Coming Out on Common Ground

Showing up at work as your authentic self is something some people take for granted. For others, it is difficult but when given the opportunity through an inclusive environment, it is liberating for them and educational for their co-workers.

Five years ago, NYLPride, New York Life’s LGBT employee resource group (ERG) hosted “Coming Out Stories an event to provide a safe forum for courageous employees to share their personal coming out experiences. This inaugural event included five panelists – two lesbians, one bisexual, one transgender person, and one ally who spoke about her daughter coming out.

The experience shared between those in attendance was so powerful that this one-time event turned into an annual program held during PRIDE month. Each year, the panelists receive emails, phone calls and personal visits from those in attendance with genuine, heartfelt messages about their stories, thanking them for their courage and for providing them with a new perspective. The overwhelming support from the New York Life community is something panelists mention as a by-product of their participation.

Building Bridges of Understanding

Reinforcing New York Life’s support for diversity in its leadership positions and upper management, the 2014 panel was made up entirely of executive officers. This year’s 2015 panel focused on allies. The panelists included an ally who spoke of her nephew’s gender transitioning as a child. Joan McKinnon, one of the panelists stated, “These stories help us build bridges of understanding between the LGBT and straight communities by making ‘labels’ ‘human’.”  These authentic tales provided the motivation for employees in one local office to share their coming out stories by creating “Coming Out Stories” office billboards.

Inspired by the NYLPRIDE program, New York Life’s disability employee resource group, ENABLE, developed a coming out program in 2013 that featured employee presenters directly and indirectly impacted by disabilities. This panel, entitled “Beyond Disability,” created an open dialogue and inspired confidence in the presenters. Attendees gained a better understanding of how to be effective disability advocates. The following year, ENABLE partnered with the company’s veterans employee resource group, NYL-Vets, to shed light on experiences with disabilities that go unseen. This year’s program, ENABLE panelists spoke on how their disability is just one part of who they are. Maria Ricciardi said, “The employee panel discussion really proves that in our everyday lives it’s what we do that matters and not the disability we have.”

Additional ERGs are building on this concept and developing a forum for members to talk about their personal experience that will be included in their annual programming.  For example, the African American ERG recently launched its ongoing “Conversation Series” featuring diverse company leaders sharing their experiences on engagement, empowerment, career management and navigating corporate culture.

The stories that unfold with each panel demonstrate individual experiences are unique, empowering and can be helpful for others to hear. While these differences play an integral part in each of the storytellers’ lives, they do not define who they are. By looking beyond their differences, they are discovering we all stand on common ground.