Hi, my name is Steve and I’m from north Jersey.
I began working in the retail apparel industry out of college and it was predominantly a very safe environment for someone in the community. And, you know, I was surrounded by a lot of members of the LGBT community, a lot of women. It was very open and accepting industry, and I spent about 10 years in that industry and made the move into financial services, which was a little daunting at first when I – when I started to make the move.
When you change jobs, there’s a lot of different things that go through your head. I’m in a new industry. I have to meet new people. But now I’m changing industries and going into what most people would think is a very conservative industry. You know, I didn’t want to be open and not be myself, and then maybe, you know, be at risk of getting fired or things going on. Back then, I’d say 15 years ago, in the community it wasn’t as open and embracing as it was – that it is now.
I went in probably a little bit more uncomfortable than I would have in my previous role. You know, just a little bit more guarded as to who I was talking to and how it was telling things about myself. You know, when you have conversations at work and people are like, What did you do this weekend? and Who were you with? and things like that. It was a little bit more generic pronouns than using, you know, who I was actually with.
You know, it came – it came to a point where I was with a bunch of colleagues at a work event one day and one of them wanted to set me up with someone – a woman that they knew. I felt like I’d I’d gotten to know that person enough and I’d gotten to know the company enough that it was just time to tell them who I was. And when I told her it opened up a whole ‘nother conversation because, you know, it again – then she had family members that were part of the community and it just got us to connect on a different level.
You know I think that trigger point of telling her who I was helped us build a deeper relationship and it made it a safe place for me to then go and tell other people. Every day I felt more and more comfortable being who I was. And I’m not – I would say, you know, we have – there’s different ways of doing activism. I’m kind of a quiet activist. I go in through my actions and I feel like it’s almost the same thing with coming and being yourself in a work environment. You know, I kind of took it day by day and I took who I was and made a part of a conversation instead of making it a big announcement.
I went through many years of that organization and made a switch. And, you know, going through it, I was more confident and more comfortable with being who I was making the switch to a different organization at that point where I didn’t have to have that a-ha moment again and say, you know, This is who I am. I’m not telling everyone exactly who I am. I went in being who I was, talking about what I really did on the weekend, who I was with, and not having to hide anything. And by doing that gave me the opportunity to get more involved in our employee resource groups, our diversity councils, chamber events in the LGBT community. And that opportunity led me to build my career and to be able to start our LGBT business development program, where, now leveraging who I am has been able to help us – me as an individual build my career and us as an organization build who we are in the LGBT community
I look back on my career and I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t had that moment that told me it’s okay to be who you are, embrace who you are, leverage your differences to really make an impact every day and to build a community around who you are regardless of the industry you’re in. You know, we need to be trailblazers in our industries, and by having more people be who they are and be their authentic selves and be diverse and be open helps everyone else be comfortable with it.
We spend probably more time at work than with our family sometimes. And your work environment is such a, you know, it’s what drives you – it’s what gives you money, it’s what gives you – you know, keeps you going every day. And with the amount of time you’re spending there, if you’re not going to be your authentic self and be who you are, you’re not going to get the most of the corporation you’re working for, of the people you’re working with. By hiding who you are, you’re missing all of the great pieces of learning that you can get from everyone else. And it’s also just a great way to, you know, if you’re hiding something, you’re not gonna be performing at your top. You know, so by being who you are, letting people know who you are, and feeling comfortable, you’re really increasing your performance, increasing your opportunities of building yourself and finding, you know, some great friends and mentors and people in the community.