June 25, 2020 / All Stories

Love is Love is Love

How AbbVie takes PRIDE in embracing its LGBTQ+ community.

The pride flag proudly waves outside AbbVie’s headquarter buildings each year during LGBT Pride Month.

The ABCs of an ERG

At AbbVie, we are driven by our compassion for people, commitment to innovation and inclusion, service to the community, and uncompromising integrity at the heart of everything we do. These Principles articulate what we believe to be right and true. They are foundational to our company, our culture and our values. Universal and unchanging, they unite, guide and inspire us.

To help amplify AbbVie’s collective set of diverse voices, the company is proud to sponsor seven Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), where our employees have an opportunity to create connections, build community and foster a diverse and inclusive environment where every voice is heard and valued. Developing and bringing innovative, life-saving medicines to patients requires this diversity of thought and it is crucial as a company that our employees reflect our diverse patient populations, representing every voice for those patients we serve.

In the first of a seven-part series dedicated to learning the ABC’s of our company’s ERGs, and in celebration of our LGBTQ+ community, we shine a spotlight on two members of our PRIDE Leadership team who embody AbbVie’s commitment to embracing equality, diversity and inclusion.

Let’s jump right in here. Can you share with us your ‘coming out’ experience(s) to family and friends?

Lori Lever (She/Her/Hers), PRIDE Chair: Although I had experienced various crushes on women in high school, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I found myself actually kissing another woman. I kept this to myself for a couple of years until I was able to come to grips with my new reality that I was gay. It was a tremendous struggle and I was trying so hard not to hate myself -- if you hate yourself for who you are, you certainly can't expect others to love you for who you are. And for someone who typically wears her heart on her sleeve, this was a particularly lonely time for me. Ultimately, my mom was the first person I told I identified as a lesbian, and I was beyond relieved when she said, “I don't care if you love a man or a woman, as long as they deserve you.” And although I've been very blessed in my life with the love and acceptance of family and friends, not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving support system. I can’t stress enough the responsibility we all share in supporting and embracing our LGBTQ+ youth as they go through this sometimes lonely and painful self-discovery process.

On a professional level, early in my career, I made a conscious decision not to tell anyone that I was gay. I didn't want anyone to attach any labels to me right away, but instead wanted them to get to know me before forming any opinions. It was in 1993, before marriage became legal, that my then girlfriend Terri (and now wife of 27 years) and I decided to have a commitment ceremony. I was celebrating this huge event in my life, a lifelong commitment to this amazing woman I loved with all my heart, and I just didn’t want to hide myself anymore. So I told people at work … and wouldn’t you know, they threw a bachelorette party for me; totally 100% supportive. Now older and wiser, I am open and proud about my sexual orientation in both my personal and professional lives. There is no longer this need to make a huge announcement. When I encounter new people now, it’s like, I’m married to a woman … take me or leave me as I am.

Robert Shields (He/Him/His), PRIDE Career Lead: As a kid, I always knew I was a little different from other boys my age, and I didn’t want to draw any extra attention to myself or speak up for fear of being outcast. And even though my uncle and his “partner” of 40 years were always welcome at family gatherings, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I kept living a heteronormative lifestyle all throughout high school, just trying to fit in and convince myself it was just a phase.

My freshman year of college was where I experienced my “gay” renaissance: slowly allowing myself to open up and befriend an amazing group of gay men who I felt comfortable being my true self around. When I finally got the courage to tell one of my best childhood friends that I was gay, I was relieved for her quick embrace and reassurance that she loved me no matter what. Fairly shortly after, I came out to my parents. I was so relieved when they told me they loved me and that my happiness was all that mattered to them. That was a real turning point in our relationship; it strengthened our family bond, knowing I would never have to hide who I was anymore. Fast forward to today, where I’m celebrating a blissful 9-year relationship with my loving husband Joe. Of course, my family seems to like him more than they like me, but it doesn’t faze me, because our families treat us with the same love and kindness that any spouse, or human being, should be treated with.

Proud members of our PRIDE ERG spread education, awareness and love at an internal networking event.

Can you tell us a little bit about AbbVie’s PRIDE ERG mission and goals?

Lever: PRIDE’s mission is to foster a safe, supportive, educated workplace, enabling all LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. Similar to all seven of the company’s ERGs, we have four primary objectives around what we refer to as “The Four C’s.” In simple terms, it basically imagines how we as a group can have the most impact on our Company, our Community, our Culture and our Careers. Our priorities surrounding these four pillars include 1.) encouraging all of our LGBTQ+ colleagues to bring their whole, authentic selves to work, 2.) engaging allies to create a supportive and inclusive environment, 3.) supporting the LGBTQ+ community in visible ways, 4.) furthering education around LGBTQ+ issues to raise awareness and heighten sensitivity, and 5.) fostering connectivity and an internal sense of community. Our hope is that all our members feel part of something bigger, something that connects us all and helps us amplify our voices as one cohesive community.

