Celebrating diversity and fostering an environment of belonging are key elements to supporting employee engagement in the workplace. Recent Glassdoor research has shown that LGBTQIA+ employees are less satisfied at work compared to non-LGBTQIA+ employees. On a scale of one to five, LGBTQIA+ workers ranked their satisfaction at 3.27 stars compared to 3.47 stars. Doing the work to be a more equitable company through active feedback is vital to a happier workforce.
For PRIDE month, we’re supporting our LGBTQIA+ employees by sharing their stories. This week, we talked with Riley Noonan (He/Him), WilsonHCG's billing specialist and current chair of our PRIDE employee belonging group (EBG). Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What made you realize you identified as LGBTQIA+?
A: Being transgender, there’s a lot of soul searching that’s involved. I remember the first time I heard about female-to-male transgender from the Discovery channel when I was 15 years old. They talked about transitioning in different cultures. Although I’d heard of male to female, I never heard the opposite. And. in that moment, it was weirdly enlightening. Then I shoved it all inside until I was in my 20s. My partner said, “you know you’re transgender, right?” I was unsure of how to respond at first. Over the years, she encouraged me to identify and accept who I was so I could start living the life I wanted. After a certain amount of therapy, doctors' visits, medications and one legal name change later, I’m living that life now.
Q: How'd you handle coming out at work as transgender?
A: When it comes to the workplace, trying to figure out who you are and where you fit is very complicated. There’s the hesitation around “How much do I reveal?" "Do I pass?" "If I call myself ‘he,’ will they?”
I remember being so worried at my first office job about which bathroom I should use, and whether someone would stop me going to my preferred one. I had to talk myself up into going to the men’s room. This happened after I’d go to women’s restrooms and ended up startling someone by doing so.
At work, I'm always comfortable being among groups of women, and it isn’t awkward for me. Since I’ve had a female experience, this acts as a bridge of understanding between everyone and their backgrounds. This is a hidden superpower that often doesn’t get acknowledged unless everyone’s comfortable with transgender people being open in the workplace.
After I came out at WilsonHCG, I got nothing but support and positive messages. After that, I helped start the PRIDE EBG, and being a founding member was huge for me. Being here is the first time I’ve seen these groups as a force for good, and I love that. More than anything, I love we’re able to celebrate it so openly.
Q: What’s the right way to address someone’s pronouns?
A: In my opinion, there are no wrong questions around pronouns unless you address it rudely. Something as simple as: “Hi Sarah, nice to meet you. What pronouns do you use?” as an introductory statement isn’t intrusive. It lets her answer based on her comfort level. If she’s not familiar, she can simply say, “I go by she/her.” and that leaves an opening to say your own. It’s never OK to ridicule someone for their pronouns or make light of it — as this form of identity is very personal and takes considerable soul searching for someone to have the courage to come out about it.
My biggest piece of advice about pronoun usage is paying attention to it and respecting it. Pay attention to peoples' signatures and self identifiers. By not taking these into account, you can start a relationship off on the wrong foot that hasn’t even had time to start. Before meetings, take a second to ask about preferred name/pronouns if you’re unsure, and then record it for the future.
Q: What advice do you give someone at the beginning of their journey?
A: When people enter the LGBTQIA+ community space for the first time, there’s lots of labels and it can be data overload. People can be off-put by it. That said, one of the important things to realize is it’s a way to help people starting their journey to explore where they feel more comfortable and figure out where they belong. These labels can help others reflect on who they are and how they identify. These terms aren't to put people in boxes but to act as a steppingstone. Twenty years ago, there was so little information about these terms that it was confusing. Sometimes, it even led to mental health problems because you felt like you were bombarded by other peoples’ lifestyles you couldn’t get behind. I’m impressed by the community now to give people places to express themselves. It’s really refreshing that it's more prevalent now. So, don’t be scared about all you see. If you have questions, ask if they're comfortable explaining, or if they could recommend resources to learn more.
Explore more LGBTQIA+ resources:
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
The Trevor Project Resources and Guides
UCDavis LGBTQIA+ Resource Center