As a senior vice president Lynne Carrithers can speak with authority about why embracing inclusion and diversity is important to Aera Energy, but for her it’s a deeply personal conversation.
Standing in front of her Aera colleagues during a recent “Straight For Equality” training seminar, which was sponsored by the Aera LGBT+Allies employee resource group, Carrithers shared how her own daughter’s struggles after coming out as LGBT have shaped her thinking about the ideas of inclusion.
“We say around here inclusion is important,” Carrithers said to a hushed audience, which also included Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh. “Exclusion is damaging and dangerous, especially when you’re talking about kids.”
The training was part of an effort to build allies for LGBT people among heterosexual colleagues, friends and family members at Aera, but also in the broader community.
“The idea behind the event was to get people to realize the broad spectrum of allies and that everyone can be an ally,” said Kay Coodey, a geoscience technician, who helped organize the event. “You don’t have to march in rallies and protest to be an ally. Being an ally shows up differently for all of us.”
The two-hour session featured a presentation about the importance of supporting the LGBT community from Jean-Marie Navetta, a trainer with PFLAG – an organization started to support families of those identifying as LGBT.
“One of your big assignments today is going to be to invite other people to talk,” Navetta said. “We can’t just keep talking to the same people. We want to educate people because the needs of allies often look different than mom or dad who found out they have an LGBT kid, or what an LGBT person needs.”
The “Straight For Equality” trainings began in 2007 after PFLAG continued to see people coming to them looking for help on how to support LGBT friends, colleagues or family members. Since its inception in 2007, the training has been conducted at many of the nation’s largest companies, including many in the oil and gas sector.
Embracing inclusion and diversity became one of six tenets of Aera’s refreshed Purpose, Vision and Values statement introduced at the end of 2017, but Carrithers sees it as a vital tool to support employees.
“If you don’t embrace inclusion people don’t stay in the organization,” Carrithers said. “They don’t speak up if something is wrong or bothering them. They can’t bring their whole selves to work.”
Navetta said policy changes are an important step in helping LGBT employees, but also changing the culture to one that is supportive is critical.
“The shifting culture actually gives us a win-win,” Navetta said. “This isn’t just good for people who are LGBT. If organizations win people tend to stay around longer, they are more engaged, they perform better, they are more innovative and there’s a whole list of things.”
Training people to be supportive of the differences in the workforce has developed into an important value – not just for companies, but also for communities.
“There are always going to be more allies than people who are LGBT identified,” Navetta said. “As allies change their behaviors whole groups move.”
An element of Navetta’s training featured participants breaking into pairs to share a one-minute story about a personal experience, but by flipping pronouns. The role play was designed to help people listen to others and to identify allies, especially to those who may not have revealed their sexual orientation.
“I’m alive today because of allies,” said Navetta, adding that she had made an attempt to take her own life.
The struggles of her daughter have helped Carrithers better understand the importance of being a strong ally.
“I love that we have these events,” Carrithers said. “The dialogue is really important. It all starts with dialogue.”
During her opening talk, Carrithers brought up two other points about Aera’s PVV – challenging convention and passionately engaged – and how it related to supporting LGBT employees.
“Well, how comfortable are you going to be to challenge convention if you don’t feel your co-workers value you as a person, or want to hear what you have to say,” Carrithers said. “Then passionately engaged: how passionate can you be when you’re holding back, and you’re feeling uneasy about who you are with respect to the people you work with.
“There’s a business component to this that’s important as well. We won’t be successful as a group, as a company, as a workforce if we don’t embrace the differences that make us all unique.”
Emily Fisher, a geologist, who helped found the LGBT+Allies ERG in 2014, said the day proved to be an inspiring one for her and others.
“I’m proud to see how far Aera has come in our journey of inclusion and diversity,” Fisher said. “I’m overjoyed to see the progress we’ve made and to see the leadership taking the vision forward, helping everyone be able to bring their full selves to work.”