By Ty Simonton, Advisor, Incentive Strategy
Being your authentic self – being true to yourself publicly and privately – can be difficult, especially when you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community. That was especially true for me when I joined Cardinal Health in March 2020. Throughout that year, as our world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and a reckoning of social injustices, my work life and my personal life felt completely intertwined. And in hindsight, I have realized that coming to Cardinal Health was a pivotal moment for me, making it easier to be more authentic.
There was one specific moment when I realized that the culture is something special here. It was during an all-employee town hall meeting, when Emily Gallo, senior vice president and general manager of Cardinal Health’s OptiFrieght® Logistics and co-chair of our PROUD employee resource group (ERG), spoke about bringing your full self to work. She described some of the difficulties that can arise on a daily basis for LGBTQ+ employees. Her example was centered around a Monday morning team huddle when her team comes together to banter about what they did over the weekend.
Such casual conversations can be tricky for LGBTQ+ employees, Gallo said. Sometimes you feel like you have to come out again and again, as people make assumptions about the gender of your partner. She said that sometimes, those in the LGBTQ+ community subconsciously or consciously omit details or pronouns from our daily conversations, both to safeguard ourselves, and to make others feel more comfortable.
This type of codeswitching is not something I was aware of at the time. In fact, I didn’t even know that the term “codeswitching” existed, but Gallo’s remarks really resonated with me and my own personal experiences – I felt seen. Taking this a step further, I admired her bravery and vulnerability to speak up for those of us who may not have felt comfortable sharing our own experiences.
As a gay man navigating through life, I always feel a little self-doubt just for being gay. But when Gallo shared her stories so publicly, she helped create visibility. She allowed me to see others like me, those with similar struggles or experiences.
A couple of months later, I helped cultivate a grassroots employee group called New Perspectives, with the goals of elevating, engaging, and enlightening colleagues on social issues that have not generally been discussed in the workplace. I also became the PROUD ERG’s marketing co-chair. I found myself in a position where I was open about my identity.
This was something scary, but also quite liberating all at the same time. Ironically, I soon began to feel an inauthenticity: I was bringing my full self to work, but not finding this level of comfort at home in my own personal life. Being inspired by my peers and colleagues as they shared their personal stories through New Perspectives and in PROUD meetings, I felt the need to flip the script – I felt heard.
Learning to be vulnerable in placing myself in these diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) experiences has afforded me the opportunity to grow into the person I want to become. And, just this past November, I took a leap of faith and came out to my extended family. You may imagine my fear and longing for acceptance, but it was what I needed to do to continue being an authentic leader – and being true to myself and those that I care most about. I am happy to report that my family showed compassion and unwavering support in hearing from me about my identity. I recognize that this is not always the case for members of our community, but I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to finally be me.
Last year, our PROUD ERG set the foundation of our journey toward increased representation of minority communities within the LGBTQ+ community: We decided to move away from the traditional Pride flag, and to instead use the Progress flag. The Progress flag incorporates the representation of marginalized communities; its design depicts an arrow shape to illustrate the forward movement and progress that is still needed within our community. The Progress flag also helps to shine a light on communities that have often been underrepresented and helps elevate their voices. I felt proud.
Now, in my second year as the PROUD ERG marketing co-chair, I am excited to announce we will be raising the Progress flag at our corporate headquarters for the first time this month. This helps set the tone for our Pride theme, which does not last this one month, but throughout the year. This year’s theme evolved not only from my own personal journey, but out of the stories I have heard from so many of my colleagues. That theme is: Be Seen. Be Heard. Be PROUD.
Be seen – in finding comfort in the uncomfortable and giving yourself the space to be you.
Be heard – tell your story and invite others in to learn. You will likely find commonalities you would not have otherwise thought existed.
Be proud of yourself – no matter where you are in your journey, celebrate all you have accomplished and where you are going. In addition, recognize that every individual is on their own journey – whether it is staying “in the closet,” exploring their gender expression, or being firm and comfortable in who they are – and everywhere in between.
We have made great strides in recognizing LGBTQ+ rights with the support of our allies, but we still have a long road ahead. I recognize that as a white, gay male, I have a privileged position in that visibility, and I want more than anything to help elevate the voices of the marginalized members and those in the intersectionalities of our community who deserve equitable visibility.
I am proud to say at Cardinal Health, we celebrate you just as you are. We strive to create a work culture where you can feel safe, seen, supported, and empowered to bring 100% of yourself into the workplace. This Pride month, I hope to inspire change and allyship as we progress as an LGBTQ+ and ally community – because we all belong.
I am truly humbled to be a part of such an inclusive organization. Cardinal Health not only talks the talk when it comes to DE&I, but walks the walk. It is an honor to directly contribute to driving our culture forward to empower employees to bring their full selves to work every day.