Strength in Differences

March 11, 2015


Adobe employees come from many different worlds, creating a mosaic of experiences that makes the company stronger.

To stay competitive in the lightning-fast world of technology, organizations have to innovate constantly. But innovation gets pretty difficult when everybody comes from the same background. When an organization lacks diversity of experience, who will introduce a new perspective? Who will challenge the status quo? Nobody. And nothing will change.

Companies that prize innovation must also prize diversity, because a richness of perspective is what moves the world forward. That’s why, at Adobe, everybody gets to own a piece of the vision. You never know whose past will enable them to see the future most clearly.

Andres G., Senior computer scientist

Ten years ago, Andres G. was working for a company that made screen readers for the blind. Screen reading software was an important breakthrough for the blind, but a lot of problems held it back. To begin with, the universal standard file format for document exchange—Adobe PDF—wasn’t terribly accessible. So Andres decided to change that by going to work for Adobe instead.

Why was he the right person for the job? Because he was also the target customer.

“I’m totally blind, so I knew the problems that blind users were having with PDF first-hand,” Andres says. “It all came together when this opportunity to work with Adobe presented itself. I joined to help make Acrobat and PDF more accessible. I feel very fortunate that I can bring this unique perspective to our development team and help put the needs of that group of our customers—people with disabilities—in the forefront.”

He and the rest of his team succeeded. Ten years later, Adobe Acrobat is the gold standard for creating PDFs that are accessible to people with blindness, low vision, or mobility impairments.

Andres, who works out of his home office in North Carolina, recalls a time when he was working in the San Jose office and having to cross a major downtown intersection every day. Adobe pushed the city to install a beeping traffic signal to make the intersection safer for the visually impaired.

“I’ve never had support from managers and upper management like I’ve had here at Adobe,” Andres says. “Here, I’ve never had a manager tell me, ‘We can’t do that.’ They go the extra mile to make sure employees have what they need.”

Rani M., Director of social support delivery operations

Rani M. was born in New Jersey with cerebral palsy. Her parents turned to Western medicine to help their daughter overcome her condition, but they also wanted her to be exposed to yoga and Ayurvedic massage. So when she was 90 days old, she went to India to live with her grandmother.

“I have very magical childhood memories,” Rani says. “Yes, I’ve had 18 surgeries and lots of deep tissue treatments that were quite painful. But those thoughts are completely masked by all the fun and lightness and beauty and magic of growing up with lots of loving people around me.”

Rani returned to the States when she was 5 but continued annual trips to India for massage treatments. All the while, she wasn’t allowed to slow down.

“I was taught to push through anything, and that was a mandate,” Rani says. “I could never whine—that wasn’t even in the realm of possibility.”

At the age of 19, she decided to volunteer in India and just happened to find herself working for one of the most famous humanitarians of all time: Mother Teresa.

For a year, she worked to help the sick and elderly die with dignity—an experience that would leave quite a mark on such a young person. And after Mother Teresa convinced her not to become a nun—but instead to become a leader and make money that she could use to influence the causes she cared about—Rani returned to the States and went to business school.

“Talk about defining moments in your life,” Rani mentions. “I can still see her face and hear my heart pounding in my chest.”

Today, she is a leader in customer care, setting the tone for the way customers will perceive Adobe when they call for support. From her remarkable life experiences, she says she has learned the value of storytelling, and she now uses that skill to advocate on behalf of customers.And the most amazing thing, she says, is that the company responds nimbly and empowers her to do the right thing in her organization.

“It doesn’t seem like anything is impossible here at Adobe,” Rani says. “I love that because that’s the basic tenet of how I grew up.”

Koji Y., Business solutions manager for e-commerce

Koji Y. joined Adobe when his former employer, Macromedia, was acquired. He took on an informal role in the company’s LGBT community, helping to organize events and provide support. He always felt that the company was an inclusive place, but he got a surprise one day in 2010 when he was approached by a group working on a special company project: Adobe’s It Gets Better video.

The It Gets Better movement swept the world in 2009 and 2010 in the wake of several heartbreaking suicides by gay teens. To show young gay people that their lives wouldn’t always be this fraught with pain, thousands from the LGBT community around the world posted videos of their stories to YouTube. The idea was to reach through the ether and speak to the child who needed to hear the message: things will get better—so much better—and you don’t want to miss the incredible life that’s waiting for you.

Most of the videos were created by individuals. But some companies decided the issue was so important that they wanted to speak in a unified way.

“Everyone at Adobe—even the executives—supported it,” Koji says. “It meant a lot that the company really cared about us and the talents that we bring.”

The final video would feature many LGBT Adobe employees representing both themselves and Adobe, and the producers wanted Koji to appear. He said yes.

And when the cameras started rolling, Koji shared powerful wisdom from his own struggles and ultimate self-acceptance. Right away, the feedback was uplifting.

Koji says he viewed the video as a strong message of support not just to young people around the world who might be struggling, but also to Adobe’s own workforce. The message, Koji says, is that the company wants to fill its halls with people who have different experiences and to give them all the respect they deserve.

“I went to the cafeteria and people came and said, ‘I saw you in the video!’,” Koji remembers fondly. “I was very surprised that people outside the LGBT community actually watched those videos and gave me feedback like that. It was very nice to see.”

“We see so many different kinds of people at Adobe, and that’s really wonderful,” Koji continues. “The company reaches out to folks who have talent, regardless of who their significant other is or how they look. You have purple hair? Great. I think that’s the great thing about Adobe.”

Cover photo by Todd Burke (Adobe photographer)