As children, we are told that the sky is the limit. But my sky looked much more like a ceiling.
By Joseph Barker
Not that long ago, I honestly believed that being gay would forever hinder my career as a transportation engineer. When I was in college, it never really dawned on me that my career choice could possibly be complicated by my sexuality; I just picked something that interested me. Once I graduated and entered the workforce, let’s just say the reality of how different I was from my coworkers was quite the slap in the face (think Cher in Moonstruck telling me to snap out of it). At that time, I thought the way to succeed was to assimilate. In my work life, I retreated into the proverbial closet faster than tickets sell out for Beyoncé concerts.
I avoided personal conversations at all costs for fear of letting the words “my boyfriend/fiancé/husband” slip (we’ve had a few title changes over the years). I stifled sassy remarks and “gay” references that came to mind to not draw attention to myself. I purposely deepened my speaking voice in a (feeble) attempt to circumvent preconceived notions. Every morning as I walked up to work, I reached into myself and hollowed out every unique quality of my personality and left them at the front door like an unwanted guest.
Stantec participating in the Edmonton Pride parade. From left, Keith Shillington, senior vice president; Travis Park, senior graphic designer; Gord Johnston, president and CEO; and Ruth O’Haire, regional HSSE advisor.
For years, the only thing that I brought to work was a shell of my true self, but it still wasn’t enough to avoid numerous instances of bias and discrimination. After six years of exhaustingly suppressing my authentic self, attempts to hide my sexuality were predictably futile and my career was stagnant. How was I supposed to grow in my career if I did not feel that I could bring all my strengths, talents, and experiences to the table? As children, we are told that the sky is the limit. But at this point, my sky looked much more like a ceiling. As I contemplated 40 more years of being trapped behind my desk, hiding who I am, I felt defeated and hopeless. In that moment, my mind was made up. I spent plenty enough of my younger years in the closet (acquiring a fabulous fashion sense in the meantime, of course), and I refused to spend any more time in that coffin of creativity.
I knew that my best chance for career liberation and personal authenticity was to find a company that blatantly and unapologetically celebrated diversity and inclusion. Sounds simple enough, but in a traditional career and a conservative state like Louisiana, I felt like I would have better luck finding a parking spot in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. I started asking around and talking to contacts in the hopes of finding some direction.
A one-off comment from a friend about Stantec led me to their website. I already knew that Stantec was a leader in transportation engineering, so I went to the website hoping for a good fit and a sign. After a couple of hours on the site, I stumbled across a page about the Pride@Stantec initiative. As I looked at pictures of Stantec’s involvement in Edmonton Pride, a sense of relief came over me. I knew immediately that I had found my rainbow oasis in this desert of discrimination. I wasn’t just sold on Stantec; I was determined to be my authentic, genuine self at work every day. A casual lunch meeting, an interview, and the rest is history.
Once I started at Stantec, it didn’t take me long to seek out a way to get involved in Pride@Stantec (the signature probably wasn’t even dry on my acceptance letter). Through an internal Yammer group, I quickly got plugged in, and I’m incredibly happy to say we have launched a Pride@Stantec chapter in New Orleans. Recently, I attended a company panel discussion, “How to Make Uncomfortable, Comfortable.” I knew for certain that I had made the right decision coming in to Stantec. Listening to this group of accomplished leaders within Stantec say that I deserve to be respected, that this is a safe space, and that we are all valued was just the rainbow sprinkles on top of this Stantec sundae. Hearing more about Stantec’s involvement in the Pride parades in Edmonton and Calgary and the corporate sponsorship of Pride@Work Canada is definitive proof that Stantec doesn’t just talk the talk, it walks the walk.
New Orleans Pride parade
I’ve been at Stantec for almost four months now and I walk into work every morning with a pep in my step and a Britney Spears song (“Toxic”) in my heart. I don’t have to hesitate to mention my husband in casual conversation. When I’m filling people in on all the ridiculous injuries my kickball league has had this season, I don’t have to conveniently leave off the fact that it is an LGBT league anymore. Overall, I feel lighter and happier, but more importantly, I’m free to be myself. I feel like, for the first time ever within my career, I can breathe. And Stantec has affirmed for me that I am not a burden; instead, I am an asset.
About the author
Joseph Barker is a licensed professional civil engineer and professional traffic operations engineer with more than six years experience in a variety of areas including transportation planning, traffic modeling, traffic impact analysis, conceptual roadway design, GIS mapping & analysis, transportation feasibility studies, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements.