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Girls, Gays and Theys: Navigating Corporate America from Beyond the Margins

We’re talking about our experiences navigating corporate America as part of the LGBTQ+ community.  Vibe with someone’s story? Click their name for their full blog.

Camille Todd
Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Remote (Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

I navigate corporate structures with intention and compassion. I’m intentional about 2 things– being my most authentic self and taking up space. I thrive when I can be my authentic self and bring ideas from my unique perspective on the world. I’m intentional about taking up space because early in my career I was plagued by imposter syndrome and it caused me to shrink away from various opportunities. In recent years, I’ve learned to own my experience with greater accountability. I take up the space required to present new and fresh ideas, foster and cultivate relationships with my coworkers, and drive growth and diversity within corporate culture.

Anahita Chaudhary
Lead Modeler
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/her/hers

At the beginning of my career, navigating my identity at work was particularly tricky. I had to go back into the closet after college to be able to fit in. I felt I would let the entire community down if I came out and then couldn’t perform up to the mark at my job. So I worked hard to establish my credibility, which in turn gave me confidence to gradually come out. Within 2 years I was the only visibly queer and gender fluid person in the office. I’ve been extremely lucky to have supportive colleagues and bosses throughout my career who made it easy for me to be myself without the fear of any judgement.

Natalie headshot with glasses onNatalie Kalmbacher
Lead Account Specialist Billing Resolutions
New Castle
Pronouns: She/her

During my transition, I never ever thought I would see the end of the tunnel. But I grew stronger than ever and now I do. It’s all thanks to Discover, actually. They provided me with the resources I needed to make myself complete and get the care I needed. I’ve also gotten so much love and acceptance from so many people. Honestly my whole experience at Discover has been amazing. I’m openly Trans and wish I could speak to even more people within the company. I want to share my story and ensure anyone in my position knows that they have a voice. As a Trans individual, it’s rare to find a company as open as Discover— people need to know that. I do know other Trans people at Discover who don’t want to speak up. But I personally want to be seen.

Amy Armstrong             
VP, Compliance Advisory
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her

About 5 years ago, in the middle of interviewing a candidate, he pointed to a picture on my desk of my partner and I on vacation. He asked me where “my friend and I” had vacationed. I told him that the photo was of me and my partner at a theme park. He then abruptly said he hadn’t realized I was gay and that he wasn’t interested in the role because he couldn’t “work for someone like me” and literally left the interview. From this experience, a hard truth I’ve learned is that people will dislike or disrespect you for things that you cannot change.

Karlyn Steadman 
Team Coach, Customer Service & Engagement Dept. Core
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: They/Them

Knowing how to navigate a professional work environment as a male or a female is learned— from binary dress codes, to learning how to navigate proper etiquette based off your birth gender. As someone who doesn’t fall under the binary gender umbrella, it was always difficult to know how to navigate those norms. After my first year of college, I was a chef. I kept to myself and always made sure I worked somewhere where the uniforms were the same. I always chose a unisex cut chef’s coat. But after leaving the industry, I was thrown into the business world without guidance on what to do.

Thankfully, I was lucky and worked for Discover. I quickly realized that the scary truth of a binary dress code, binary bathrooms and professional brand, were not true for Discover. I felt comfortable in my own skin quickly and created my own brand. I felt confident that it didn’t matter that I didn’t fall under a female or male identity. I identified as me and portrayed that in my attire and confidently shared my pronouns.

woman standing against grey wood panelingMegan Isaac
Team Leader, Deposits Front Office
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

When I was first hired at Discover, I was so scared for anyone to know that I was in a relationship with a woman. I didn’t have very many positive experiences or role models that I knew of that were successful and Out. I’ve been very blessed to work for a company that I personally have never felt like my sexuality has held me back from opportunities. The environment at Discover is amazing. My management and peers have always made me feel included. A mistake I’ve made is being too cautious. Oftentimes, if I’m unsure of how LGBTQ+ friendly a situation is, when speaking about my fiancé, I use they/them pronouns or substitute “my partner” or “my fiancé.”  Yet, I’ve never had a negative interaction from a co-worker finding out I’m a lesbian. My management, peers, and people I manage have always been supportive. Yet, I’ve held back when sharing personal stories. If I could change anything, I would be open and proud from the start. I wouldn’t hold back when asked about my relationships, and I would use she/her pronouns from the get-go.

headshot of patrickPatrick Opinion
Lead AML Compliance Specialist
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

Gradually over time, I’ve discovered opportunities to find self-acceptance by working for organizations that champion diversity. I’m now connected to people with the same passion for inclusion. I feel it’s imperative that organizations develop a safe space for individuals where everyone can be themselves and find a sense of belonging. I’ve been privileged to be a part of my organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) council, where I learn from a team of like-minded individuals and navigate topics like unconscious bias, blind spots and racial injustice. Through action and conversations like these, we can learn how to be more intentional in how we treat each other.

Chris Crosby
Team Leader, Identity Protection
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: He/Him/His

It’s hard to navigate corporate America as a black gay man. There’s always the mentality that I’ll have to work twice as hard to get half as much. So when I first started working, I kept my identity private and only told a select few. As I progressed in my career, I learned that if I hide who I am, I’m not going to be able to give 100% of what I can offer. Now I understand that my identity is major a part of who I am. It allows me to share stories and experiences that can shape the outcome of the business. In turn, I also seek out individuals at Discover who look like me. As simple as that sounds, it can be a challenge. But I’ve found so many, across different points in my career. I use them as a reference and motivation to know that I can be greater than where I am today.

