In honor of Pride Month, we hosted Showing Up: Identities in STEM, a fireside chat with Cade Hildreth (they/them), founder of BioInformant.com, the world’s largest publisher of stem cell industry news. Led by our Manager of Scientific Support, Duncan MacKenzie (he/him), the discussion delved into Cade’s experiences, successes, and challenges as a non-binary person navigating the STEM world.
As a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, BenchSci is committed to learning about, recognizing, and amplifying the voices and accomplishments of people with diverse lived experiences. Our Showing Up event series gives us opportunities to strengthen our understanding of how our unique personal realities shape how we show up at work.
We asked Cade about how they got involved with STEM, what Pride means to them, and how we can create workplaces that celebrate everyone’s unique identities.
DM: How did you get involved with STEM?
CH: As a kid, my mom had a real love of nature, and I lived by a pond, so I spent my entire childhood exploring. I had a fascination with science. So, unsurprisingly, when I got into college, I studied biology and chemistry at Dartmouth and at Smith College, and then I did a Master’s degree at Georgetown University in biotechnology. This was back when biotechnology was a fairly new field in which to get an advanced degree.
Because of that experience, I worked briefly at a biotech start-up in the greater DC area, where I basically ran the entire business development department. While there, I did an enormous amount of research and reporting on market opportunities, and I found I had a real knack, not only for biotech but also for trends, numbers, and market predictions. I realized that I like doing these reports and that I could publish and sell them to different companies, and that was the origin of BioInformant.
DM: How has your queer identity helped or hindered you in your career?
CH: That’s an incredibly profound question because it has dramatically shaped my life. When I started BioInformant, I knew I needed to be the face of the business because people want to do business with someone they know and trust. But, being queer, that was really scary, and I wondered, 'can I do this successfully.'
To overcome my fear, I started practicing a concept called 'reasoning from first principles.' Most people reason based on groupthink; meaning, looking at what other people are doing and building off of that. In contrast, reasoning by first principles means that you get rid of all assumptions you have and build back from the base up as if you’re a newborn baby that has no information aside from your own real-world observation and experiences.
When I used this reasoning to test how the market responded to me as an LGBTQ+ person, it ended up not just being OK, but a massive asset.
People would recognize me at conferences because I don’t look like everyone else and tell me about how they read my site or use my products. People would line up for photos and selfies after I talked. Sometimes, while waiting in line to meet me, people would use different gendered pronouns for me, one after the other, even after hearing each other. At first, it stressed me out because I worried about that disparity coming up if those people went out to lunch together, but I realized ‘that’s not my responsibility; they’ll figure it out.’ And they always did. Again, reasoning from first principles and observing what was happening—instead of assuming what would happen—my differences were an advantage, and my company, revenue, and authority were growing. It was freeing for me to not try to control other people’s experiences; it let me enjoy my own.
I’m adding value to people’s lives and being authentic in who I am, so I stopped worrying about other people’s reactions. I’m not in the other person’s body to experience how they experience me. What I do experience is my reaction to their reaction. If I can keep my reaction positive and be a safe space for myself, then I can let others have their own experiences, no matter what they are, without it affecting me.
What’s been really beautiful about being authentically who I am at BioInformant is I think it’s a gift to people. I think they have an extra level of trust because they know authentically who I am; no part of me is hidden. They are clear on who I am as a person and business owner.
Investing in real estate as a secondary business was also extremely liberating because, in addition to BioInformant, I have streams of income coming in from that. In real estate, no one cares who you are if you can close the deal.
DM: If you could do it all over again, what if anything would you do differently?
CH: I’d do a lot of things sooner and with less fear. Self-confidence is a great gift you can give yourself, and it’s a lifelong process. A huge part of confidence is knowing you can be a safe space for yourself. My goal is always to be a safe space for myself and be kind to myself.
So, I would have learned to be a safe space for myself sooner, using self-talk: ‘I’m here with you. You matter. I’m present. We’re safe.’
