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Men Who Get It: John Covington, CISSP; Infrastructure Manager, Production Services; TIAA-CREF

John Covington

“My main message is that people who feel more comfortable at work are more productive. I want to show people that my career has not been limited because I am gay.”

With 30 years of IT experience, initially as a technician, Covington currently manages two teams – the Service Now infrastructure team and the Identity and Access Management team. Having molded both teams, a total of 13 members strong, into a cohesive, collaborative unit, he is proud of how they work together to share information. “I encourage all of them to work hard and understand the value of attitude, cooperation and teamwork.”

Being a diversity champion is important to Covington because of how much the work environment has changed since he started. “When I entered the workforce, it was not the norm for someone to be out at work,” he said; in fact, he personally didn’t come out at work until he came to TIAA-CREF in 2006. “I feel like my goal is to provide a role model for others to help create the environment where people can be more comfortable at work,” he said.

Creating a Culture of Compassion

As the current co-chair of the Charlotte LGBT employee resource group (ERG), Covington helps plan and promote the monthly meetings, lunches and speakers. In addition, the group participates in community events like Charlotte Pride and the Human Rights Campaign. He is also a member of the IT Diversity Council, which is focused on attracting and retaining a diverse IT workforce.

He sees that even though he works for a very diversity-conscious company which has superior support from the senior leadership team, there is still room to improve the culture through social awareness and acceptance.

“I think a lot of young people still don’t feel comfortable at work. They don’t want to be on the LGBT ERG mailing list because they are concerned that if people see their names on that list, then it might hurt their careers.” He notes that the group only has 40 members in Charlotte, out of 5,000 employees. “If you do the math, that doesn’t add up.”

He urges LGBT individuals to be more active and visible and create the environment where people feel and offer acceptance.

Importance of Mentors and Allies

One plan in place to help move the needle is a mentor program that they are in the process of forming for LGBT associates. While the ERG requires attending meetings, having a mentor will provide someone the opportunity to meet privately, until they are ready to be more open.

He says that he wishes he had understood earlier the value of a mentor, and that he’d felt more comfortable, but most of all that the time had been different. “I worried that people wouldn’t want to work for a gay manager,” he said, adding that he believes that LGBT youth who are not yet comfortable would be well advised to have an LGBT mentor; not just for social reasons but to help navigate the workplace.

In addition, the ERG is also working to introduce a new Ally program in June to help promote a “Safe Place” at work.This would increase the number of people at ERG events and perhaps “provide cover” for those who might not yet be comfortable. “They can have a sticker in their office or wear a pin and it can be an ice breaker. It might be an easier entrée for those who are not yet ready to say, ‘This is what my partner and I did this weekend’.”

He also believes that if leaders get involved in the Ally program, it will send a very positive message, and help bring the issue to where it should be – just an everyday thing, and one that supports the core values of TIAA-CREF.

Covington is a native of North Carolina and has lived in the Charlotte area most of his adult life.He is an active cyclist, hits the gym regularly and participates in charity cycling events. He lives in Charlotte with his 92 lb. Doberman; Scarlette.