Nicole Shuck     
Senior Manager, Rewards Marketing
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I’ve been at the Discover Riverwoods, IL headquarters for 6 years now. For the first 1-2 years, I was very selective of who I came out to and told about my personal life. When people asked who I lived with, I called my fiancé my “roommate.” At the time, I’d come out to a close friend at work who accepted and love me. She pulled me aside and said, “You have to stop doing that. No one will care about who you love and they will only love you more for being you.” In that moment, she was the best ally I could’ve ever asked for. She gave me the courage, in this new professional world, to be my full authentic self.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to really lean into the notion that, “When you’re scared, afraid, nervous; take one step forward.” Coming out at work was one small step forward. I slowly opened up one by one, until eventually my sexuality became part of everyday normal conversation. I’ve moved away from “coming out,” to just “being me.”  Ever since then, every person I’ve come out to has shown me nothing but positivity. Even most recently, my past coworkers, current coworkers and friends came together for a surprise virtual bridal shower for me and I was blown away by how many people showed up and contributed to the gift.

 

Inspired to join the Discover team? Explore careers with us.

 

 

 

 

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Evolving Over Time: Our Stories of Gender Fluidity and Self Expression

Hear from Discover teammates on how they fought for acceptance as their identities evolved over time. Vibe with someone’s perspective? Click on their name to read their full story.

person with two dogsKayla Knoll
IRA Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: they/them

I’m evolving more daily and learning to love myself! I used to think I was just a masculine girl, but after a teacher had me read a book featuring a transgender superhero, I started my journey of learning I am not Cisgender. The book helped me on my journey to come out as nonbinary immensely. I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to be feminine, it’s okay to like girly things. My relationship to myself and my identity now is honestly still a struggle. I battle with imposter syndrome daily, but I’m working through it! I’m also working on recovering from PTSD. On the journey of accepting my identity, I am almost there.

Natalie headshot with glasses onNatalie Kalmbacher
Lead Account Specialist Billing Resolutions
New Castle
Pronouns: She/her

Honestly, my relationship with my identity is a lot better than it’s ever been. For many years I hated myself and didn’t want to accept myself as a transgender person. I tried to live a “normal life.” Eventually, I came to the realization that being me, my true self and identity, was the only way to be happy. Coming to terms with my identity was the only way I could have a real relationship with myself and others. I stopped caring about what other people thought and started doing what makes me happy. I know that I can’t love myself or others if I’m not happy. When I transitioned, I tried on many different names, looks and almost anything else you can think of. One day it just clicked: Natalie Lauren. It was like a lightbulb went off and said YES! This is who you will become. I’ve been that person since.

Nicholas and sonNicholas Cash
System Support Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: He/Him

If I had to label my relationship status with my identity, I would say “it’s complicated.” I love who I am, and I love that my identity is not considered the norm, but at times, I also wonder what it would be like to be looked at as “normal.” I thought coming out would be enough, but it wasn’t. I’m still learning about who I am and what truly defines me.

I also don’t want to be placed in a box. Within the LGBTQ+ community, we tend to place identities in boxes. Categorizing identities reinforces some obligation to act according to the label. This phenomenon is a constant struggle for me. Breaking down those walls and figuring out who I truly am has been the most challenging part of evolving my identity.

I’ve grown, forgotten things I loved, learned new things I love, revisited the forgotten and come out stronger in the end. I haven’t evolved from being a gay man, but I have evolved in learning about what it means to be a gay man. Just because I’m a gay man doesn’t mean that I need to act a certain way or pretend to be someone I’m not.

Person wearing a flower crownAvonlea Whitaker         
Coach
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: They/Them

I originally thought I was bisexual, then demi-sexual, and now I am currently happy with identifying as a-sexual and bi-romantic. Then finally, coming out as non-binary. My identity has changed significantly over time for two major reasons. The first reason is denial, and the second reason is not having the words. My self-discovery journey really wasn’t easy. I felt judged by myself and believed that other people would judge me just as harshly.

It was also really hard knowing the people I’m blood related to aren’t as accepting of who I am. My relationship with myself is getting better, but it is still not perfect. I still struggle with gender dysphoria now and then because I get misgendered so often. I’ve learned to come to terms with my sexual orientation and I’m confident with calling myself a-sexual.

two friendsPatrick Opinion
Lead AML Compliance Specialist
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

For me, acceptance doesn’t look like being explicit and boisterous in my gender expression. I find comfort in being mildly spirited. I’m protective of my own space and will speak my truth on my own time and in the way that benefits me the most. I haven’t been outspoken about coming out because I believe I don’t owe anyone an explanation. Nor do I need validation. I strongly feel that “coming out” is a process of self-discovery. It’s a personal choice to be vocal or passively approach it. But it’s done in your free will and not out of peer pressure.

Headshot of DawnDawn Hansen
Change Management & Communications Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

I first came out to myself about 5 years ago. It was a true “ah ha” moment. All the confusion and internal conflict I’d felt since middle school suddenly became clear. I felt liberated— like an elephant suddenly jumped off my shoulders.

When I first came out as bisexual, and it was very cut and dry to me. As time has passed, I’ve become much more comfortable with just saying I’m queer. The term queer is much more fluid, which is how I feel day-to-day. It allows me to fit in a larger spectrum and not feel so labeled.

I’ve also recently started doing a lot of introspection on what gender means to me and expect that understanding to evolve over time as well. My relationship with myself has completely changed. I’m finally embracing myself as a queer individual.

Camille Todd
Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Riverwoods, IL (Permanently remote from Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

My identity has definitely evolved over the years and it’s been a wild ride. When I was born I was AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) and in my early adolescent years (11 or 12) I came out to my friends and family as bisexual. In recent years, I came out to myself and then family and friends as Trans. I now live as a proud pansexual transman. In regards to self-discovery and identity, I believe fluidity is the best approach for me and it’s how I’ve learned to love myself on deeper levels.

