Allyship Matters: Finding Success and Authenticity at Home and at Work
By: Chelsey S., Sr Manager, Communications
There wasn’t a specific moment when Cheralyn S., a leader in IT program management at Schwab, came out. After leaving home and moving in with a girlfriend, she let her parents believe her partner was just a roommate. And when she got engaged to her now wife, Stacey, she would leave her ring in the car when she visited family. On Sundays, when she would go with family to church, she would meet up with them alone.
Cheralyn explains that she was living a double life. While she never sat down and explicitly told her parents she was gay, they eventually figured it out. But it took five years before they felt comfortable meeting Stacey.
Cheralyn’s story is a relatable one for many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Coming out isn’t always a grand declaration. Time and circumstance can make it a long process. And it’s certainly not something that happens just once. But she’s hopeful about the change she’s seen, and she credits allyship as being key to allowing people to be their true selves.
Finding a safe space
Cheralyn and Stacey have now been married for 17 years. Together they’ve seen times when people were less accepting of them as a couple, and times when people were more open-minded.
In 2007, they married in Canada because gay marriage was not yet legal in the United States. And when they wanted to start a family, Cheralyn had to come out over and over again to fertility doctors, hospitals, and adoption agencies asking if they would work with same-sex couples. Many of them would not.
But Cheralyn also recalls misjudging a situation with a manager at a former company, whom she assumed wouldn’t be open-minded about her marriage to a woman. After not correcting the manager on references to her “husband” for nearly a year, Cheralyn finally told her that she was married to a woman. “She apologized to me and said, ‘I’m so sorry that I did that and made you feel that way,’” says Cheralyn. “She immediately made me feel like I had a safe space. It was a moment for me where I learned that it was also on me not to judge people, and I learned that there are allies out there.”
Creating allies starts with becoming one
Since then, Cheralyn has learned that everyone, somehow or some way, has gotten to where they are with the help of an active ally—someone who takes the initiative to lead the change they want to see. And she’s learned that you can’t ask people to be allies if you yourself are not one.
In 2022, when Cheralyn started at Schwab, she knew she was stepping into a work environment where she could be herself. For one thing, her wife Stacey also used to work at Schwab, so many people already knew she was gay. But she also had the support of her leader and other teammates who were outwardly gay. “It felt inclusive. And I felt accepted,” says Cheralyn of joining Schwab.
However, while she’s happy to be working in such a welcoming environment, she says she still feels moments of fatigue and pressure about being out in the workplace.
“When you are a leader who is also queer, you can feel that your story isn’t always your own,” she explains. “There’s pressure to be loud and proud because you recognize the responsibility you have. But it can be exhausting to feel like you have to win over the hearts and minds of people so they can show up as allies.”
She’s learned that one way to create allies is to be an active ally for others. Recently, in a leadership email, Cheralyn included reminders to her team of ways they can acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month. And when there was a Barbie-themed get together at work, she advocated for including inclusive images of Barbie in the décor.
“I feel like the more we make space for inclusivity in one place, it bleeds over into another,” says Cheralyn. “If you can be inclusive here, then you can be inclusive there. So, I end up being an ally for other communities, which in turn helps my community.”
Being there for your own community
Cheralyn is thankful for the life she’s been able to create, thanks in part to the progress allies have helped create. In 2014 after many ups and downs, Cheralyn and Stacey were finally able to form the family they dreamed of with the adoption of twin boys, Duke and London. And she now has the full support of her parents whom she refers to as “the very best grandparents in the world.”
“I’m not doing this alone, and I recognize that as my privilege—something that many in the LGBTQ+ community don’t have,” Cheralyn says. “Now it’s time for me to take one and put one back in. I’ve learned that I can also be an ally for my own community and help those that don’t have the same advantages I have.”