•   Article   •   7 mins

Pride at Degreed: Reflecting on the Power of Authenticity

Growing up, Stephen Elrod often hid who he was, masking his true self in order to fit in and avoid judgment.

“This concealment took a toll, creating a disconnect between who I was and who I felt I had to be,” said Stephen, Degreed Vice President of Global Professional Services. “When I finally embraced my identity, it was like stepping into the light after years in the shadows. This journey has taught me the importance of authenticity, and it’s a lesson I strive to impart to my daughters every day.

“Pride, for me, is about ensuring that my children see the value in being true to oneself.”

Working at an organization dedicated to the advancement of lifelong learning has some undeniable advantages. What’s one of the biggest? At Degreed, it’s a company culture that celebrates self-discovery and cherishes the life-affirming, life-changing positivity unleashed by personal growth. This ethos is baked into our products too; they’re intentionally designed to democratize learning so it’s easily accessible and inclusive.

At Degreed, these values become particularly salient in June during LGBTQ+ Pride Month. They give us reason to reflect and importantly provide us with the opportunity

As we reflect, we also recognize that big-picture challenges persist when only 45% of LGBT+ employees feel comfortable being out at work, according to a recent Deloitte survey across 13 countries including the United States. 

Join us as we share and celebrate perspectives on the meaning of Pride, what it means to be out at work, and what it means to be out at Degreed.

Hali Linn, Learning Strategy Consultant

The first time I came out at work, I scribbled down a nearly illegible identity on a sticky note at a work-sponsored Pride event where attendees were asked to participate in a survey. It was the first time I felt like I was being invited to claim my full self at work, and accepting that offer was a milestone for me.

I came to New York City drawn to the bold anonymity and adventurous spirit of this provocative place—qualities entirely disparate from the environment where I had grown up. On the streets of New York, no one has time to care what you’re wearing or how you identify, and many queer and questioning folks soon find, at worst, a swarm of busy indifference and, at best, a welcoming and vibrant queer community ready to embrace and love them.

My professional journey, however, did not quite align with the “out and proud” sentiment of the queer community that I cherished. Even in big cities, pockets of prejudice still exist, and I remained in the closet at company after company, sometimes due to hostile work cultures, and, if I’m being honest, sometimes because I wasn’t then ready to be fully out. (A reminder that not everyone is ready to “come out” in every space, and that’s okay!)

Pride events were a beacon of hope and acceptance before I was fully out at work; I witnessed other members of the LBGTQ+ community seamlessly integrate their personal and professional lives, claiming their identities with pride and confidence. If these queer elders and peers could be out, then so too could I!

I still wasn’t fully out at work, however, until I got to Degreed. Much like my arrival in New York, when I came to Degreed I felt welcomed, embraced, and included. I was not merely tolerated and passively celebrated during the month of June. On the contrary, I was invited to bring my whole self to every conversation. 

I’m not just a participant, but a leader, and I work for an organization that embraces my unique experience as an LGBTQ+ individual. Here, my identity is seen as an asset, enriching our workplace with diverse perspectives and fostering a culture of genuine inclusivity. At Degreed, I found the courage to be openly myself, knowing that I am valued for who I am every single day, and this has made a huge difference in my professional and personal life.

Pride, to me, means having the courage to take those first small steps toward self-acceptance and authenticity, even in environments where it feels challenging. Now I embrace the ability I have to be fully out, and I hope I can be a meaningful example to others. Pride means finding and building communities that support and celebrate who you are, inside the walls at work and outside of them as well. Most importantly, Pride is about recognizing and honoring the bravery it takes to live openly and authentically, at the workplace company and beyond!

Ryan Niehaus, Marketing Automation Manager

I have been with Degreed for almost four years. I live in Denver, Colorado, with my husband and rescue pup, Summit.

I came out as bisexual toward the end of 2016 and got married to the love of my life in 2022. My coming out story could not be any blander.

When I approached my friends and family about my sexuality, I was greeted with nothing but love, acceptance, and a “so what” attitude. Because not everyone shares that same experience, I have spent as much time as I can dedicate to educating myself about human rights-related issues and reading about other’s coming out experiences. I have developed a stronger personal appreciation for the importance of making Pride Month more inclusive and celebrating both the bland and anything-but-bland stories, struggles, and successes of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. 

All too often, the word “pride” is associated with notions of excessive love of oneself, vanity, or hubris. But that is not and has never been a foundation of Pride Month. Pride means living a life that is authentic to who I am—without shame, fear, or guilt. 

At work, it means I do not have to behave or act in a certain way because of the threat of being exposed, humiliated, belittled, or rejected. It means I am not ashamed to mention my husband when asked in a meeting what my plans are this upcoming weekend. It means I have the freedom to express my preferred pronouns on my company Slack profile. Lastly, it means I am not afraid of being held back from advancement opportunities because of the person I married. 

What many people don’t know is that we don’t just come out once at work. A constant conversation occurs when meeting new colleagues and introducing ourselves in meetings. And because of that, I am lucky to work for a company as open-minded as Degreed.

I am able to be my authentic self each and every day at work. This allows our Business Resource Group (OUT@Degreed) to spend our time educating, celebrating, and reflecting on the people who put their lives at risk to stand up and demand equality, instead of fighting stereotypes and bigotry internally. And for that, we’re lucky and proud to celebrate Pride Month with Degreed.

Stephen Elrod, Vice President of Global Professional Services

Pride holds a special place in my heart, not just as a celebration but as a profound expression of who I am as a queer dad to two amazing daughters. For me, Pride is about authenticity—showing up as my true self both at work and at home. This authenticity is not just a personal choice but a crucial part of the example I want to set for my children.

In a world that can sometimes feel daunting and unaccepting, I want my daughters to know that they can always be who they are without fear. By living authentically, I hope to show them that self-acceptance is not only possible but also empowering. I want them to understand that being true to oneself is not a privilege but a fundamental right.

At work, bringing my whole self means being open about my identity and experiences. It’s about creating an environment where diversity is not just accepted but celebrated. This authenticity fosters a culture of inclusivity, where everyone feels valued for who they are. When we bring our whole selves to work, we contribute to a healthier, more innovative, and more compassionate workplace. It encourages others to do the same, building a community where authenticity is the norm, not the exception.

At home, being my true self means showing my daughters that it’s okay to be different. It means sharing my journey with them, including the struggles and the triumphs. I want them to see that authenticity is a strength, not a weakness. By being open about who I am, I hope to give them the confidence to embrace their own identities, whatever they may be.

Pride is a reminder that being authentic at work and at home is essential for a healthy, balanced life. It’s about showing my children that it’s possible to be successful and happy without compromising who you are. This balance is vital as a parent because our children learn more from our actions than our words. When they see us living authentically, they learn to value honesty, courage, and self-love.

In conclusion, Pride is more than just a celebration; it’s a testament to the power of authenticity. As a queer dad, I embrace Pride as a time to reflect on my journey and reaffirm my commitment to living truthfully. We can create a world that is more accepting, more loving, and more true to every one of us.

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