Laura Stoll         
Principal Release Manager
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: She / Her

I’m a bi woman, married to a woman who I’ve been with almost 16 years. Most of my life I knew that I was attracted to women, but because I was brought up in a Southern Baptist household, I tried to ignore it. In early 2000 after my engagement ended, I started dating a woman for the first time. I used to think I was either straight or a lesbian, but over time I’ve accepted that for me, it’s about being in love with that person— whatever they identify as.

Karlyn Steadman
Team Coach, Customer Service & Engagement Dept. Core
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: They/Them

Come high school, I knew I was different. I learned more about what it meant to be a lesbian and could easily identify with that label. Even still, I would force myself to show up as female because there wasn’t anything that described me fully. I didn’t want to wear dresses, or skirts. And wasn’t a huge fan of how my body was changing. So I hid myself in hoodies and baggy clothes and explored the more masculine side of myself.
When I graduated high school and was navigating the world of college, I learned what it meant to identify not only as a lesbian, but also as non-binary. Now as I approach my 30’s quickly, I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. I’ve used my past traumas to learn more about myself. I’ve built a foundation of support in my family, both chosen and not. I can be open and truthful out loud to myself— it’s ok that I don’t fit into a box of female or male. The ever-changing sliding scales of gender and sexual orientation can be difficult to navigate if you aren’t taught that it can be ever-changing.

Nathan Andon
Account Executive
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

Over time, I’ve grown to accept myself for who I am more and more. Back in my teen years, if someone asked me about my sexual orientation, I definitely would’ve lied. In college, I would’ve answered depending on whether or not I felt safe enough to do so. Once I moved to Chicago, I felt comfortable enough with myself to not care. I realized there was an entire community that identified the way I do.

My identity is still ever-evolving, but I’m at the end of my journey of accepting who I am. As with anything, I have good days and bad days. My younger years were definitely full of exploration and trying to find out exactly who I am. I’m now more self-loving and self-confident. I know who I am, and I am proud of who I am. I identify as a cis-gendered, Latinx, gay male, and am 100% proud of all of those identifying labels.

 

Inspired to join the Discover team? Explore careers with us.

 

 

 

 

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HBCU Alumni Talk Black Excellence on Campus and Beyond

Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Alumni at Discover share why they chose a historically Black institution, the impact their education had on their lives, and their advice for anyone considering attending. For more on how Discover supports Black excellence, explore our recent college commitment partnership with Paul Quinn College.

Nasiya Acklen
Senior Manager Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
HBCU Alumnus
Pronouns: She/Her

In high school I knew that I wanted to attend an HBCU because they had been so connected to my experience growing up in Nashville, TN with three prominent HBCUs located just a few streets over. The local university’s homecoming was an annual celebration of black culture, and I was in the parade every year of high school, being celebrated and cheered by the largely black crowd of students, families, dignitaries, and alumni.

I also saw the comradery of the HBCU experience when watching my grandfather with his college and football buddies. They maintained tight connections and supported the university with pride, even up to the day he passed away. I saw the same with my Aunt from her experience at an all-female HBCU in Atlanta. She was in a sorority and a member of the majorette team. I knew an HBCU would be a place to fully immerse myself in Black Excellence and the Black experience. It would be a place that I could be my authentic self in a psychologically safe and fun environment.

I chose my alma mater from the seven schools that I applied to because it was a highly regarded institution, and I was fortunate to receive a Presidential Scholarship. And at the urging of my mother, it was the furthest away from home, which gave me exposure to living outside of the deep South. When I visited the campus for the first time, I absolutely fell in love. The campus is gorgeous, and it is affectionately called “our home by the sea” because of the dorms on the waterfront. As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew in that moment that I had made the right decision.

Being at an HBCU truly broadened my exposure to unbounded possibilities and all types of people, which is probably true at any university. Yet it felt so special to break through the monolithic versions of Black people that are usually portrayed. My best friends from college and sorority sisters are from California, Washington DC, Charlotte, Maryland, and New York. I quickly recognized that we saw the world so differently from our unique backgrounds and upbringings. I’m connected to some of America’s best and brightest Black talent, which actually extends through to the entire HBCU network.

Attending an HBCU was life changing, and I am especially grateful for the experience. I would say to a prospective student that it’s a rare occasion to be in an extremely nurturing learning environment with people that look like you. You’ll be enveloped in a community that’s committed to your future growth and success. All parties involved, including your professors, understand and don’t shy away from conversations on what it takes to be successful as an African-American in corporate America. That mindset seeps into the academic programming, so take full advantage of this opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, use the time at an HBCU to explore who you really are while in an environment where you never have to question if your Blackness is a reason for any of it. Conversely, there is so much diversity within each of us and within the Black community, so test yourself to see Blackness outside of the limits of your lens. Lastly, expect to be challenged. When race comes off the table, consider any preconceived limits that you or others have put on your capabilities. Hopefully you will find renewed motivation to be the absolute best.

Maia Davis-Singleton
Director Client Support
HBCU Alumnus
Pronouns: She/Her

I grew up in the Midwest and had a number of “only” experiences. I’d been the only Black person in my neighborhood, the only one at my school. Given I had my share of experiences as being the only, it was important for me to find a college that I felt connected to.

I’m a product of a mother and father who are both HBCU graduates. A local sorority afforded me the opportunity to go on a HBCU college tour. We visited at least 10 HBCU’s across the country and that experience changed my life. By being surrounded by Black excellence, I felt a sense of belonging and pride that I hadn’t felt before.

I will forever cherish the relationships and extended family that I built. I can’t forget the warmness and sense of community the students and teachers extended to me. Those relationships have extended far beyond my college years. I’m still in touch with many of those friends today.

