When I heard that, for the third year in a row, Yelp had received a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and earned the designation as a 2017 Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality, I couldn’t help but smile with pride, knowing that this award is well-deserved. It also got me thinking, ‘what does a company need to do in order to earn this title?’ After pouring through announcements referencing policies and practices, I realized that the key element missing from these announcement are the personal stories. It is one thing for a company to have non-discrimination clauses and inclusive benefits, but it is a whole other ball game to walk-the-walk. With that said, I want to share my story to show that Yelp truly walks the walk.
My story begins in a small meeting room with my recruiter, Lindsay, as I shakingly asked what Yelp’s Transgender benefits were, if any at all. Lindsay was a true guardian angel that day as she told me Yelp did indeed have Transgender Benefits and could connect me with one of our benefits specialists to get more details. A week later, I spoke with Michele, our benefits specialist, over the phone. She walked me through the medical benefits and I was completely astonished as she explained that my bloodwork, hormone prescriptions, and surgeries were all covered under our extensive insurance policy. After I had no further questions, she reminded me, “we are in this together.” Over the next few weeks, the company secures a single stall bathroom for the first months of my transition and learned that I could update my name in our systems before I paid the fee to change it legally. We then decided it was best I connect with Lucy and Nicole from our local HR team here in Phoenix, as I was ready to start the process of coming out full scale.
A few searches of recent transition stories online will tell you that many Transgender Individuals come out in the workplace via email. Many companies like to send out a brief email stating so-and-so is now x and please refer to them as y moving forward. Well, Yelp isn’t most companies. Yelp has detailed Gender Transition Guidelines that not only provide definitions of key LGTBQQIA terms, but also guidelines of who should be a part of the employees’ support group, how and when name changes should take place and that the announcement should be made in presentation form to whom the employee interacts with, in order to provide better education, understanding and acceptance.
When the week of my presentation arrived, our Head of Diversity flew in from Yelp HQ as added support, and we kicked things off with a presentation to my immediate team. I would like to tell you that I was ever so graceful in my first presentation, as public speaking is not one of my personal fears, but when the content hits close to home, those stomach butterflies start flapping vigorously. I opened my mouth only to say three words before the waterworks kicked in. Tension hung in the air as only a few people in the room knew what my message was to be and I fought through intense feelings of raw emotion and sputtered, “So I’m T-t-t-transsssgender.” Awkward silence filled the room but was broken by one coworker saying, “Can we just clap to that?” They did, and I continued through the presentation of my journey, where I started, where I was going, the respect I asked for in regards to my new name and gender pronouns, and the openness I would have to their questions through my journey. I felt raw and vulnerable, but through their smiles and a few tears, they showed me that we were in this together. This presentation repeated itself four more times over the next 24 hours. Each time the words were easier, and each time I was met with support.
The moment I sat down to my desk, I was flooded with support. My inbox was filled with message after message from colleagues amazed with my story and bravery. They were using my preferred name and pronouns immediately, telling me how proud they were, that they were there to support me. I had many colleagues approach me with tears, wanting to hug me and ask me more questions and wanting to know if there was anything they could do to support me. Chase Everett Rowley could now continue his transition forward, out, and so incredibly proud.
My transition story is rare, as too often we hear of Transgender individuals losing their jobs and/or having no medical benefits. But the hopes of sharing my story are to show others that it can get better, and to show other companies how to support all of their employees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Yelp’s score of 100 is not just a number to me. That number represents my recruiter Lindsay who provided me the paperwork for benefits, it is Lucy and Nicole in HR who got teary during my first presentation run-through, it is Rachel, our Head of Diversity who flew in from San Francisco to support me, and to each and every one of my coworkers who told me that they support me and that we are in this together.