LGBT employees at Duke Energy welcome support from 'allies'

LGBT employees at Duke Energy welcome support from 'allies'

Together, they work to break down barriers

Who wants to come to work and feel uncomfortable?

That’s what some LGBT people feel at their workplaces every day. Duke Energy leaders are working to ensure the company isn’t one of those workplaces. In fact, employees at every level are working to ensure Duke Energy is a welcoming workplace for every employee.

“You’re carrying a huge burden if you can’t be who you are at work,” said John Lincoln, the customer experience manager who, with a small group of others, started the WeR1 employee resource group (ERG) in Charlotte in 2014. He wants all employees to feel like they can bring “their full, authentic selves to work.”

“If your mind is preoccupied with being ‘found out,’ you can’t dedicate yourself fully to your work when you’re here.”

That’s why WeR1 depends on allies, group members who are not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. “Allies are amazing people who, at some point in their lives, had the opportunity to see a lesbian, gay or transgendered person as a human being,” Lincoln said.

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Katie Perez, a financial analyst in Energy Solutions Business Support, has had that experience. As a Duke Energy intern in 2014, she was invited to a WeR1 panel discussion. “I’ve always been a huge proponent of LGBT rights,” she said. “My uncle – who’s also my godfather – is gay, and we’ve always had a special bond.”

When her uncle came out to his family, it didn’t go well; he is still estranged from some of his family. She encourages others to consider becoming active allies. “I think some people may be afraid to become allies,” she said. “They feel it’s not their place – that maybe they won’t be welcomed. But they will be. This community wants and needs allies.”

Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy senior vice president of corporate development, was an ally before she became WeR1’s sponsor.

Stempien’s work as an ally comes through in how she manages her group: “I talk a lot about my family and kids at work. They’re part of who I am. I don’t want anyone to feel they can’t share all of who they are – if they want to – at work. We all fundamentally want the same things out of life – to feel safe, to have a sense of belonging and to know we individually matter in a larger sense.”

Charlotte’s WeR1 chapter has about 200 members. About 70 percent identify as LGBT, and 30 percent are allies. Lincoln reports interest in starting chapters from employees in Cincinnati and Florida.

When allies make themselves known, Lincoln said, a colleague who may be keeping a secret knows he or she has a safe harbor. 

Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade

The Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade happened in uptown Charlotte Aug. 26 and 27.

The weekend is packed with events designed to enlighten and entertain. Duke Energy’s booth shows the company’s support for LGBT employees (and customers). Lincoln said surveys have shown that 86 percent of respondents have a more favorable opinion of Duke Energy after seeing the company’s Pride booth.

 

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