Out, Proud and Not Complacent: Celebrating Pride at CBRE

June 7, 2023 6 Minute Read

Pride Blog 2023

Fourteen years ago, on a late-summer day, Ricky Hernden gathered his colleagues into a boardroom at CBRE’s Toronto Downtown office. He’d been keeping a heavy secret, which the new wedding band on his finger threatened to betray.

“I got married this weekend… to a man,” he announced to his co-workers, who were visibly taken aback by the news.

Until then, Hernden wasn’t out to anyone at work. He’d shared very little about his personal life, for fear of how it might impact his career. “I was ready to quit if they reacted badly,” he recalls. “It was a different time. Same-sex marriage had just been legalized and wasn’t widely accepted.”

Thankfully his teammates were supportive and took him out to celebrate. Over time, feeling accepted and showing up authentically began to positively impact Hernden’s relationships with his colleagues and let him invest in people and projects that have helped keep him at CBRE for 15 years.

“So much of my energy had been going into guarding myself and making sure I was perceived a certain way – what I said, how I moved, how I talked, even how I joked,” he says. “Once I came out, I felt like I could finally be myself. Funnily enough, I know someone else at CBRE who came out to their colleagues in a boardroom, so I’m not alone!”

Much has changed since Hernden dropped that bombshell on his colleagues back in 2009. Today, he’s looking back and sharing his story so that current and future generations aren’t afraid of being themselves in the workplace and don’t lose the progress that has been made.  

With Pride Month upon us, we spoke to three members of the LGBTQ+ community at CBRE about what it means to be out at work, and the importance of Pride and building a more inclusive corporate culture.

Gustavo Lisa Camille Raise the Flag
Lisa Bone (centre) celebrating Pride Month with coworkers.

Leading a Culture Change

For Lisa Bone, an inclusive workplace was a prerequisite in her job search.

“I wasn’t going to start a career hiding who I was,” she says.

She’d had a difficult coming out experience in the past, which had created strain in her working environment. So in her job hunt she looked for a workplace with a women’s network and an LGBTQ+ employee business resource group (EBRG). That’s when she found CBRE.

“I was newly married and couldn’t hide the fact I have a wife, especially one in the process of immigrating from the U.S.,” says Bone, a business operation analyst. “The hiring manager at CBRE made me feel comfortable, so I took the job.”

In the 12 years since she joined CBRE Bone has seen support for the queer community evolve. Notably, same-sex benefits were introduced, and she’s noticed more allies and business leaders joining LGBTQ+ support groups and advocating for inclusion.

Recently, Bone spearheaded CBRE Canada’s LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts by working as co-chair to launch the LGBTQ+ & Allies Canadian Chapter EBRG. “Our goal is to make members of the LGBTQ+ community feel supported in the workplace,” she says.

The group serves as platform for ambassadors and leaders of the queer community as well as a place for allies to ask questions and learn about creating inclusive spaces.

For instance, allies are encouraged to include pronouns in their email signatures, display rainbow swag at their desk and advocate for equitable access to benefits and opportunities.

“When employees feel safe coming out,” Bone says, “the whole company culture benefits.”

Setting Up Trans Employees for Success

Theo Newton came out earlier this year, about 6 months after joining CBRE as a facilities manager.

His manager, colleagues and clients were incredibly supportive. But something was missing.

“I connected with small group of people at CBRE who had similar needs that weren’t being met,” he says. “There was an existing LGBTQ+ & Allies EBRG, but we needed specific representation for the trans community. So we founded the Transgender Inclusion Collective, which we officially launched in May.”

The group developed a detailed plan to support members of the trans community by holding awareness-raising events and providing educational resources for managers and employees. These include a gender toolkit to spark conversations internally, as well as resources for parents and partners of trans folk.

“Coming out can make you feel vulnerable,” says Newton. “We’re working to make sure that when people feel safe to come out at work, they are supported across the organization.”

The group is advocating for making gender identity a mandatory part of employee DEI education and designating professionals that are specialized in supporting trans issues. The Transgender Inclusion Collective is also partnering with departments across CBRE to diversify the talent pool and develop equitable hiring practices to ensure that transgender talent is not left behind.

“Trans people may be a niche minority, but we have unique skills and perspectives that hiring managers can tap into,” says Newton. “Transgender employees deserve to be set up for success so they can do their best work.”

Pride is for Everyone

The month of June carries special meaning for Hernden, Bone and Newton.

Hernden says Pride can be whatever people need it to be. “Pride has meant different things to me at different times in my life and at 39 I engage it more now than when I was younger,” he says. “I’m so thankful for people who took up space, shifted public opinion and made change, even when I didn’t feel comfortable doing so.”

Much like CBRE’s evolution as a more accepting and supportive space, Pride celebrations have also become more diverse and inclusive over the years. This has made taking part in the festivities a richer and more welcoming experience for Hernden and his partner of seven years, who is Muslim.

For Bone, Pride is an opportunity to feel seen and be her authentic self in a safe environment. “Not having to hide who you are or look over your shoulder goes a long way,” she says.

Newton sees Pride as a chance to celebrate the people and activism that have helped to build understanding and support for LGBTQ+ people and issues. “But the job is far from done,” he says. “We need to continue making space at the table for marginalized voices and issues.”

“We cannot be complacent, as we’ve seen minority rights challenged in recent years,” adds Hernden. “It still takes courage to challenge groupthink, take a stand, or offer support to a colleague in need. Don’t underestimate the power you have to lift someone up. I don’t know where I would be today if that boardroom conversation had gone differently all those years ago.”

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