Michael Canady
VP, Global Operations & Client Services
HBCU Alumnus
Pronouns: He/Him

I chose to attend an HBCU consciously and deliberately. Candidly, I only ever had an interest in an HBCU education. I had a lot of options academically, but at my core, I wanted and needed a Black college experience.  I felt that an HBCU education would provide me with the best cultural and academic environment for my personal success.  In retrospect, the experience certainly allowed me the space to grow and learn about myself as a young Black student in ways that I may have been unable to at a traditional university.

Apart from the academic benefits of an HBCU education, by far the best benefits are the life-long friendships that I developed.  I’m thankful for the amazing relationships and people I encountered during my journey there.  My network and the relationships that I built along the way are invaluable.

Quite honestly, my HBCU journey exposed me to Black excellence on a level that I hadn’t yet personally experienced before.  A variety of successful people from my own culture mentored and educated me.  That experience had a meaningful impact on my own personal aspirations and ambitions.

I firmly believe that my college experience was a key contributor to who I became as an adult.  I certainly found my confidence and the experience was pivotal in helping shape my identity, point of view as a Black man and my overall outlook on life.  I definitely matured in a manner that I likely wouldn’t have been able to do had I chosen a different path for my undergraduate studies.

I had the opportunity to learn about the world from the perspective of my identity.  That experience was invaluable and certainly helped to shape my perspective on a variety of topics ranging from politics, social issues to diversity, equity and inclusion.

 

Inspired to join the Discover team? Explore careers with us.

 

 

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My Father’s Wish to Attend an HBCU Forever Changed My Life

Wanji Walcott
Executive Vice President
Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her

Being the only one

I didn’t intend to attend an HBCU (Historically Black College and University). My decision was largely driven by my father. I was the only Black person— and I don’t even mean student, I mean Black person— at my school until 6th grade. The first Black teacher I ever encountered in my life wasn’t until my senior year of high school. He wasn’t even my teacher, he was just a history teacher at the school.

My dad’s wish

Watching everything unfold in my formative years, my dad wanted me to attend an HBCU. When college decision time came, he put me (albeit a little unwillingly) in the car and we visited a couple of them. When I arrived at what would later become my alma mater, I distinctly knew I wanted to go there. I just had a feeling as soon as I set foot on that campus. I felt that it was where I belonged. I knew it was a place where I could grow.

My perceptions of HBCUs

Similar to how many white people may feel, I had my own perceptions of what an HBCU would be like. Because I’d never attended one, and I didn’t know anyone who had, I worried that I wasn’t going to fit in or find friends. I was raised in a very white environment my entire life and I assumed everyone at an HBCU would come from a predominantly Black environment. When I arrived, I quickly found a bunch of people who had similar experiences to mine. I met people who, just like me, had gone to New England boarding schools and had grown up as “the only one” too.

Diversity within diverse communities

From there, I branched out. I met a lot of people who had completely different experience from mine. I learned that there’s a lot of diversity within diverse communities. I didn’t have this realization until college (maybe I should have learned that growing up, but I didn’t), and it made me even more enamored with the HBCU community. My college experience brought together people who I never even knew were out there— prominent Black families from all over the world, star athletes, star academics. Both meeting people that were like me and different from me was foundational. Many of those people are lifelong friends to this day.

Finding philosophy

I originally wanted to be a philosophy major. I took one philosophy class in high school and I loved it. I knew I wanted to go to law school and I liked that the degree would teach me how to think and how to write.

My dad and the department head

My dad wanted me to be an engineering major. He’d won the HBCU battle, but I refused to let him pick my major. He thought I was crazy and didn’t know how I’d land a job after graduation. So I found the head of the philosophy department and I said, “I want to be a philosophy major, but I need you to meet with my dad.” The department head agreed and met with my dad a week later. To this day I don’t know what the department chair told my dad during their meeting, but my dad walked out of the meeting and said, “You’re going to be a philosophy major.”

The path not taken

I’m happy that I pushed back because I don’t think engineering would have been the right path for me. We always joked that I would still be at school if I’d been an engineering major. Engineering wasn’t my interest or my strength. And when you combine something that’s not your strength and not your interest, it’s unlikely you’ll excel. Although it’s funny, when I first became a lawyer I was very focused on tech and intellectual property. I felt like that job was a nod to my dad. A look, I’ve come full circle moment. Though I wasn’t exactly an engineer.

Taking over the administration building

In my junior year, my alma mater made a new appointment to the Board of Trustees. A small group of us students were opposed to their appointment because of that person’s history with segregationists. Long story short, we took over the administration building. We locked ourselves in there for two days until the school announced the appointee wouldn’t join our Board of Trustees.

We might get arrested

During those two days, the police came. We’d chain locked all the doors. The police didn’t break through the doors, but they were outside with a bullhorn. Some of the organizers inside told us, we might get arrested, you may want to leave now.

If you believe in it, you should stay

I remember being in the administration building on a payphone, calling my parents and telling my mom that I might get arrested. My mom was insistent that I get out of there and leave immediately. Eventually she put my dad on the phone. (Remember, my dad and I didn’t always agree on a lot.) But my dad said to me, “If you believe in what you’re doing, you should stay.” My dad’s now deceased, so thinking back on this moment is emotional. When I heard his words in that moment, I hung up the phone and told the organizers that I believed in what we were doing, and I was staying. 48 hours after we’d locked ourselves in, the school announced they’d cancelled that appointment to their board of trustees.

A pivotal moment in my life

I’d never been involved in a peaceful protest, or anything like it before. Up until then, I’d just drifted through my happy life. That demonstration was the first time I encountered something bigger than myself that I could influence. It was a pivotal moment. It showed me the power a small group of people can have. From then on, I understood that if I knew something was wrong and I didn’t take action, I would be complicit in it.

Having an experience like that in college is critical. It showed me who I was and what was important to me. That spunky kid locked in the administration building is still in me. She feeds into my desire to practice law.

