June 24, 2021

Celebrating Pride Month: The Impact of Cengage’s PRIDE Employee Resource Group

On LinkedIn this month, we shared behind the scenes look into a crucial piece of Cengage’s culture – our PRIDE Employee Resource Group (ERG). Founded in 2018, the group promotes an inclusive culture that empowers and supports LGBTQIA+ employees and Allies of all backgrounds. From social groups like a book club to Pride marches to clothing drives, the group promotes activities that raise awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community internally and in the communities we live and work in. The group also has an active voice in our ongoing inclusion and diversity efforts. They recently updated Cengage's HR policy handbook for greater inclusiveness and played an integral role in our score of 100% and ranking of a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2021 Corporate Equality Index.

With insight from our ERG co-chairs, Casey Melanson, Colleen Rice and Chase Smolik, read on to discover how the group makes a difference, what it means to be an ally, and how Cengage is celebrating Pride Month.

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Making a Difference

“The PRIDE ERG helps encourage people to be their authentic selves. It’s about coming here, knowing you are part of a community where you can be yourself. You feel involved and build a connection with other people. We make a quantitative difference too – for example, we worked to get trans coverage added to our medical benefits, and that’s huge – and externally, we donate to many charities and do community outreach.” -Chase Smolik

“This is the first company I’ve worked at where they actually take steps to make us all feel supported. Knowing that the Pride ERG even existed at Cengage gave me such peace of mind. I can just come to my job without having to worry about accidentally outing myself, and that helps me really just focus on my work, knowing that everyone here is really supportive. I also like the fact that so many people ask questions in our Slack channel and not in an offensive way– everyone is just trying to be more educated.” -Casey Melanson

“Over the past year, out of necessity, we’ve shifted our focus from planning in-person events to providing support, because that’s what people needed during this tough year. We do a lot of pulse check-ins over our Slack channel. We try to build a sense of community, and really listen to our members – what do they need, and how can we support them? That includes offering a safe space for those who aren’t out yet.” -Colleen Rice

Celebrating Pride Month 2021

“The theme of Pride at Cengage this year is ‘celebrating and being proud.’ Celebrating queerness, being authentic in our queerness, being proud of our queerness, being proud of who we are, and being proud of who we are in our workplace, and our lives in general.” -Casey Melanson 

“All events have been company-wide. For the first time since PRIDE was formed in 2018, we hosted an external speaker, Graci Harkema, who spoke on overcoming adversity and living authentically. We held an intersectionality panel, where LGBTQIA+ community members answered questions about their intersecting identities and shed light on the nuances of being LGBTQIA+ in the 21st century. In addition to Pride Month BINGO and other daily activities on Slack, we’re also hosting a Paint n’ Sip fundraising event at the end of the month, which will raise money for LGBTQIA+ charities.” -Colleen Rice  

“These events have helped create a stronger community of support throughout our organization. Participants have joined each event with a willingness to learn and become better allies, colleagues, and friends.” -Chase Smolik 

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Being an Ally

“Allyship is a journey – there is no endpoint. You can't read just one book and think you're done. You might have to overcome what you learned as a child or grew up around. Being an ally is more of a mindset. It’s in how you openly communicate and lift people up. It's about retaining a willingness to learn, and patience to listen. Make sure you're not taking attention away from the person who is sharing their experience with you. It's okay to say, "I don't know what you're going through or I can't imagine what you're going through." -Chase Smolik 

“Allyship means taking a step back and having empathy for others, trying to understand others' experiences. I try to reflect about any sort of privilege I might have in relation to that person's experience, how that might keep me from understanding. It’s about trying to be as aware as I can and putting myself in that person's shoes to understand what they're going through. A key aspect of allyship is knowing that you're always learning, and realizing you always have room to grow.” -Colleen Rice 

“When it comes to being an ally, it's important to remember that no one is perfect. The LGBTQ community is super diverse. There's no one person who knows everything about every type of identity in the LGBTQ community. We hold a lot of educational events which teach about LGBTQ identities and experiences. We emphasize how to treat people with a certain identity, how to be supportive, how to use inclusive language, etc. In April, we held a successful “Ask Me Anything panel” for people learning how to be an ally. We felt it was important to create an appropriate space to ask tough, uncomfortable questions – including addressing situations where it is and isn’t appropriate to ask things in the workplace.” -Casey Melanson 

The Impact of the PRIDE ERG

Our ERG is a community filled with support and love...here’s what a few of our members had to say about the impact it has had on their lives:

“The PRIDE ERG gives me opportunities to use skills that I wouldn't usually get to apply to my daily work; to make our workplace more inclusive and fun; and makes Cengage's products and content more inclusive, valuable, and authentic to our students and instructors."

"Without the PRIDE ERG, I have no idea how I would have managed to come out as transgender at work and start living as myself daily. They got me connected to the right people, got the ball rolling to update staff in my office, update my accounts, and more. My mental health has improved tremendously as a result."

"To me, being an ally in this group means turning acceptance into a better understanding so that I can then turn that into action."

"Being a member means being in my colleague's corner, and knowing that the community is there for me, too, which is great, because it's an amazing community, filled with a variety of experience, advice, and support. Sometimes, that means bringing an issue up to Cengage as a whole to tackle, and sometimes it just means listening to a colleague's story and being there for them."