As Jade Baranski left their recent briefing with the Air Force Chief of Staff, they reflected on how unconventional their situation was. Jade Baranski is the co-founder and CEO of Mobilize, a tech company heavily engaged in engineering products with the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to improve its innovation and improvement efforts.
Jade spent the previous decade as the owner of a digital agency. Eventually, however, they felt like the company had plateaued and wanted to get into something more impactful. This led Jade, and co-founder Jerry, to launch VISION under the Mobilize umbrella, a product within the Strategic Coordination System (SCS) that optimizes DoD innovation and improvement efforts.
Regardless of the next step in their career, an important part of Jade’s identity as a business owner is always being an out member of the LGBTQ+ community. They believe that showing up as your true self allows others to see that LGBTQ+ people are thriving, committed, and huge contributors within the business world. (Jade is the founder of the Queer Business Alliance and identifies as non-binary). With this in mind, a lasting collaboration with the DoD seemed unlikely, to say the least.
“With an active duty sibling serving back in 2001, I was really against the war, so much so that in high school, I hosted anti-war rallies,” Jade Baranski says. “But in working with the military, I’ve realized that going to war isn’t their goal either, it’s to stop wars from happening. By improving the ways our forces can innovate at speed, we’re working to keep American service members out of the line of fire.”
In 2018, they started the move from the digital agency to the tech world when they had an opportunity to purchase a cloud-driven product called “Mobilize US.” It was using the core features of that system that catapulted the team into launching VISION – its initial product in partnership with the United States Air Force.
“In the beginning, we were on the fence about working with the military,” Jade reflects. “Given the military’s history with the LGBTQ+ community and our very open identity as an LGBTQ+-owned company, we were hesitant about starting a long-term partnership.”
“But eventually, we thought, you know what? If we just run away the first time someone gets a pronoun wrong, we’re going to reaffirm many of the negative stereotypes that already exist. By committing to this collaboration, we’re actively making the military more diverse.”
A Shift in Perspective and Hunger for Diversity
There were some rough times in the early stages of working with the military. Mobilize team members were repeatedly misgendered, and there sometimes appeared to be a lack of regard for the identities of Jade and other team members.
Some of Mobilize’s staff felt pressure to “conservatize” their appearance for interactions with the military, something they didn’t feel they had to do in any other situation. This included covering tattoos, changing clothing styles, and even one transgender team member feeling the need to grow out his hair for events and presentations.
“A few months in, we hit a point where we had to seriously consider if this still made sense for us. We’re not people who get offended over being misgendered once or overreact to a single comment. But the overall culture was making it difficult for us to feel that we were welcomed and respected.”
About a year in, however, things began to change. Jade recalls a specific turning point in which a key stakeholder reached out to them about how they could address them professionally at an event while respecting their pronouns. Things needed to stay formal – this was still the military, the person explained – but that didn’t mean addressing them with gendered titles such as “Ms. or Mrs.” (Fun fact: the current best practice is Mx.)
And as Jade Baranski told General Dwayne Allvin, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, during their briefing in the nation’s capital:
“The best is yet to come.”
Jade and Mobilize believe that respect is built through representation. This was showcased beautifully at a recent convention where the Air Force Diversity team was set up handing out pronoun buttons and discussing their commitment and actions being taken to bring inclusivity to the forefront.
Overcoming a History of Discrimination
As we reflect on the early successes of our collaboration, we’re left to wonder how many other queer minds have been passed over by the military through the years.
Jade knows their partnership will continue to open new pathways for queer people to find a place within the national security community. They are committed that this doesn’t equate to tolerance – it embodies respect.
“I dislike the word tolerance,” Jade Baranski says. “No human wants to be tolerated; they want to be heard, engaged, and appreciated.”
“That was the beginning of a shift. People started using the product we built and respecting us professionally. Eventually, that extended to respecting our identities and a curiosity to learn. We’ve since realized the military is ready for more diverse teams and voices.”
It’s important to Jade and co-founder Jerry Ramey that Mobilize isn’t just known as an LGBTQ+-owned company. While that identity is an important piece of the culture, they are, first and foremost, focused on delivering exceptional products that improve mission readiness.
So far, they’ve done just that. In the past year, VISION has onboarded over 2,000 innovation and improvement initiatives. The platform has offered deep and accurate data insights, allowed members to work easily with teams in different branches, and enabled projects to scale at a groundbreaking rate.
Jade BaranskiCEO, Mobilize
"For us, the goal of working in this space was never to grow an agenda; it was to showcase our commitment to excellence and develop products that deliver value.
In turn, we knew that our presence would create a spark that continues the amplification of diversity and inclusion"