Ancestral pride

The biggest benefit I got out of attending an HBCU was just understanding more about my history and my ancestors’ history. I learned about so many people from my alma mater who were the first ever to fill-in-the-blank. Learning about my history fueled my work ethic. It fueled my ambitions. It inspired me to attend the same university as so many impressive people, who overcame so much. And I thought, I’m here too.

I hadn’t realized how growing up as “the only one,” had affected my developing self-confidence. I’d had great friends. It’s not as though I experienced a lot of negative things growing up. But being the only one, I experienced micro-aggressions.

Conversely, being in a historically Black college setting built my confidence. I developed a sense of pride. It made me walk straighter. Put my chin up a little bit more, shoulders back. I felt good about myself. I felt privileged to be there. I wanted to make the most of it.

Childhood dreams

As a child, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, save the world and advocate for people. Becoming a corporate lawyer certainly wasn’t the game plan at the time (I didn’t even know what corporate law was). Although I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, I didn’t have any sort of examples of what that path would be. No one was a lawyer in my family. I didn’t know how to get there. I just knew that I had to go to law school at some point.

I imagined entering public interest law and never wanted to work with corporations. At the time, I held strongly to my belief that all corporations were bad. But it turns out, I could do both. In my current role at Discover, I advocate for people and advance our mission to bring our customers a brighter financial future. It’s possible to do both.

 

Learn more about our new partnership with HBCU, Paul Quinn College.

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Stories Unmasked: Growing Up (and Coping) Inside the Closet

Our Discover teammates opened up about growing up and masking their true selves. Find out how they’ve learned to create space for themselves.

Vibe with someone’s story? Click their name for more.

Man in parkBrandon Frost
Sr. Business Analyst
Remote (Portland, Oregon)
Pronouns: He/Him/His

When I was younger and closeted, I spent so much time and energy masking myself. It was downright exhausting living my authentic life out of the closet, and then packing it all in to “act a certain way” when I went home. I never mentioned any details of my personal life in fear of being found out.

I do sometimes resent how much damage was done by being trapped in the closet. But through therapy and counseling, I’ve found a peaceful and productive way to deal with that past trauma. The best way to revisit the past is with a sense of grace, and non-critical self-judgement. As my therapist always says, “You did the best you could with what you knew then. You were an adolescent gay child – give yourself some grace and understanding. You were protecting yourself because you thought nobody else would.”

Karlyn Steadman
Team Coach, Customer Service & Engagement Dept. Core
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: They/Them

I knew I was a lesbian as soon as I knew what the word meant. I don’t remember a time that I could identify as anything but that. At that same moment, I learned the name for the feelings I had for other people, I also learned it was a “sin” according to my family’s religion, or, specifically, an “abomination” as was taught every Sunday. From that moment, I felt as if I was an abomination. From five years old until the age of 15, I forced myself into a box, carefully suppressing those feelings. When I was 15 years old, I was caught with my partner at the time and forced to go through conversion therapy. I built up more layers of hate for myself, all while navigating the feelings of being non-binary and different from the female I was being forced to be.

At the age of 23, I was finally able to work through my own self-hatred, and happily, confidently, be me. I came out to my friends and family as non-binary. I stopped forcing myself into the check mark box of female and learned to love my differences and embrace that my life was worthy of love. I understood Pride and found an identity that I wanted to live in. I’m amazed how identity can be ever-changing. I teach kindness and love so we won’t force our future generations into our outdated standards.

Megan Isaac
Team Leader, Deposits Front Office
Lake Park, Salt Lake City Utah
Pronouns: She/Her

It was extremely hard for me to come out to myself. I grew up in a religion where being a part of the LGBTQ+ community was not okay and was viewed as shameful. I always knew that there was something off about me and that I wasn’t attracted to the typical “marry a man and have lots of children” expectation. Yet I denied the same sex attraction feelings I had.

When I was 16, I stumbled across the LGBTQ+ community through social media and was immediately drawn to it. As soon as I could see that two women can be married with children and have a fulfilling life, I came out to myself. When I came out to my parents, it was discussed that I would move across the country to move closer to our religion and suppress my feelings. When I did eventually come out, I learned that my family found it more important that I follow their religion over me living a happy and healthy life.

Nathan Andon
Account Executive
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

The first time I came out to myself I was a teenager living in a small, midwestern town. I knew my identity in my mind, but growing up in the Midwest (and being pre-internet) was very isolating. I literally felt like I was the only person who felt the way I did. I suppressed a lot of myself because I had to. I remember saying “I’m gay” out loud in the mirror, and it was an out of body experience (not the good kind).

The best decision I ever made was leaving my hometown. I always knew my life would never be fulfilling in a smaller setting. I felt drawn to a bigger city so I moved to Mexico after right after high school. It was my first time out of the country and really broadened my view of the world.

Because I grew up in a non-LGBTQ+ affirming place, if I’m in non-affirming spaces now, I can revert to that mental place. I’m able to suppress myself in order to “fit-in.” But I have friends who can’t do the same (nor should they have to). I don’t frequent non-affirming spaces as much nowadays because it still makes me a bit uncomfortable. I remember going to college sports bars, or events that were very alcohol and straight-male oriented. It’s hard to relax and have a good time when at any moment I know I could be singled out, physically assaulted or worse. That’s why LGBTQ+ affirming spaces are important in reinforcing safety, security, and establishing confidence in your true self.

two people in coffee shopMargarita Zias
Associate Information Security
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

While small Greek town I grew up in was beautiful and the people were friendly, I often felt like I couldn’t be truthful to myself. If my identity was written as a social media relationship status, it would be ‘It’s Complicated.” I always struggled to be myself and felt scared of becoming an outcast. I was always labelled as a weird kid because I was into anime and enjoyed wearing super colorful patterns that didn’t fit in with the trends at the time.

