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What it Means to be Out at Work

Image: Courtesy PNC

For the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community, there is no shortage of both challenges and triumphs. While many states still do not offer LGBTQ+ employees legal protection against discrimination, many others do, and a growing number of companies are voluntarily adopting policies that create diverse and inclusive workplace cultures.

Seven PNC employees who identify with the LGBTQ+ community discussed personal and professional experiences. Participants included (listed alphabetically by last name):

  • Ashley Brundage, manager, Regional Diversity & Inclusion Councils (Tampa, Fla.)
  • Kristin Hanson, branch manager, Retail Banking (Seymour, Ind.)
  • Monique Mehring, market operation manager, Sales Service and Distribution Operations (Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland)
  • Julie Rose, senior quality analyst, Enterprise Fraud Management (Louisville, Ky.)
  • Paul Victor Rowe, branch manager, Retail Banking and co-lead of the Louisville Diversity & Inclusion Regional Council (Louisville, Ky.)
  • Josh Stewart, director, Talent Programs & Accessibility (Pittsburgh)
  • Justin Tyner, branch sales & service representative, Retail (Birmingham, Ala.)
Equality at Work
If you’re planning to advocate for LGBTQ+ fairness at work, the Human Rights Campaign recommends:
* Identify Allies: Who in your organization will be supportive and who will not?
* Build Support: Talk to your supervisor and human resources
* Deliver Your Proposal: Meet with the person responsible for employee policies
* Be persistent, professional and mindful of your position in the organization

They shared stories from past employers and PNC, noting the company promotes an environment where employees are valued for their strengths and are comfortable being themselves. Many are proud that PNC is a corporate sponsor of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), and that the company signed on as a business for equality on the Equality Act that passed the House of Representatives in May 2019. Recognized by the HRC as a 2019 Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality, the company also offers PNC Proud, an employee business resource group that allows LGBTQ+ employees and allies to network, to learn from one another and to impact LGBTQ+ stakeholders across PNC’s footprint.

POV: What was your experience coming out at work?

Brundage: As a transgender woman, every moment of every day is a coming out moment for me. It’s me, full-force, every day, all day. It’s quite a task, but it’s important for me to be comfortable, because so many people don’t think they can be their true, authentic self.

Mehring: I began to understand that I could not have genuine relationships with my co-workers if I was not willing to be my authentic self. So I didn’t have a coming out day, there was no declaration. Instead, I simply changed the way I spoke. I started saying “my wife” instead of “my significant other”. There were moments that were tough, but it was also extremely liberating. I didn’t realize how taxing it was to hide that part of myself until I stopped hiding.

Tyner: I wouldn’t really say that I came out at work per se. Upon introducing myself to the team on my first day, I shared a little bit about myself; one of the things being that I have a husband. They were extremely welcoming and made me feel included and comfortable being myself.

Rose: Coming out at work now is a real non-issue at this point as PNC has made the environment feel safe. My wife and I recently adopted our now 9-year-old daughter, and having the parental leave option as adoptive parents helped us tremendously. Both my manager and co-workers have been very supportive. I feel a genuine part of a team in my new role even though we are scattered about the PNC footprint.

POV: Did your professional experience change?

Mehring: Yes, mostly for the good. I find that I am able to focus on my work and I am more productive. I no longer waste valuable time or energy making sure people don’t find out. Also, the people I work with no longer waste their time gossiping about whether or not I’m a lesbian, they simply know that I am. Most importantly, I now also have the opportunity to advocate for people. I would never want my LGBTQ+ coworkers to experience the fear I felt for the first 18 years of my career, and now we have a platform through our Diversity & Inclusion Councils and internal groups to have a voice and to support one another.

Stewart: At PNC, we’re lucky to be in a place where the decision to be out, or to not be out at work is our own and respected. In cultures not like PNC – ones that aren’t LGBTQ+ inclusive, the decision not to be out is often motivated by fear and not personal-choice. Bringing your “whole self to work” means just that – the ability to decide and navigate the decision to be out on your own terms. Inclusion is critical for productivity and engagement.

