, we are now broadening our scope. In addition to planning great conference topics on management, we’re looking for ways to better articulate what it means to serve AIChE members who are looking to grow their leadership skills at all levels.

A critical theme for us in this space is diversity, equity, and inclusion.We believe so much that being a leader doesn’t require “manager” or <insert fancy executive title> to appear in your email signature. The source of such leadership comes from everywhere and from everyone.

For LGBTQIA+ engineers and managers of LGBTQIA+ engineers — as well as those living with the intersectionality of both — the Management Division wants to be a supportive resource for that leadership growth.

Are there examples where you were able to advocate as an ally in a way that was especially effective in educating bystanders (even if it might not have changed the mind of a person you needed to challenge)?

A common response from non-allies (or not-yet-allies as I’d like to consider them) is about making special accommodations or “lowering the bar” whenever any diversity initiative is proposed. I have heard this in the context of so many diversity and inclusion programs. In reality, this has nothing to do with changing standards, but making sure all people have a fair shot at aspiring to those standards. In cases like these, understanding the workplace challenges, discrimination, and biases that LGBTQIA+ engineers face is an incredibly important ability to have for any leader caring about underrepresented groups.

There’s this Fast Company article from a few years ago that points to strong emotional intelligence (EQ) as being a bigger factor to professional success than IQ and work experience. The study covered 20,000 people in Fortune 100 companies, so the dataset was pretty major. Being an empathetic and supportive ally of the LQBTQIA+ community is such an important area to exercise one’s EQ.

An executive manager is tasked with leading people — all people — towards a common objective. You are simply limiting yourself as a leader when you exclude certain groups from your team for any reason other than talent, expertise, and ability. One goal we have in the Management Division is to create an educational space where LGBTQIA+ managers and managers of LGBTQIA+ employees can share and educate other leaders on the challenges they face.

From this, we hope to produce some standardized guidance to help the community thrive under any professional condition, bust some biases, and see identity as an accelerator of one’s personal chemical engineering capabilities for the individual, the team, and the entire organization.

By establishing a set of recommended best practices for all leaders, regardless of how they identify, we hope to do our part in making all workplaces successful on account of their diversity and inclusiveness. Like the view from Sutro tower, seeing all elements together as one landscape to form an inspiring environment is something all great leaders aspire to accomplish; and the view is amazing.

Join AIChE's LGBTQ+ & Allies Online Community

This community is open to professional AIChE members who are LGBTQ+ and allies. Topics of discussion will include the ongoing development of LGBTQ+ initiatives at AIChE, plus issues concerning, and opportunities for, LGBTQ+ chemical engineering professionals.

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Interested in helping?

Are you an LGBTQ+ chemical engineer and AIChE member interested in sharing your story to help create awareness around diversity and inclusion? Are you an LGBTQ+ ally interested in helping with diversity and inclusion efforts? Send us a note at chenected@aiche.org with the subject "Diversity and Inclusion."