I can’t say I had an ‘A-ha’ moment where I came out to myself. On some level I always knew. But because I grew up in an environment where I wasn’t even aware that being gay or bisexual was normal, I was always fearful to admit it. I had a hard enough time fitting in already. Coming out was difficult for me because I wasn’t aware that there was an “in-between” option. I thought the only options were “A” or “B” and I couldn’t pick just one.

It wasn’t until I came back to New York for college that I realized I wasn’t alone. There, I met many other people who were like me. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel alone anymore. For the first time in my life, I felt like I knew who I was and I wasn’t ashamed of embracing it.

couple posing in sunflower fieldNicole Barton
Operational Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/her

My family is still very religious and we disagree on a lot of things. I recently talked with them about the Equality Act, back when it was up for a vote. I wanted to know if they supported the bill because I’m part of the community that it affects.  At the end of the day, my parents didn’t support the bill because they felt it limited their religious freedoms. I felt frustrated because while they say they support me, they didn’t act in support of me.

No matter how much I want them to see it from my side, they might not ever change. From this experience, a hard truth I learned is that I cannot control them. Instead, I set boundaries with them while staying true to myself. I won’t stop speaking up and sharing my opinion. I’m not going to hide myself in fear. If they want to stop their relationship with me, they have the option to set that boundary too. It’s a hard scenario to swallow, but it’s easier because I have other people in my life that fully support me.

woman holding mug and smilingSusanne Jenz-Lingemann
Senior Executive Relationship Manager
Remote (Cologne, Germany)
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When I first came out to myself I felt very alone. I grew up in a small village in the countryside. I felt certain that I was the only one who felt the way I did. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of LGBTQ+ representation in the media. The internet wasn’t popular, nor did I know anyone who was lesbian or gay. Instead, I mostly heard about people’s biases and of course, hear people use “gay” and “lesbian” as swearwords. I suffered, a lot. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know where I belonged. I had nobody to talk to and I was too ashamed to talk to my parents or my friends. If I could tell my younger self one thing, I would tell her, “You are okay! Be brave and speak to your friends and you will find, you are not alone.”

 

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More Complex Than You Think: Allyship within the LGBTQ+ Community

Discover teammates share their perspectives on the nuances of allyship from within the LGBTQ+ community. Vibe with someone’s perspective? Click on their name to read their full story.

Stephanie Garcia
Loan Review Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

Apart from my friend, I kept my sexual identity to myself at first. I felt worried that people would judge me and say that Asexuality wasn’t a valid identity. Then I slowly started wearing Ace Pride pins and eventually venturing into clothing. My parents were confused at first, but are now super supportive and even educate others on asexual awareness. I’m currently working on not feeling like I take up space at Pride events and feeling more included within the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

I volunteered for a Pride event a few years ago to help customer care representatives at Discover sign up for our Ally Program. I was sitting at the booth looking at the list of identities on display and was so excited to see Asexual listed for all to see. After helping at the booth for a bit, many agents asked what Asexuality means. I got to describe it to a few people and they were so interested to learn more. My friend in a previous department even saw my Ace Pride pin and asked what it meant. We talked for a little while and he finally opened up to me to say he felt the same way. He felt so glad that I opened up to him and told him that he wasn’t alone.

Avonlea Whitaker         
Coach
Lake Park
Pronouns: They/Them

I went on a date with someone who identified as lesbian, but didn’t validate transgender identities. It really threw me for a loop that someone who was part of the LGBTQ+ community could be so discriminatory towards a whole part of their own community. I realized then that someone can be queer and not be an ally! That moment reaffirmed my dedication to allyship for the community and minorities.

Man posing on balconyBrandon Frost
Sr. Business Analyst
Remote (Portland, Oregon)
Pronouns: He/Him/His

I find myself really understanding intersectionality more and more as I navigate being an Out individual. I’m recognizing the full extent of my privilege as a white man, while also being empathetic to other minority groups that have experienced discrimination, bias and stereotyping. I too have been oppressed and discriminated against from growing up as a gay man. Those experiences help me understand what being an advocate and ally truly means within the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) space.

woman with glasses and pink hair smilingNicole Barton
Operational Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/her

I’ve also been impressed with the diversity and equity work Discover has focused on with the Black Organizational Leadership at Discover (BOLD) ERG. We have programs about systemic racism and how we can be better allies. Discover has also actively taken steps to hire more people of color (POC), donate to our local communities, and has spoken out about how we don’t tolerate racism in our workplace. I’ve loved working here specifically for these reasons.

I’m currently working on navigating life as a white woman. I’m learning to un-write my biases, support marginalized communities, and stand up for what’s right— even when it is uncomfortable or scary. I’ve educated myself through research and am learning to listen more. I’ve been standing up when people around me say things that are racist, homophobic, or overall just rude and insensitive. I will never stop trying to better myself in this area, it’s so important for our future.

 

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You Heard It Here First: Life Advice from Your LGBTQ+ Faves

Hear life-changing advice from people who’ve fought for their joy, for acceptance and for themselves. Vibing with what they’re sharing? Click on their name to read their full story.

Anahita Chaudhary
Lead Modeler
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/her/hers

When I was in grade 4, in the year 2002, Mumbai became the most populous city in India following the census in 2000. My textbook wasn’t updated and still claimed the most populous as Calcutta. My dad noticed the difference and told me to write the answer as Mumbai if the question ever came up on exams. To my surprise, the question did come up. I wrote Mumbai as the most populous city, but I didn’t get the mark. The experience taught me was that no one, not even the text books or teachers, are beyond the limit of being questioned, and that marks don’t matter if I don’t have the knowledge. I carry this as a value today when I question the trends I see in my data, or when I learn a new technique to expand my understanding of my work. It’s also helped me align my work satisfaction to my performance and not by the amount of praise or bonus I receive.

