Black History Month is a significant time to elevate the stories, voices, and experiences of the Black community. This month is an opportunity to pause from our routines and to really see and value the contributions of Black Americans. Out & Equal is committed to elevating the profile of members of our community who have diverse intersectional identities.

Toni Barrington (she/her pronouns) is a Corporate Compliance Analyst and LGBTQ+ ERG lead.

Tell me about yourself, where you grew up, and how your journey led you to where you are now in your career and life.

My name is Toni Barrington. I was born in Florida, but I spent most of my formative years in California. I clearly understood that my journey was different than my schoolmates and family. I worked really hard to be “normal” and traditional and so at a young age I got married and had kids. Although I was suppressing my queer identity through that journey, it helped me understand who I am and led me to stop living my life based on what others wanted me to be.

My Blackness played a huge role in my journey to fully coming out and living my life as queer. Unfortunately, it also played a part in my feelings of shame because I didn’t feel comfortable being out in my Black community in the 90s and early 2000s. I was the first person in my immediate family to come out and for a while, it wasn’t well received. The Black community I was a part of was heavily involved in the church because the church was a haven for Black people. America has not been a safe place for Black people, but the church offered a place of comfort and a place to lay down your fear. We are seeing a shift now with the non-queer Black community, even the Black church community, being more supportive and accepting of queer people.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Growing up, Black History Month was very special to me growing up because it was a time I felt really proud of being Black. And that feeling hasn’t changed to this day during Black History Month. I’m proud of being Black every day of the year now, but that wasn’t and isn’t always the case for everyone.

Black History Month is a great time to bring more awareness to people who are not Black. It’s a good time to teach and it’s also a good time for people to ask questions and try to understand a little more about the Black experience. I would encourage anyone reading this to start having the tough conversations during this month and step out of your comfort zone to learn more about our community and our successes. This month is beautiful and still so very important, but I want us to celebrate each person’s culture 365 days a year.

Why is inclusion in the workplace important for the Black community? Why is intersectionality so imperative in our conversations around workplace inclusion?  

Inclusion is incredibly important for everyone, but for the Black community its important because it allows Black people to bring their authentic selves to the workplace and know that the company sees them and values them for who they are.

Inclusive workplaces also foster opportunities to have communities ask each other questions, which helps build better allies. My Black colleagues can ask me questions about my queer identity and vice versa.

What would you share with young Black people who are on a similar professional trajectory as you? What do you wish someone had told you early in your career? 

I would tell young Black people that it is absolutely crucial for them to find companies that accept them for who they are. We live in a culture and society where people are working sometimes 8-12 hours a day, therefore, it’s so important for people to feel comfortable and good about where they work. You want to spend your time in an environment that includes you and where you belong.

I wish someone had told me to look for a company whose mission statement and whose values align with what is important to me. I wish someone had told me that my mental health and wellbeing are more important than the perks of any job. If someone had given me this advice, I would’ve found my current company sooner and worked at more places that valued me for more than my productivity.

Why is it important for Black professionals to have mentors? Why is representation in leadership important?

It is important for people to have mentors, period, but I think it’s even more important for Black people, LGBTQ people, or any underrepresented group to have people we can lean on professionally and personally because of the uneven playing field we are already on.

In Corporate America, having a mentor is equivalent to having a personal advocate. They can show you how to maneuver through systems and challenges, which is very important for the Black community because we didn’t create the systems that are in place. Our parents didn’t create the systems in place. Our grandparents didn’t create the systems in place. Black people have had to maneuver these systems created by white people forever. Mentors are crucial in helping teach underrepresented communities how to network, negotiate, meet people, and succeed in the workplace.

What does belonging mean to you personally? And what does it look like for you professionally?

Belonging means to me going someplace and not only being tolerated but fully accepted. And then beyond being accepted, supporting me, and giving me the foundation to thrive and succeed. I’ve been on a long professional and personal journey and I’m past the point of being happy with being tolerated. It’s not acceptable for me anymore. I must fully belong.

We all have personal agency, and all have the ability to make choices that impact our opportunities to belong. We need to choose places to work that prioritize creating cultures of belonging, we need to choose friend groups that accept us no matter what, and the list goes on.

Antonia “Toni” Barrington works as a Corporate Compliance Analyst at Chevron. She is an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and mental health wellness in the workplace as well as a site lead on Chevron’s LGBTQ ERG. Her professional interests focus on using digital transformation to simplify compliance processes for quicker business delivery. She loves hiking, traveling with family/friends, studying minerals and rocks, learning about other cultures and road trips.