Shields: Lori mentions supporting the LGBTQ+ community in visible ways. A perfect example of how our PRIDE group visibly showcases our commitment and support of our LGBTQ+ community is our “Love is Love” initiative. It all started with our 2018 Valentine's Day PRIDE event, where we raffled off a small amount of “Love is Love” t-shirts. To our surprise, these colorful, love-infused t-shirts became a hot commodity amongst our colleagues. So we jumped on the “Love is Love” bandwagon and now provide these t-shirts to any interested PRIDE members. Overnight, this seemingly small initiative turned into walking billboards of support around our workplace. It’s really become a staple of not only our PRIDE ERG, but the company as a whole. Our culture is one that embraces and empowers our employees to proudly wear these t-shirt badges of honor, to say I am a proud member of, or ally to, our LGBTQ+ community (no matter which of the letters you identify as). We do a really great job at AbbVie of promoting this concept of just being yourself; there is no need to be ashamed or hide who you really are. You can feel safe to bring your authentic self to work every day. For me, this demonstrates a crucial and successful cultural aspect of the company.

Lever: We consider every Friday “Love is Love” day and ask our PRIDE members to wear their t-shirts in show of support of our LGBTQ+ community. On any given Friday, walking around our office, you can find a sea of people decked out in their t-shirts. For anyone new to AbbVie, for those new LGBTQ+ employees just joining the company, or for those who might not feel comfortable just being themselves, I’d say just look around on a Friday, and it's like, wow, I’m definitely welcome here!
 

Spotlight on the voices of our PRIDE Leadership team:

Let’s talk about the people and culture that define both AbbVie and our PRIDE ERG. Can you share a little on this topic?

Lever: I would say the broader culture at AbbVie is one that's very people centric. In my experience, people tend to be super nice, extremely caring individuals who are not only dedicated working professionals, but who also understand the importance of friends and family. Regarding our PRIDE ERG, our culture is one of acceptance, respect and empowerment; every person has a voice and is encouraged to use it. I really can’t stress this enough: from our CEO, to our executive leadership, our directors, our managers and our individual contributors … we are all encouraged to embrace one another as our authentic selves. Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) are not just words in our company; they are an enterprise-wide mindset. Leadership and employees alike truly walk the talk when it comes to embracing all employees as they are.

Shields: What speaks volumes to me is that our PRIDE ERG sponsors are comprised of mostly high-level vice presidents and senior executives who are extremely supportive of our LGBTQ+ community. They really want to be involved wherever, and whenever, possible. Just recently, our head of U.S. commercial operations, a sponsor and self-professed “#1 fan” of our PRIDE group, kicked off LGBT Pride Month for us. This year he recorded an (impassioned) virtual kickoff with a video from his home (due to COVID-19), and spoke to this year’s theme of ‘courage’: about the movement, our LGBTQ history and our continued efforts to make progress moving forward. So this inclusive culture really trickles out from the top down and is a reflection of how our executive leadership team embraces this ED&I mindset.

Lori Lever (left) and wife, Terri, are now celebrating their happily ever after with close to 30 years of marriage.

Can you share some examples of PRIDE’s impact on the external community, as well as how you tackle LGBTQ+ awareness and education amongst your internal colleagues?

Lever: A presence in the external community is critical so people understand that AbbVie is not only this great company that celebrates equality, diversity and inclusion, but that is truly 100% supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s about strengthening our current relationships in the broader community -- in the form of volunteer opportunities and charitable giving -- as well as identifying new connections where we can potentially have some impact. We currently have relationships, or are proud sponsors of Equality Illinois, Glenview Youth Services, PFLAG and the Human Rights Campaign. And of course, we are always looking for new relationships to cultivate.

One great example of education and awareness stems from our current partnership with Center on Halsted, a Midwest community center dedicated to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the LGBTQ people of Chicagoland. When we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, they put together an educational program on understanding the history of the LGBTQ movement. And for the 2019 International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) -- an annual event dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide -- they led a LGBTQ 101 workshop on transgender, non-binary and ally-ship, as well as a Trans 101 workshop about gender expression, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Shields: The AbbVie Foundation provides our group annually with a $100K grant for purely philanthropic purposes. This year was the first time we invited our PRIDE members to cast the deciding vote on which two nonprofits were to be the grant recipients: 1.) The Trevor Project, which is focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth; and 2.) Heartland Alliance, which works to advance human rights and champion human dignity by providing services and promoting solutions to achieve a more just global society. For Heartland, our donation will be used to support programs specifically serving LGBTQ+ populations.