Stephanie Garcia
Loan Review Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

In the past, I’ve made the mistake of taking on too many projects. I often got stretched too thin and pulled in too many directions. This also goes along with not knowing when to say no. I have a huge fear of disappointing people and I always said “yes.” I was all about helping others, so it was extremely hard for me to admit that I needed help. The best decision I ever made was to start talking to a therapist. I’ve learned to know my limits and not be afraid to say no if I really can’t do something.

Person wearing a flower crownAvonlea Whitaker
Coach
Lake Park
Pronouns: They/Them

A hard truth I’ve learned is that family are the people you choose— not necessarily the people you’re blood related to. I have a group to call my chosen family and am out to all my friends. They’re all super great with using my pronouns. The best decision I ever made for myself was coming out as non-binary to my chosen family. It was the hardest thing for me to come out, but starting with my chosen family reminded me that there are people who accept me for who I am. My family knows my sexual orientation, but not my pronouns.

Amy Armstrong             
VP, Compliance Advisory
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her

A piece of advice I live by is “know your non-negotiables.” Everyone has non-negotiables.  Knowing those will drive your goals and take out the stress of the unknown and a lot of “what-if” guesswork. Is your title and work flexibility non-negotiable? Then look for those opportunities. Is it benefits and work location? Then use that as a starting point.

Dawn Hansen
Change Management & Communications Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

I’m still working on caring less about what other people think. When I realized that’s what held me back from coming out sooner in life, I promised myself I’d work on not worrying about it anymore. My advice to my younger self would be, “Accept who you are no matter how scary it is. It’s gonna be okay. You’ll be much happier once you live 100% authentically.” I’m getting better. I’ve done a lot of things in the last few years that I’ve always been very scared to do because of what others would think (i.e., cutting all my hair off, getting tattoo sleeves, etc.)

Camille Todd
Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Riverwoods, IL (Permanently remote from Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

I struggled a lot with accepting that I was Trans, but I finally came out to myself at 30. I wish I had the courage to have done it a lot earlier in life but hey… that’s life, right? Now at 32 I’m really happy with myself and my body. I would tell my younger self: “Dude, you’re definitely Trans and that’s cool. Don’t be so weird about it…just come out already and start living your life as the person you are!” I wish that I could have experienced this level of happiness in my youth when I really needed it.

 

 

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Iced Coffee, Power Tools and Drag Shows: A Non-Definitive List of Our LGBTQ+ Obsessions

Iced Coffee, Power Tools and Drag Shows: A Non-Definitive List of Our LGBTQ+ Obsessions

Happy Pride month! We asked Discover teammates across the globe to share their LGBTQ+ favorites. Swipe through to find out what (and who) we’re obsessed with from queer culture:

Self-expression

Avonlea Whitaker

Person wearing a hatCoach
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: They/Them

I am obsessed with iced coffee! I’ve also dyed my hair every color of the rainbow. It sometimes feels like I change my hair to match my confidence or my evolved identity. Having colored hair almost feels like a comfort thing because of how much I’m able to reflect my feelings with my hair color.

Chris Crosby

Team Leader, Identity Protection
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: He/Him/His

For me, it’s about fashion. I always look my best at all times— even when I am not in the mood to. You never know who’s watching!

Megan Isaac

Team Leader, Deposits Front Office
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

I love wearing flannels! My fiancé and I will also sometimes match or coordinate clothes to dress similar. Sometimes it’s on purpose, sometimes it’s not— but that’s still okay with us.

Music

Camille Todd

Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Riverwoods, IL (Permanently remote from Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

I have secret love of a certain Queen of R&B (not so secret when you see me dancing to any of her songs). I listen to her nearly every day—if you show up to one of my meetings early… you may get a personal concert. Her music keeps me feeling upbeat and a little sassy during the work day, which helps me tackle complicated problems.

Laura Stoll

Principal Release Manager
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: She / Her

Indie concerts– I follow my favorite bands likes it’s my job!

Hobbies hobbies hobbies

Margarita Zias

two people in coffee shopAssociate Information Security
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I love shopping for extremely corny stuff for my friends. One of my favorite purchases recently was little drink toppers that hang on the side of cocktail glasses. They look like little plastic dolls in bathing suits. Each one has a name written across their swimsuit. I gave the drink toppers to a friend of mine who’s gay, and he absolutely loves them. They always “join us” for movie nights at his house.

Kayla Knoll

IRA Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: they/them

I love tarot readings!

Nicole Shuck

Senior Manager, Rewards Marketing
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

This is an easy one!! SOFTBALL. I love the stereotype about lesbians being softball players because, well, it’s pretty accurate (I played softball for 15+ years).

Dawn Hansen

Change Management & Communications Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

I love using power tools and building things and working outside. I’m super eco-conscious and spend a lot of time upcycling furniture or things around the house. I guess my stereotypical LGBTQ+ fave would be being a queer woman with a tool belt.

Drag shows

Brandon Frost

Man smiling at cameraSr. Business Analyst
Remote (Portland, Oregon)
Pronouns: He/Him/His

If there’s a stereotypical LGBTQ+ obsession that I have, it’s watching (and being fully invested in) drag show reality TV! I appreciate the openness, creativity, inclusivity, the over-the-top personalities, and the incredible artistic talent of the show. I’m always eager for the newest season to drop so that I can have watch parties with all my LGBTQ+ friends! It’s light-hearted, good-ole-fashioned campy FUN!

Natalie Kalmbacher

Natalie headshot with trans flag colorsLead Account Specialist Billing Resolutions
New Castle, DE
Pronouns: She/her

Going to and watching drag shows… because YAASSS QUEEN! All the entertainment in the world is right there.

