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Global Voices: Empathy Builds Relationships and Understanding

Stephon Strode, one of the founders of the Pride Business Resource Group at UL Solutions, talks about his professional journey, the importance of Pride Month and why we should listen to others.

Stephon Strode in blue jacket and white shirt.

June 17, 2024

As many countries worldwide celebrate Pride Month throughout June, we want to highlight the strength of our diverse work force at UL Solutions. We recently spoke with Stephon Strode, a founding member of the Pride Business Resource Group (BRG) at UL Solutions.

Learn more about his unique path from animal science to using his aptitude for technology in customer service roles, the importance of Pride Month and the best parts of working at UL Solutions.

Please tell us about your background.

I grew up in a small, rural town in middle Tennessee. I lived in Tennessee until 2022, then moved to Washington, D.C., where I now work at the UL Solutions Government Affairs office.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Middle Tennessee State University, intending to be a veterinarian. I grew up with family members who raised horses, chickens and cattle, and who trained horses and mules. I was always asking my mom for some kind of pet — birds, fish, lizards, dogs.

I realized, though, that I did not want to go on to veterinary school. I knew how expensive it would be and recognized I didn’t have the heart for it if an animal was seriously ill or hurt.

I worked in retail through high school and college, so after graduation, I started working in a customer care center for a large cellular service provider.

In 2021, I completed a master’s in business administration from Belmont University in Nashville. I had a business intelligence focus, which involved a lot of data and analytics.

How did you get into your line of work?

I worked in that customer care role for about a year. Then, I moved to operations at an alarm company in Nashville. I’ve naturally fallen into customer-facing roles. I have the people skills necessary for customer and technical support.

I also have an aptitude for technology, even personally. I’m a big tech person, and my partner is very tech-driven. He encouraged me to learn more. Now, I have taken on these kind of hybrid roles that utilize my people skills and technology knowledge.

What brought you to UL Solutions?

I came to UL Solutions in 2013 as a technical support analyst in Environment, Health and Safety. A mutual acquaintance put me in touch with the colleagues who were hiring. I interviewed with a few people, and they decided I was a good fit on the more technical side for a healthcare product.

A lot changed during the nine years I was with that group. I went from being on the phone, taking customer emails and calls, to eventually overseeing the entire department.

I left UL Solutions in 2022 to become a customer success manager, focusing more on relationship building than the technical side. It was a year-long contract. I reached out to a friend at UL Solutions when that contract ended. He told me they were hiring someone on the UL 360 team, our environmental, social and governance software.

So, I returned to UL Solutions in 2023 as a senior customer success specialist. I’m starting a new role training customers on the latest learning system as a trainer and configuration specialist in the Environmental Health and Safety group.

What do you like best about working at UL Solutions?

Absolutely, the people I work with. Colleagues make or break your experience when it comes to your professional development and success in your role. Even when I left for a year, I stayed in touch with people here because they had become my friends.

At UL Solutions, the willingness to accept change is incredible. Two colleagues and I started the Pride BRG in 2018. We wanted there to be a voice for LGBTQ+ employees. We led the group for two or three years and then handed off leadership.

I love that the company leadership was open to listening and supportive of our ideas. As an example, because same-sex marriage is not legal in every country, we worked to get back benefits for domestic partnerships. We’ve helped expand benefits and establish policies for transgender employees. It’s great to see the company leaning into diversity, equity and inclusion.

Why do you think Pride Month is important?

For so long, representation of LGBTQ+ people has been very marginal. Growing up Black and queer in a conservative rural town, that is something I can relate to. Kids today can be so much more open than previous generations could be, but we still have a long way to go.

It’s essential to recognize that queer people have always been here. We’ve made significant contributions throughout history even when we couldn’t be open about who we are.

We are just like everyone else. We have the same issues and emotions. We love. We laugh. We’re sad and get upset. We just want to be seen as equal people — like everybody else.

Everybody needs to take care of each other because life can be hard. We need advocates and allies who also see the big picture and know that marginalized people need support. We just want to be accepted.

Is there anyone who has had a significant impact on you?

My mom is a very forward-thinking woman who never made me feel different. She never guilted me about who I am. She didn’t accept anyone giving me flack for it, either. She let me be who I was and gave me clear support.

Every year at Christmas, she gives us stockings and always includes one personal gift. Last year, she got me a Pride watch band. She’s never done anything like that before. It was really touching to me.

How has being a part of a BRG impacted you?

The Black BRG has helped people find mentors and allowed us to see high-level executives and hear their stories. We have a way to connect and ask questions about how people got to where they are in their careers.

Seeing the company discussing issues affecting African American or Black employees, hosting town halls during significant racial events in America, and allowing the BRG to speak helps us feel supported.

With the Pride BRG, people don’t always understand the LGBTQ+ experience. People can see that it’s not a choice when discussing skin color and whatnot. So, we’re telling people being LGBTQ+ is not a choice because this is who we are.

Not that long ago, being LGBTQ+ was considered a mental illness. I wouldn’t have been able to have a conversation like this. It’s monumental to have support and to be out and proud at work.

We also understand each other’s struggles because they often interweave with ours. Pride encompasses all races, ages, education levels and every type of person.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

We need to listen to people’s stories. When you understand what they’ve been through, you understand who they are and why they respond to things a certain way. Everybody has a story, and empathy goes a long way in building relationships with colleagues, customers and people in your personal life.

Every marginalized group has a heartbreaking story. When you have privilege, it’s important to use it in the right way and not use it against somebody.