What it Means to be Out at Work

Six of PNC’s LGBTQ employees share what it means to be “out” at work along with the challenges – and accomplishments – that are part of their jobs.

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. 

In a roundtable discussion, six PNC employees with 2-13 years at the company discussed personal and professional experiences, including their challenges and triumphs, as part of the LGBTQ community. Participants included (listed alphabetically):

  • Ashley Brundage, inclusion consultant, Diversity & Inclusion (Tampa, Fla.)
  • Josh Stewart, senior learning manager, PNC University (Pittsburgh)
  • Julie Rose, investigations senior analyst, Enterprise Fraud Resolution (Louisville, Ky.)
  • Kristin Hanson, branch manager, Retail Banking (New Albany, Ind.)
  • Michael Rodriguez, banking advisor, Wealth Management (Charlotte, N.C.)
  • Paul Victor Rowe, branch manager, Retail Banking (Louisville, Ky.)

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. Recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as a 2016 Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality, the company offers PNC Proud, an employee resource group that allows LGBTQ employees and allies to network, to learn from one another and to impact LGBTQ stakeholders across PNC’s footprint.

LGBT round table participants
PNC employees (from left) Josh Stewart, Julie Rose, Ashley Brundage and Paul Victor Rowe share their personal and professional experiences

POV: What was your experience coming out at work?

Rowe: I started at a small community bank as a part-time teller in the 1980s. There were a dozen or so “out” LGBTQ people. In fact, the bank’s head of operations was an out-lesbian, and I remember as a young gay man how impressed I was to see a leader be so open. A number of years later, I joined a different bank, where I was out and open, but unfortunately, the leadership wasn’t as progressive there.

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.

Rodriguez: My experience was a little different from theirs. It took me a while to come out in my previous job. I didn’t know if it was OK to be gay or not. I was certainly OK with it, and I’m sure my coworkers knew, but I was unsure how my coming out would affect my job and others’ attitudes toward me.

Rose: I have a circle of friends who I’ve been very open with, and that has always been positive. It’s nice to have control over who I share my sexuality with. Before I became more comfortable sharing this information, I would constantly rehearse in my head what I was going to say, and I always worried that someone would figure out who I was if I didn’t say the right thing.

POV: Did your professional experience change?

Rodriguez: I still have to decide every day whether I want to be “me” with all of my customers, but it was so liberating to come out and finally be myself around my coworkers. It changed the way I was able to function. My productivity actually improved once I was finally able to relax and be myself.

Stewart: At PNC, we’re lucky to be in a place where we can make our own “in the moment” choice to be out or not based on the interaction we’re having. That’s very different from a non-inclusive culture where the decision is made for you – generally, not to be out. I read some research that found bringing your whole self to work, including your sexual orientation and gender identity, allows you to be more productive and efficient, like Michael said.

Brundage: One result of me being open as transgender is that I’ve been able to inspire other employees. A few months ago, an employee contacted me to say they were considering transitioning to a different gender and that my story gave them confidence. This is really important because when you come out and tell someone that you’re gay, people know what that is. But the only thing people know about trans is what they see on TV or what they read in the news.

POV: How have you dealt with challenges?

Stewart: Along the way in my career, there have been challenges – not overt, scary ones, but just instances where people don’t know the impact of what they say. My mantra is “meet someone where they are.” Don’t accuse them of excluding you, because that doesn’t work. It’s more effective to have a meeting, get closer to them and say, “This is how that impacted me.” There are challenges, but it’s all in how you meet those challenges.

Rowe: Josh hit the nail on the head. 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.

Kristin Hanson speaking
Kristin Hanson talks about the value of diversity and inclusion at work

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

Stewart: We’ve heard from our CEO, Bill Demchak, that our organization focuses on diversity and inclusion not because it’s the legal thing to do or the politically correct thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do. He focuses the importance of diversity and inclusion in talent recruitment and development, which is an evolution in the conversation about diversity. Focusing on talent makes it a message that is truly about diversity. 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.

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.

Brundage: I think representation is also key. PNC employees can now self-identify as LGBTQ, and that’s a perception game-changer. It sends the message to every single employee that PNC is inclusive and accepting to the LGBTQ community. You can’t change the world if nobody knows that there are gay people or trans people. Self-identifying is a step toward that.

Learn more about how PNC supports LGBTQ employees »

Paul Victor Rowe
Paul Victor Rowe says employee resource
groups can empower participants

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