Tyner: My professional experience has not changed. Professionally, I pride myself on the skills and talents that I possess, which makes me an asset to our team. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community plays an integral part in me being me, but it, alongside my professionalism, are just two of many components of my overall make-up.    

POV: How have you dealt with challenges?

Mehring: There are still quite a few people in this world that simply do not like me because of who I love. I try not to let it bother me because I know that my company has my back. I have from time to time found the courage to ask people to get to know me before they judge me. I express that by working together with people from different backgrounds with differing views we can find better solutions.

Tyner: Moving to and living in the south as a gay black man can be a challenge in and of itself. Naturally, the south isn’t as progressive as other major cities, which are brimming with people from all walks of life. I have had many customers presume that I am married to a woman when they see my ring. I just smile and politely let them know I have a husband. I don’t expect everyone to understand or be tolerant – nor is it my job to make them; but I feel it is important that I stand in and honor my truth. I also welcome any opportunity to explain, educate or inform those who are open to learning and understanding.

Stewart: Along the way in my career, there have been challenges – not overt, scary ones, but instances where people don’t realize the impact of what they say. My mantra is “meet someone where they are.” Don’t immediately assume ill-intent, it’s rarely the case. While still caring for yourself and your own well-being, take the time to understand how someone arrived at their thoughts, opinions and behaviors first. Have a meeting, get closer to them and say, “This is what I heard or observed, this is how it impacted me.” There will always be challenges, but it’s all in how you meet those challenges.

Rowe: You’re not going to change someone’s belief systems, but you can help them understand the effects of their words or actions, and over time, you can change how they treat people. One of the things I did here at PNC to help all of us overcome these challenges was establish a local chapter of the PNC Proud employee group. I knew that was a space where I could make a difference for my peers and me, as well as for younger folks. Now we have a community where we can support each other. We even have parents with LGBTQ+ children who are joining our group to have a place to talk about their families.

POV: PNC cites diversity and inclusion among its values. What does that mean to you?

Tyner: The older I become, the more I have grown to understand how important it is to work and invest your time into a company that shares your personal beliefs and values. PNC prides itself on being inclusive and diverse, and as an employee, I can definitely attest to that. PNC promotes and sustains a sense of community and family. In my short time here, I have had the privilege of meeting so many different people from all walks of life. Diversity and inclusion means being culturally competent and tolerant to those around us who appear “different” and being open to understanding and learning from those differences opposed to allowing them to separate and divide us.

Stewart: It’s about putting the right people in the right roles doing the right work so we can remain competitive, continue to innovate and challenge each other to think bigger. There may be other companies that move faster than we do in this conversation, but our message, our strategy, is more deliberate and authentic than what I’ve experienced elsewhere.

Brundage: It means a lot to me that PNC celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride. To me, it is a way to honor the history of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Stonewall began 50 years ago when a group of LGBTQ+ people were led by transgender women of color who decided they had enough violence and discrimination. In the following 50 years many things have changed but some things are still as bad as that fateful day. This is why I don’t stay silent, this is why I march in the Pride Parade every year with my friends and family, which includes my wife of 17 years, Whitney, and my two sons Bryce, 14 and Blake, 12.

Rowe: Working at PNC today it is clear; inclusion is key to both our employees and the company’s success. It is also gratifying to see PNC play an important role on the larger stage, signing onto the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Coalition to help ensure LGBTQ+ equality in workplaces throughout Kentucky, as well as The Equality Act, to ensure LGBTQ+ equality in workplaces across America.

Hanson: The messages and actions from PNC’s leadership about the importance of inclusion make PNC a safe place for us. My wife works for another company, and in the last nine years has never mentioned to her coworkers that she is a lesbian or that she has a wife. It’s very upsetting that she can’t do that, and unfortunately there are a lot of places where that’s the case.

Mehring: I believe with all my heart that our company doesn’t simply have diversity and inclusion as a stated value, but we live it, it’s becoming a part of our DNA. This doesn’t mean we are all walking through a field of daisies with nothing but love in our hearts.  But it does mean that when my feet hit the ground and I start my day, I do so with the support of my company and its leaders to be the very best possible version of me.