Many folks have different coming out stories. As for me, I kind of just blurted it out. I was talking to my mom when I decided to tell her that I identify as queer. I was in college at the time, and my parents thought it was just a phase. Of course, I knew it wasn’t. In fact, I’d kept this part of myself quiet for many years because I was raised in a religious environment and feared I wouldn’t be accepted as I am. Even though I didn’t feel supported right away, I didn’t let it stop me from pursuing a happy, authentic life.
Fast forward to now, I've been with my partner for nine years, we've got two kids, and my parents have become amazingly supportive. It’s a completely different dynamic, and they see that they have two daughters as opposed to one. I’m very happy to have that now, but I realize there are still many people who don’t have a support system, and that’s why LGBTQIA+ advocacy has become a big part of my life both personally and professionally.
I started my Amazon career unpacking boxes during the nightshift at a fulfillment center in Baltimore eight years ago. From there, I moved into a role in human resources where I took on a passion project to scale the company’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group, Glamazon, to fulfillment centers around the world. Leaders took notice of my work with Glamazon over the years, and eventually offered me my current role as a senior program manager in the LGBTQIA+ office under Amazon’s Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team, where I now focus on creating programs and initiatives for employees and communities around the world.
I like to say that my “gay job” has become my day job, because the volunteer work I’ve done with nonprofit organizations outside of the office—aka my gay job—has actually become the focus of my role at the company. I’ve learned a lot during my career journey, including many lessons on what it takes to drive positive change. Here are some of my best tips to use your passion to make a difference.
1.Believe in yourself enough to get started
I was working as a human resources assistant at the fulfillment center in Baltimore when I learned about Glamazon, which only had one chapter in Seattle at the time. I quickly saw the value it could have for employees in other cities too, so I approached the Seattle leaders to see how I could help expand the group to our Operations employees.
I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I started talking to leaders and getting buy in to bring Glamazon to employees at my fulfillment center, then other fulfillment centers reached out for help onboarding Glamazon in their areas too. The group now reaches more than 70,000 employees globally. You don’t always need a pre-determined process to take on a big project. You’ll never get started if you get caught up in doubt from the beginning.
2.Don’t ask for permission. Share your plan instead.
One of the most important lessons I learned early on in the process of expanding Glamazon was to communicate what I planned to do up front instead of asking for permission. I went into conversations with leaders with data and insights from the work I’d already started, and a clear plan on how I wanted to grow.
While it might feel more natural to ask for permission when you approach a leader with an idea, it’s often more effective to share a plan instead. It shows them you’re serious, and gives them the information they need to properly evaluate your ask before they make a decision.
3.Listen to what people need and identify the gaps.
It can be easy to get caught up in preparation and planning once you’re working on a few exciting projects, but it’s so important to keep listening to what people need from you. This was an important learning I applied when I was president of the global Glamazon board for two years.
Our team had a lot of work to do, including collaborating with community groups, advocating for inclusive policies, and organizing events around the world, but we also needed to be there for LGBTQIA+ employees individually to facilitate conversations with their human resources representatives and lend a listening ear. Glamazon still operates this way, and it makes a huge difference in the impact the group is able to have.
4.Build a network and ask for help when you need it.
A supportive community can make a world of difference in the impact of the initiatives you take on. Look for volunteer opportunities and resources at work that can help you get closer to your goals. My volunteer work outside of the office helped me build a community of amazing people who wanted to make a difference long before it became a part of my job. That made it easier to know who to go to when I started leveraging Amazon’s resources to support LGBTQIA+ employees and communities. I’ve also found a lot of support from international employees who’ve helped me make connections in their countries and learn more about their cultures.
5.Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
Everyone will have different comfort levels in the workplace, but one of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer is to not be afraid to be who you are. Whether it's the way you speak in meetings or how you get dressed in the morning, don't be afraid to show up in a way that feels authentic. While I realize this might be a bit easier said than done for some, being open about who I am at Amazon has led to opportunities to support others in the LGBTQIA+ community, and I’m so grateful for that.
I had no idea my journey at Amazon would take me to where I am now. I’ve worked hard to make a meaningful impact through my work at the company, and I hope these tips help you drive positive change wherever you are too.
Want to keep learning from amazing Amazon leaders? Get tips on building a career you love from Worldwide Vice President of Amazon Stores, Claire Peters.