This column includes references that are personal and may to upsetting to some readers.
About the author: Bobby Wilkinson joined Schwab in January 2022 as Managing Director and Head of Diversity and Inclusion. Bobby has over 20 years of diversity, inclusion, and marketing leadership experience with Fortune 100 firms and is committed to helping others by sharing his own experiences and expertise. Bobby firmly believes in Booker T. Washington’s quote, “If you want to lift yourself, lift someone else up first.”
As I honor and celebrate Pride Month and Juneteenth, I wanted to share a personal story that represents just one chapter of a much bigger book about me. It’s a personal story that I believe helps to illustrate the value of inclusion and belonging, and the power of healing and authenticity.
Fifteen years ago, I relocated from the corn fields of Bloomington/Normal, Illinois, to the City of Angels, Los Angeles, California. At the time, I was going through a very difficult end to an eight-year relationship with the person I thought was going to be my life partner.
The impact of that breakup resulted in my weight ballooning to 309 pounds, where my pants were size 48, shirts were XXL and my sports coats were size 54 long. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, put on anti-depression medication, and then had a failed suicide attempt. Not a proud moment indeed. There was no question that I was at my rock bottom, and I didn’t care about life, work, or anything else but ending my personal pain.
The blessing or more accurately the blessings at that stage in my life were a number of work allies whom I had confided with that I was gay, had a life partner and a pending breakup.
Not only did they continue to stand with me through that rough period and provide time and space for me to heal, but they also encouraged and supported me to feel safe in my own coming out at work and to embrace my authentic self.
As one friend said to me, “Bobby if you put the same energy you’ve spent over the years hiding that you’re gay into just being yourself, trusting yourself; you will unleash a Bobby that you don’t realize is in there.”
That conversation gave me a taste of what belonging could feel like. It also reinforced—and continues to reinforce to this day—the power and influence that allies can make in other’s lives.
From hiding to healing
Embracing her advice was a turning point in my life. I enrolled in night school to obtain my MBA (it helped to keep my mind focused off the past). I stopped using food as an addiction for my pain. I came out as a proud Black, gay man to my family, friends and co-workers, with little to no negative repercussions. I joined the board of International LGBTQA Workplace Rights Non-Profit, and I found an amazing church family in Los Angeles. But most importantly with the support of old and new allies, I took that wasted energy I had used in “hiding Bobby” and put it into living my authentic life—which helped me focus a renewed energy on my professional and personal life.
Why belonging matters
Having a sense of pride and belonging in the workplace is not only good for one personally, but it makes you not dread Sunday nights.
Belonging is the fuel for employees to give their best efforts, their best ideas, their best creativity to contribute to an organization’s success—regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.
For me personally, having a true sense of belonging drives my sense of pride to be an advocate and ally and to extend that same feeling for others.
In service and……146 pounds lighter! 😊