In many parts of the world, June is PRIDE month, a recognition and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. PRA stands firm in its commitment to providing an inclusive, safe, and accepting work environment for our LGBTQ+ team members, their allies, and all employees.
Karson Phippen, a Clinical Study Coordinator in our Salt Lake City, Utah office, shares his personal story of finding happiness, loving himself, and being out and accepted— both in his personal life and in PRA’s welcoming environment. He also provides his unique insight into the importance of diversity, inclusion, and PRIDE in the workplace.
From your perspective, what is most important about embracing colleagues of different backgrounds and unique circumstances?
Diversity brings a variety of skills and experiences to the table. People learn valuable skills from their unique experiences. Getting to know people of different backgrounds enriches your own ability to connect and navigate new experiences that might seem unfamiliar and intimidating. You may think that you are alone, but by opening up, you allow others to share their experiences, find connections, and begin to feel more like a team and community.
Have you personally overcome any challenges as far as inclusion and acceptance and how did you do it?
I grew up in the culturally strict religious environment of Utah. I was taught that God would not love you unless you followed His expectations and married “His” way. I grew up with the constant fear that by being myself, I would be cut off from family and friends, and that life would be a lot more difficult. So, for many years, I hid who I was from myself and the world, believing that if I worked hard enough, it would change. I served a two-year religious service mission living in a third world country in the hopes that God would fix me. I came back full of love, but unchanged. I continued college, while working two jobs and avoiding the pressures of my family to settle down with a woman. I kept myself busy to prepare myself financially to live a life where I could be happy in case I lost all support.
When the pressure of trying to be everyone else’s expectation of perfect became too much, I finally broke down and was able to redefine my relationship with God, finding happiness in loving myself and others for who they were, despite their gender. Finally, I was able to live my truth, which was a huge relief to myself and everyone around me. I was able to have open-ended conversations with the people who genuinely loved and supported me, so they could learn from my experiences and learn to love me as I am. It wasn’t easy, but in the end it was worth it.
What has your professional journey taught you about life? With that in mind, tell us why you decided to join PRA.
Allowing yourself to be happy is the most important thing you can do that will improve your work life. People will want to work with you when you are happy and create an open environment where everyone feels safe. At a young age, I found out I could not control how people reacted to learning I was different; I could only control my attitude and the positive energy I exuded to the community.
By learning coping mechanisms, I dealt with adversity. Now, working hard, paying attention to detail, making jokes, and being organized all make my work presence unique and relatable. There are so many aspects to a person besides their sexuality that people will relate to, even if they have differing opinions in how they choose to live their life. I decided to join PRA due to my interest in advancing treatment options for patients, having experienced limiting medical conditions myself.
Can you please share your thoughts on how our industry can further promote diversity and inclusion within its ranks?
Our industry can promote diversity by allowing more opportunities for people to celebrate and share their unique experiences. This may include icebreaker activities, cultural events, or open forums to allow people to feel heard. Create an environment where people feel like they can be open, reach out for help, and incorporate their unique talents. When people feel safe, they will be more willing to improve the working conditions and productivity will improve.
Have you always felt comfortable sharing your personal story and being out with your coworkers?
No—when I started work at PRA, I was closeted. I wasn’t comfortable with myself, so I was shy, reserved, and kept to myself. I was also worried that being open would affect the way I was treated and seen at work. Eventually, I decided to marry someone I had been dating and made a post on social media. I was overwhelmed with the amount of love and support by coworkers, wanting to get to know me and my story. They began opening up to me about their own experiences of religious, racial, and economical oppression. People began reaching out to me both to confide in me and ask about my experiences. I was able to build connections with people to the point that I was considered for a promotional leadership role, where I could help guide others in the workplace. Now, I’m able to proudly display a picture of my husband and I on my desk, as well as be a reference for people who are struggling with their own journey.
Why is it important to you to be out at work?
I think that being myself makes others feel comfortable to do the same. It deepens the work dynamic and creates an environment where work is more about a personal connection rather than just a 9 to 5 checklist to get paid and go home. I am more excited to go to work with people who care about aspects of my life other than just my work output. I always get compliments on my eye for detail, the aesthetic appeal of my cubical, or educational documents I create, as well as my ability to relate to people who are struggling with where they are currently.
How does your experience of working at PRA as a member of the LGBTQ community compare to other places you have worked?
Amazing! The Science/Medical field has some of the best people to surround yourself with. They are independent thinkers who don’t simply base their logic on what they were told was “right,” but what they have experienced for themselves and tested and found out to be true! PRA is full of people with unique experiences from a variety of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds with life lessons they are willing to share.
Have you ever experienced microaggressions in the workplace? If so, how did this make you feel?
Yes, we work with many new people coming in and out of studies from all different backgrounds. Sometimes I hear unwanted opinions on politics or how they think people should live their lives. Growing up, I had those same thoughts against myself, so I am able to dismiss it in others as a lack of experience. When I feel comfortable, I’m able to ask non-threatening questions that may challenge their beliefs or broaden their understanding.
What would you like your colleagues to know about you?
I’m an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel on a budget. I’m an animal lover, basically living on a “suburban farm” with bees, French bulldogs, and chickens. I have experience handling exotic pets like raccoons, skunks, foxes and reptiles. I am a huge believer in self-reliance. I have a love-hate relationship with do-it-yourself projects, gardening and home renovations. Despite the obvious challenges of creating a family with someone of the same sex, I look forward to saving up to have a family of my own one day.
How can your colleagues be an ally to you?
My hope is that everyone is willing to be empathetic of the LGBTQ community—embrace their differences, but treat them like family. Experiences are much more universal than we realize, so don’t be afraid to talk openly about relationship stories like the struggle to date during COVID, awkward dates, meeting up with someone who looked nothing like their profile picture, or dumb arguments with your spouse about who left dishes out!
What does PRIDE mean to you?
PRIDE means loving yourself the way you are; it means accepting differences. Appreciating LOVE as a deeply strong connection between two people despite what physical labels a person was born with or societal expectations.
“If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
How do you celebrate PRIDE?
I celebrate PRIDE by blasting music, singing horribly at the top of my lungs and dancing like no one is watching. I make it known that I am a safe place for people to share their experiences and struggles without judgement. I listen to the voices of the oppressed so I can try to make the world a better place for everyone to live in. 🌈
PRA is proud to foster and maintain an inclusive environment where employees feel accepted and valued, and where our LGBTQ+ colleagues are embraced and feel free to live authentically—throughout PRIDE month and all year long.
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