It’s a sunny Sunday morning in downtown San Francisco and Kelley Cayton, Director of Business Assurance at Comcast is handing out T-shirts to the hundreds of employees who gathered to march on behalf of Comcast at the 2017 San Francisco Pride Parade.
From retail representatives all the way up to senior-level executives like California Regional Vice President, John Gauder, one by one, employees arrived wearing fun hats, colorful boas, rainbow sox…well, rainbow everything! And everyone was wearing their Sunday best smile, feeling energized, inspired and ready to march. Some were members of the LGBTQ community, some were marching for a family member, a friend or simply to celebrate diversity and inclusion, two elements that are ingrained in Comcast’s culture and DNA.
Kelley, who is the Executive Sponsor for OUT, Comcast’s newest LGBTQ Employee Resource Group in California, was joined by her partner of 22 years Melodie SoRelle who was smiling from ear to ear. Kelley felt proud of her community, her colleagues and Comcast.
But things were very different 20 years ago back in her hometown of Amarillo, Texas.
“I was never one of those people who talked about being gay. I’ve been discriminated against so much in my life and now I’m being recognized for being a successful leader and being part of this community with the honor and responsibility to lead this group. It is still kind of unbelievable for me,” Kelley said.
According to Kelley, creating the OUT ERG at Comcast is important because it gives people like her a sense of belonging and it raises awareness for some of the issues the LGBTQ community faces. Also, it provides a safe space for people from the community to express themselves, tell their stories and learn from and support each other.
Right after graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington, Kelley went to work for the corporate offices of a well-known convenience store in the 90’s.
“It wasn’t cool to be gay back then. Some people would openly talk about driving by the gay bars to laugh and scream derogatory terms. I felt embarrassed. I couldn’t talk about who I really was so I just tried to fit in as a straight person,” Kelley remembers.
About 12 years ago, Kelley moved to Seattle to work at the Starbucks corporate offices and that was the first time she told someone at work she was gay.
“In the workplace, saying you are gay is kind of risky because you don’t know how a person might react. But living in a city like Seattle that is very open and supportive to the LGBTQ community gave me the courage to be out,” Kelley said.
Here in California, dozens of employees gathered on June 22 at Comcast’s Livermore offices to celebrate the CA OUT ERG launch with a panel discussion about being gay in the workplace with Michael Cox, Senior Vice President of Talent Acquisition; Selisse Berry, Founder and CEO of Out and Equal Workplace Advocates; Benjamin Bustamante, Manager of Employment Services at the SF LGBT Center and Jackie Guerry, Director of Commercial Sales at Comcast. The panel was moderated by former news broadcaster Diane Dwyer.
“The difficult thing about being out is that it is a personal decision that we have to make every day, every time we meet a new person. It’s hard, because for most of us it ties to difficult circumstances in our childhood whether from religious or family situations. One of the best services we can provide as an ERG and as a company is to create a safe space,” said Cox during the OUT launch.
With the addition of the new California chapter, nationally, the OUT ERG has grown to approximately 3,000 members across a dozen chapters.
As a company, Comcast scored 100 out 100 on the Human Rights Campaign 2017 Corporate Equality Index that rates workplaces on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. The companies are ranked by certain criteria, for example, if the company offers equivalent spousal and partner medical benefits, offers transgender inclusive health insurance coverage and positively engages the external LGBT community.
Comcast employees don’t have to be part of the LGBTQ community to join OUT. “We need allies and friends to come forward alongside us and on our behalf to help everyone regardless of who they love, who they are, the color of their skin, their gender or where they are from to be treated fairly and equally,” said Kelley.