Lever: We also bring in talented keynote speakers to help raise awareness and educate our AbbVie community on the issues that impact LGBTQ+ people. Major General Tammy Smith, the first gay general to serve openly in the U.S. military, visited us a couple of years back to speak about leadership and collaboration. Erin Uritus, CEO of Out & Equal, the worlds’ premier nonprofit dedicated to achieving global LGBTQ workplace equality, led a discussion on creating cultures of belonging in the workplace and how companies can leverage the collective power of their workforce and customer base. And just recently, we had (virtual) guest speaker Amber Hikes, ACLU chief equity and inclusion officer, join us to talk about intersectionality and leveraging privilege.

Robert Shields (left) and husband, Joe, have fun in the sun at a friend’s summer home in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.

How about career development. Does PRIDE help members focus on professional development?

Shields: Our group is very much committed to the cultivation and promotion of career development for our LGBTQ+ members, mostly in the form of learning opportunities. In our current work from home environment (due to COVID-19), we have been securing a mix of both internal and external resources to ensure our members have access to resources which can help them grow professionally. Some examples of online resources and professional development opportunities we are (virtually) leveraging for our ERG include: a LinkedIn Learning webinar on becoming an Inclusive Leader, a virtual Pride Brunch Break with Out & Equal, a virtual discussion on how multicultural marketing teams devise and execute marketing campaigns, as well as how LGBTQ advocacy impacts marketing strategy. In addition, AbbVie’s global development program, Learn.Develop.Perform, offers a vast library of both live and on-demand interactive learning and webinar resources, available for every employee 24/7. We also hope to tackle some (virtual) ‘Lunch and Learns’ in the coming months to showcase the career journeys of our internal leadership.
 

What prompted you to tackle a leadership role in the PRIDE ERG?

Shields: Even before I started working at AbbVie, I had done extensive research and stumbled upon some impressive accolades: the company has scored a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI) multiple years in a row; they’ve been named one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ equality; and DiversityInc. named them one of the Top 50 Companies for Diversity. I knew the company had the bones of a great corporate culture, so upon joining the company, I wanted to play an active role in any efforts dedicated to moving the needle forward for our LGBTQ+ colleagues.

Lever: Because I am proudly able to bring my authentic self to work every day and have this successful, 30-year relationship with my amazing wife, my initial motivation was rooted in being a role model to our younger LGBTQ+ colleagues. To be this living, breathing example of someone who has advanced in their career, has a positive, loving, affirming relationship with a woman, and can still be open about her sexual orientation at home and in the workplace. I felt as though I embodied what was possible, and I wanted my fellow LGBTQ+ colleagues to see this to feel as though they could embody it, too. Nowadays, I am also a committed ally to support more marginalized groups within the community, namely Transgender and Non-binary people. It’s so important to understand people’s pronouns, and respect and see them for who they are.

AbbVie colleagues gather in 2019 for the raising of the pride flag during LGBT Pride Month.

Any important milestones PRIDE has achieved which you are most proud of?

Lever: We're super proud to be able to raise the pride flag each year at our U.S. headquarter buildings to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. For many of us, last year's flag raising ceremony was a super-emotional day. Over a hundred colleagues stood together to support the LGBTQ+ community, watching with smiles plastered on their faces as our rainbow pride flag rose up the flagpole. Definitely lots of hugs and tears of joy that day. I'm actually getting emotional just thinking about it. It's just this very visible sign of the support of our colleagues and our company.

Shields: It was super-emotional, impressive and just very surreal. Our president of U.S. commercial operations led the event with a heartfelt message about both his and AbbVie’s commitment to our LGBTQ+ community. And yes, tears were flowing throughout the crowd; honestly, it would have been hard for anyone not to be swept up in the magic. And from now on, driving through our main entrance during LGBT Pride Month, all are reminded of AbbVie's commitment to our LGBTQ+ employees.

I’d also be remiss not to mention our presence in last year’s Pride parades in Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Of course, when over a million people see AbbVie in these parades, it’s positive exposure for the company. But even more so, it helps us demonstrate that AbbVie is here, in this strikingly visible way, to say we support our LGBTQ+ colleagues, and the broader community at large.

Lever: I’ve often thought about how a new LGBTQ+ employee might feel about entering a large, corporate environment such as AbbVie, and been worried about whether (or not) they would feel comfortable? Or how many people have attended a Pride parade and may be worried that someone may see them, and that this might get back to their employer and potentially jeopardize their job. And then I think of how blessed I am to have landed at this amazing company. A company that not only sponsors these massively supportive public events but encourages its employees to participate and help showcase our love for the LGBTQ+ community.
 

Learn more about AbbVie’s commitment to Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.

AbbVie is committed to advancing racial equality, through our continued growth and acceptance of each other, our way of doing business, our attraction and development of talent, and our service to the community. Read AbbVie's statement on racial injustice.

Learn more about PRIDE and all of AbbVie’s Employee Resource Groups.

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Alissa Bolton
Email: alissa.bolton@abbvie.com
Call: +1 847-937-2644
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