Heather Koelliker

Throwback photo of Heather and her wifeAcquisitions Relationship Manager
Salt Lake City, UT
Pronouns: She /Her

I don’t know if it’s stereotypical but I love me some drag show reality TV! I love seeing the competitors on the show be who they are no matter what. It makes me feel connected to their stories and I love seeing how beautiful and talented they are.

Nicholas Cash

Nicholas and sonSystem Support Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: He/Him

I love drag show reality TV and all things reality TV. Housewives and dating shows— all of them have my heart and more of my time than I wish to delve into. Part of the appeal is seeing how these people live, and their version of “normal” is fascinating to me.

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From Pre-Internet Midwest Isolation to Self-Confident Pride: Coming Out and Staying Out

Nathan Andon
Account Executive
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

The pre-internet Midwest landscape

The first time I came out to myself I was a teenager living in a small, Midwestern town. I knew my identity in my mind, but growing up in the Midwest (and being pre-internet) was very isolating. I literally felt like I was the only person who felt the way I did. I suppressed a lot of myself because I had to. I remember saying “I’m gay” out loud in the mirror, and it was an out of body experience (not the good kind).

Deciding to leave for Mexico

The best decision I ever made was leaving my hometown. I always knew my life would never be fulfilling in a smaller setting. I felt drawn to a bigger city so I moved to Mexico after right after high school. It was my first time out of the country and really broadened my view of the world.

Wait, there’s an entire community

Over time, I’ve grown to accept myself for who I am more and more. Back in my teen years, if someone asked me about my sexual orientation, I definitely would have lied. In college, I would have answered depending on whether or not I felt safe enough to do so. Once I moved to Chicago, I felt comfortable enough with myself to not care. I realized there was an entire community that identified the way I do. I would tell my younger self: IT GET’S BETTER! SO MUCH BETTER!

Okay, Discover Pride

Back in my younger days, I connected with the broader LGBTQ+ community by going to gay bars and nightclubs, hanging out in Boystown (Chicago), going to street fests and parades. I don’t frequent the bars and nightclubs anymore, but I do like a good street fest or parade still. Now that I’m more involved in Discover’s Pride employee resource group (ERG), I feel more connected to the community. I’m in frequent contact with local organizations that focus on the LGBTQ+ community.

Going back in the closet

Because I grew up in a non-LGBTQ+ affirming place, if I’m in non-affirming spaces now, I can revert to that mental place. I’m able to suppress myself in order to “fit-in.” But I have friends who can’t do the same (nor should they have to). I don’t frequent non-affirming spaces as much nowadays because it still makes me a bit uncomfortable. I remember going to college sports bars, or events that were very alcohol and straight-male oriented. It’s hard to relax and have a good time when at any moment I know I could be singled out, physically assaulted or worse. That’s why LGBTQ+ affirming spaces are important in reinforcing safety, security, and establishing confidence in your true self.

Yas labels

My identity is ever-evolving, but I’m at the end of my journey of accepting who I am. As with anything, I have good days and bad days. My younger years were definitely full of exploration and trying to find out exactly who I am. It took some time to become comfortable with myself. I’m now more self-loving and self-confident. I know who I am, and I am proud of who I am. I identify as a cis-gendered, Latinx, gay male, and am 100% proud of all of those identifying labels.

 

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Dude, You’re Definitely Trans: A Story of Self Love and Fluidity

Camille Todd
Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Remote (Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

Fluidity and self-love

My identity has definitely evolved over the years and it’s been a wild ride. When I was born I was AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) and in my early adolescent years (11 or 12) I came out to my friends and family as bisexual. In recent years, I came out to myself and then family and friends as Trans. I now live as a proud pansexual transman. In regards to self-discovery and identity, I believe fluidity is the best approach for me and it’s how I’ve learned to love myself on deeper levels.

Navigating non-affirming spaces          

As a black queer person, I’ve faced many challenges associated with my identity, but the largest battle has always been related to non-affirming spaces. In my early life, I felt discouraged and sometimes ashamed when in non-affirming spaces. But I’ve learned to own my space and experience. When I find myself in a non-affirming space now, I come alive and show more of my personality and uniqueness.

Staying true to me

I strive to be my most authentic self at all times, with the full understanding that some people won’t understand or accept me— and that’s okay. At the end of the interaction, I walk away affirmed because I was true to me. Other people in that space may even learn something that changes their perspective. By being my authentic self, I may have cleared the path for someone who will come after me!


Dude, you’re definitely Trans

I would tell my younger self: “Dude, you’re definitely Trans and that’s cool. Don’t be so weird about it…just come out already and start living your life as the person you are!” I struggled a lot with accepting that I was Trans, but I finally came out to myself at 30. I wish I had the courage to have done it a lot earlier in life but hey… that’s life, right? Now at 32 I’m really happy with myself and my body. I wish that I could have experienced this level of happiness in my youth when I really needed it.

First shot, best shot

On my 31st birthday, I took my first shot of testosterone and it was without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. For years, I contemplated whether or not medically transitioning was the right thing to do and it totally was! I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own body and how I present to the world. I honestly never thought I could feel the way I now feel about myself. Confidence glow up?–absolutely!

Claiming space

I navigate corporate structures with intention and compassion. I’m intentional about 2 things– being my most authentic self and taking up space. I thrive when I can be my authentic self and bring ideas from my unique perspective on the world. I’m intentional about taking up space because early in my career I was plagued by imposter syndrome and it caused me to shrink away from various opportunities. In recent years, I’ve learned to own my experience with greater accountability. I take up the space required to present new and fresh ideas, foster and cultivate relationships with my coworkers, and drive growth and diversity within corporate culture.

My LGBTQ+ obsession

I have secret love of a certain Queen of R&B (not so secret when you see me dancing to any of her songs). I listen to her nearly every day—if you show up to one of my meetings early… you may get a personal concert. Her music keeps me feeling upbeat and a little sassy during the work day, which helps me tackle complicated problems.

 

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