At Blue Shield of California, we are committed to cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment where all employees can be their authentic selves and fully contribute to meet the needs of our people, members, and the communities we serve. One way we help support this culture is through the sponsorship of several employee resource groups (ERGs), including the PRIDE ERG. On the heels of PRIDE’s recent signature event, “True Colors: How to be your authentic self in a hybrid environment,” we caught up with Theo Retos, PRIDE co-chair and senior manager of Program and Project Management on the People and Engagement Change Management and Employee Engagement team, about authenticity in the workplace and the work PRIDE has been doing at Blue Shield and beyond.

What advice do you have for those who are struggling to bring their authentic selves to work?

There are different avenues to find support based on the nature of each person’s individual struggle, whether a language barrier or work culture issue. PRIDE offers a place to talk with other people about what authenticity means to each individual.

Another question to ask is ‘what does authenticity mean to you?’ Each person is like a gem, and we experience a different facet of them depending on which part of them the viewer perceives. There are certain facets of myself that I show to my co-workers, and there are others I show to my friends and family. Decide which facets are important to show at work, then try to find natural ways to them. If you are having trouble being authentic to yourself, consider speaking to a licensed therapist or a trusted advisor or mentor. There is someone out there, be it a friend or local community organization, who can help unpack how you’re feeling and help you find ways to work through any struggles. 

Authenticity is like a painting. When you make a print of an original that is one out of ten, some people wouldn’t consider it authentic while some people would. When we ask somebody to be authentic at work, we need to be more specific about what we need. It’s like asking someone what resilience means. It’s subjective and could mean different things to different people. -Theo Retos

In what ways has Blue Shield contributed to creating a workplace where members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe bringing their true selves to work?

I like that Blue Shield said, “We’re going to formalize employee affiliate groups and give you an official place to recognize the LGBTQ+ community.” And not only that, but, “We’re also going to make officially titled roles that are meaningful and pay you for the work that you do around community.” Those to me are clear markers that Blue Shield thinks about this group and the issues, challenges, and opportunities as important. Additionally, naming executive sponsors is an enormously powerful signal and source of support. We have executives who believe our work is meaningful and stand behind it by contributing some of their own budgets and resources.

I think Blue Shield’s overall ethos around gender is progressive. When you think about our mission, it means we must address different barriers for different communities. We made it clear that people have access to whatever facility aligns with their gender. They can dress how they want if it is professional and deserve to be addressed the way they want to be addressed, regardless of what their legal paperwork says. Fundamentally, everyone has the right to be respected. 

Are there areas where you see a need for more work to be done? 

PRIDE co-chairs Theo Retos and Chloe Bower

One area is what I would describe as the evolution of intersectional thinking—shifting from thinking of ERGs as discreet groups that represent a person in a singular way. More commonly, people move through different groups in different ways and prioritize different things at different times in their lives. You could be Afro-Latino and gay, so what group are you going to sit with here? It doesn’t matter, you can join them all. My co-chair, Chloe Bower, and I, in partnership with others, are starting to think about ways to be more intentional about integrating work and highlighting overlaps. Disparities often affect multiple groups simultaneously and the best solutions are reached cooperatively.

For instance, the largest growing populations of people with new HIV infections in the U.S. are Black and Latino. How do we acknowledge that data and start to bridge some of the efforts between Pride, iUnidos!, and the Black Employee Network? As another example, we have a doula program for Black women that addresses a very specific healthcare gap. It would be ideal to see Elevating Women and the Black Employee Network collaborate to promote this program, so we are thinking about how we can knit these things together as a business to address long-term health outcomes broadly and among specific demographics.

How can leaders and colleagues better support employees in bringing their authenticity to work?

Each of us should understand that we are unique and not inherently comprehensible. When people act as a barrier to someone being authentic at work, I try to see the world through their lens, along with what has influenced them and what they’re going through. Then I approach them with curiosity and space for conversation. We can behave as a collective, but not be absorbed by the collective.

What are some of PRIDE’s plans for 2024 and how can people get involved?

Theo Retos with PRIDE executive sponsor, Peter Long, and Patty Brown of Blue Shield Promise

Three things come to mind. One is to continue our business efforts. We want to get ERG members into positions where they can drive or influence long-term business and health outcomes. We have a lot of very smart, motivated people with skills that are directly applicable to Blue Shield’s various initiatives, whether we launch them, or advance them on behalf of the business.

The second is to continue to target our efforts on community-focused events that directly connect us to members and partner organizations. We want to make sure that every dollar and labor hour is impactful.

Third, PRIDE is looking to activate more people in 2024. We have over 800 members and many opportunities for involvement, be it running your own initiative, organizing events, sending emails, or following up with local community organizations and chatting about sponsorship opportunities. Ultimately, we want to help our people develop personally and professionally, while making meaningful contributions to an ERG that is focused on employee authenticity and the business. 


If joining an ERG sounds like a work culture you would like to be a part of, we invite you to learn more about our available career opportunities and apply.