I would also have been visible sooner instead of following society’s messaging to fit in. Outstanding means to ‘stand out.’ Remarkable means to ‘be worthy of remark.’ Phenomenal means to ‘be a rarity or phenomenon.’ And I would have built my personal brand sooner, talking about my life and all aspects of my identity. I also enjoy mentoring, helping people step into their own power and authenticity, so I would have done that sooner.
DM: I’ve been thinking about this and showing up at work and reflecting on my own experience. When I started at BenchSci, I had to think about how I wanted to show up to work and how I wanted my colleagues to see me. I had to decide who I was comfortable with being; everyone gets to decide this for themselves.
CH: It’s an emotional burden to have shame and suppress a part of yourself. There is no perfect time, and I encourage people to take all the time they need. Not all environments are equally safe. But, if or when you do take this risk, you might be freeing yourself from a larger burden. I would also encourage people to make sure their fears are their own and not someone else’s. When you examine your fears, you will often find they were ‘gifted’ to you by your parent, sibling, partner, or someone else you know. In some cases, you’ll notice that their fears have to do with past environments that you’re no longer in. It is often their fear; it didn’t originate in you. When you realize this, you can release it.
DM: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to become an ally but is afraid of getting it wrong?
CH: Everything starts with taking a chance. It is a little bit risky, and it’s totally worth it—both are true. One of the first things I would say is to do it and simply be receptive to feedback. Receptivity is a huge part of it, and that can free you up from anything. When you get feedback as an ally just say, ‘thanks, I’m so excited to become a better ally. I really appreciate the input.’ It’s that simple if you make a mistake.
Second of all, I think that people can sense intention. Even if someone says something that isn’t worded the way I would’ve worded it, but their intention is just really pure—that energy, the sub-communication, the tonality— it always comes through. I can always sense when someone is authentically trying, and that to me is way more important.
The third thing is that, more often than not, you will get it correct, and the person is just going to be pleasantly surprised.
DM: How do you celebrate Pride?
CH: One of my favorite ways to celebrate Pride is by helping people. It’s intensely satisfying to engage with youth and parents that are exploring this topic, and I enjoy being an example of a queer, nonbinary adult who is living a great life. One thing parents can do for their kids more than anything else is to not bring their fear into the equation. As a parent, you want to be a safe space for your child at all times.
Another way I celebrate Pride is by being authentically who I am and doing that on a visible platform. This talk is special to me because not often am I asked to talk about how my personal identity and science intersect.
DM: One thing I’ve had difficulty explaining to people outside of the LGBTQ+ community is showing up at Pride and seeing all of a sudden I’m in a crowd of people that have a shared experience that until that moment was a point of isolation, and now was a point of inclusion. That moment has stayed with me.
CH: That’s incredibly powerful, and it happens to many people through finding their community and their chosen family. Pride to me is also about not suppressing parts of myself. A collaborator once said to me, ‘people have to take me whole,’ and that’s something I’ve decided I want to embody too. So, Pride to me is about having all facets of my identity be unified and able to be shared with the world.
DM: How can allies step up in the right way at work - what is missing in the corporate world that needs to be addressed by allies?
CH: I think what we’re doing right here is fantastic, it’s creating opportunities and programs where different identities can be celebrated instead of suppressed, and that’s really important. Asking about people’s experiences when you’re outside of structured environments, like seeing someone in the hallway, is a great way to be an ally too.
To ask about someone’s lived experience, about what it’s been like being LGBTQ+ or being non-binary, those questions are supportive. Having conversations around pronouns at the workplace or sharing your pronouns are also easy steps to take. To me, an ally is someone who is willing to look at the world beyond their own lived experience and stand up as a vocal advocate for people who experience it differently. This is especially important for groups that might not have your access or privilege.
We are thankful to Cade Hildreth for sharing their story with us. You can watch the full conversation below.