How courageous acts succeed
Every year, Angie Coderre of US Foods attends the Chicago Pride Parade. She loves looking out over the sea of tents from businesses large and small supporting LGBTQ life, culture and community. She wanted to see US Foods in the mix too and launched a courageous journey to come out at work and establish the company’s first LGBTQ Employee Resource Group (ERG).
University of Virginia professor and researcher on workplace courage, James Detert, Ph.D., calls people like Coderre consciously courageous. They create the right conditions for their courageous acts to succeed by first establishing a strong reputation for excellence. Next, they work up, down and across the organization to forge relationships and build on internal resources and opportunities.
Journey to herself
Working at US Foods for more than five years and currently Manager of Analytics for Merchandising, Coderre has not always been out as a gay woman at work. Things changed in 2015 when she got engaged and began wearing a ring. “As I started to come out, I encountered more and more allies at work, as well as colleagues who were closeted, or partially closeted,” she explains.
She wanted to provide greater support to others navigating that line. And the fates aligned. “It was kismet,” Coderre says. While she was researching LGBTQ groups in the workplace, US Foods announced plans to launch Employee Resource Groups. “I went up to our VP of Talent Management as soon as she finished speaking and said, ‘I’m going to start an LGBT Employee Resource Group,’” she explained.
On the heels of that experience, Coderre also attended the 2018 WFF Annual Leadership Development Conference and participated in the LGBTQ Community of Interest (COI). “It was a really safe space for people who were nervous to even be seen walking in,” she explained. “A woman I was sitting next to shared that it was not safe for her to come out at work. Half the room was shocked and the other half nodded their heads.”
Feeling the spark
“If I hadn’t attended WFF, I wouldn’t have taken the initiative to start the ERG as soon as I did,” Coderre said. Ready to hit the ground running, she worked closely with the US Foods talent management team to launch the group ahead of the official process.
“I started organizing meetings and our network just grew organically,” she said. “Since we were early adopters, we actually helped HR pressure-test some of the approach and fine-tune the application process for others.”
Pathways to change
It turns out, the approach Coderre followed makes her an exemplar of conscious courage. Professor Detert identifies four principles from his research that lead to positive change.
- Lay the groundwork. Months and years invested in excelling at your job and demonstrating investment in the organization enables change agents to build a stock of goodwill that holds them in good stead when challenging existing norms. Successful change agents also build trust among those they champion. Coderre built a grassroots effort aligned with her colleagues and company.
- Choose your battles. People who succeed in acts of courage ask, ‘Is this really important?’ and ‘Is this the right time?’ The launch of ERGs at US Foods made it the perfect time to introduce an LGBT group.
- Persuade in the Moment. Detert asserts that conscious courage relies on building a case the audience can relate to with effective data connected to organizational priorities. The US Foods talent team was involved early and actively helped Coderre launch the LGBTQ group.
- Follow Up. Detert says conscious courage requires sharing credit for successes and repair of emotional fall-out when things don’t work out as planned.
Coderre has grown personally and professionally throughout her courageous journey. In 2019, US Foods even selected her as their WFF Change Maker, an elite group of rising young women who represent the future of the Food Industry.
“I have a better understanding of my own personal agency, greater risk tolerance, an understanding that you don’t have to have all the answers to get started, greater appreciation of vulnerability and more confidence to meet future challenges,” Coderre said.
She has it all: a consciously courageous Change Maker.