Creating a space to belong – Pride at Blend

Growing up in an evangelical Christian community taught me from a young age the power of community—the idea that each of us can identify with a group of individuals with whom we share values, identities, and life experiences. Throughout my life, I’ve found myself searching for spaces and communities that empower me to be best. My journey to Blend underscored the importance of these spaces, and my life at Blend has been the embodiment of these principles.

Finding a space to belong for the first time

When I came out as gay early on in high school, I found a sense of community in my high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), which was a group advocating for the LGBTQQIA community led by an inspirational teacher at my high school in Livermore, California.

While my participation in some of the extracurricular activities was somewhat limited by my parents’ lack of enthusiasm for the subject of my sexuality at the time, the most remarkable part of the experience for me was just a feeling. A feeling of belonging with peers around me with whom I felt a set of shared experiences of being “other” in the society around us. For the first time, I had a social circle filled with people who were like me.

Building spaces

When I got to college at Oregon State, and in search of a similar feeling of belonging and empowerment, I joined the Rainbow Continuum. It’s an organization that works to create a safe space for the LGBTQQIA community and their allies.

As many can probably relate, I would not be who I am or where I am today without the remarkable people I met and experiences I had of commonality with my peers throughout my college years. But after I graduated, I spent several years without a community like the ones I had found in high school and college.

Immediately after school, as I started my career in banking, I realized the ‘real world’ offered no such guarantee of community. In fact, the experience for people like myself could not have been more different.

There, I didn’t have the opportunity to easily connect with others like me in the workplace. States like Oregon (where I first started my career) and California have enshrined protections into employment law against discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, but there is a distinction between tolerance, acceptance, and understanding—and acceptance and understanding are feelings you cannot legislate into existence.

The power of ERGs in the workplace

Having space at work to connect with others in the LGBTQQIA community and visibly celebrate that community brings about that sense of acceptance and understanding.

These types of groups—commonly known as ERGs (or Employee Resource Groups)—allow individuals to create these communities in the workplace and find a sense of belonging they may have otherwise lacked.

Prior to joining Blend, I had the opportunity to join my first ERG at another financial technology company here in San Francisco. It was great because it reminded me of how good things could be and how meaningful it is to have a dedicated space like I had in high school and college.

I remember on my first day here at Blend asking about ERGs and where I could sign up. I knew I wanted to be a leader in the community, and I was excited by the obvious dedication Blend has put into diversity, inclusion, and belonging, including formalizing its ERG structure with event planning from an amazing employee experience team, budgetary resources, and active participation from members of our executive leadership team.

During Pride month last year, our group hosted several events for each other and for the rest of the company. Many of us shared stories of our coming out, and what pride means to us. At first, I think many of us were nervous to share our stories so publicly within the company, but the outpouring of support really solidified that we were all part of a broader Blend community, all here to support each other. One of our group members brought us to a pride event at the California Academy of Sciences. Two other members showed off their musical talents in a cabaret-style pride happy hour for the whole company in our rooftop lunchroom.

I, like many others in the Pride @ Blend ERG, take action in my community beyond just my workplace; I’ve spent the last several years fundraising and volunteering for AIDS organizations here in San Francisco. Because of that connection, I was able to bring a longtime AIDS activist on site to speak to the company about the history of queer liberation in San Francisco and the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic on our community.

PRIDE @ Blend

The Pride ERG at Blend meets monthly and— like every ERG at Blend— hosts events every quarter. We’re a grassroots organization growing with our fast-growing company, and we strive to make everyone feel a sense of safety and belonging no matter where they are. I look forward to what the future holds with more newcomers who bring fresh ideas to the table, hosting more events, bolstering participation of our current members, and working intersectionally with other ERGs.

Blend is based here in San Francisco with a satellite office New York. We recognize that tolerance, acceptance, and understanding are values to live every day — not just write down and forget about.

If you’re looking for a new challenge and interested in joining our team, reach out. We’re hiring across our organization at our offices in San Francisco and New York.