Brielle with her Cisco team. Holding my breath, I listened to my colleagues around the water cooler discussing their upcoming weekend plans. One is going to the beach with her husband and kids, another has a date planned for his girlfriend, and the other talks about her fiancé. Now it’s my turn. They sincerely ask about my weekend and my well-being. I talk about my upcoming rugby match, a recent round of golf, and a new recipe I tried out. They are kind; they listen, smile, and are attentive. Although I am surrounded by such genuine individuals, I keep my guard up. It’s 2014, and I’m not ready to come out.

Is it safe? Will I be judged? Will I be fired?

Being new to North Carolina, I was adapting to this corporate community. To date, I hadn’t expressed my sexual orientation freely. I lived in constant scenarios where I had to fit the heterosexual norm. To attend a dance, I had to have a male date and wear a dress. I couldn’t participate in traditionally male-dominant sports like boxing, rugby, or golf. If I was out publicly with my girlfriend (at the time), there was a constant fear of reaching for her hand or showing any sort of PDA because it was met with judgmental looks, vulgar remarks, or even catcalling. I carried a constant weight on my shoulders, invisible to those around me. A secret I kept to myself for far too long. I grew tired of holding my breath and wanted to be free to be me.

I didn’t realize until recent years that I wasn’t being my genuine, authentic self to those who befriended me from my first day at Cisco. Throughout my college years and early twenties, I thought I wouldn’t be seen as professional if everyone knew this part of me. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

To those individuals, new colleagues, and those I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Brielle Mayle. I’m a Global Financial Operations Manager for Cisco Capital. My pronouns are she/her. I am a Lesbian and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community here at Cisco. My journey at Cisco began in 2014 when I moved to Raleigh just after graduating from Marywood University in Pennsylvania.

You may not realize that members of the LGBTQ+ community must constantly come out and overcome the fear of judgment or simply lie and not be their authentic selves. I could tell you plenty of stories, but my saddest memory happened in my early days at Cisco when a colleague inquired about my upcoming plans, found out I had a date, and asked his name. Concerned about her reaction, I swapped my date’s name from female to male. I kicked myself for that one for the longest time.

Brielle and her father.

It wasn’t until 2019 that I fully felt comfortable being my 100% authentic self at work. I opened up and introduced my girlfriend as my girlfriend and not just a friend or roommate. I am very fortunate to have a director who immediately showed his support when I came out to him during a 1:1. He was aware of the resources and EROs available at Cisco to help me feel supported as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and I was grateful to him for this.

Although certain aspects took some time with my parents, I’m also grateful to have their love and support. My father tells the story much better than me, but when I came out to my parents, he sat for a moment and thought to himself, “Do I love my daughter any less than I did a minute ago? No. She’s still the same person, and I love her.”

I am still learning to be my full authentic self without concern for others’ opinions. There are times in public when I give my girlfriend a peck on the cheek, and she very lovingly says, “What are these small kisses?” and gives me another try. I’m blessed to have her in my life. She isn’t afraid to hold my hand in public or show affection. Because of her fearless nature, the closeted me is dissipating with each passing day, but we aren’t naïve. We know there are times and locations where we have to be safe.

There’s a profound scene in the 2018 film Love, Simon that compares this feeling of coming into your true self to that of exhaling. Readers, this is me exhaling, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell my story.

Times have changed since I started at Cisco in 2014. Not everyone’s coming out story is the same. Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse still occurs. However, I’m grateful for the progress the LGBTQ+ community and allies have made worldwide. Companies like Cisco have brought visibility to this community and are setting the standard for acceptance and education on better supporting not only your colleagues, but friends and family, too.

Since coming out, I have been able to express myself more freely, whether through simply having a pride flag behind me in my home office or wearing a pride pin. I’m able to talk casually about my weekend plans with my girlfriend, without judgment but with interest in my well-being and happiness.

I even felt empowered to finally approach management about my interest in attending the Lesbians Who Tech Summit, which Cisco sponsors. I attained the support of management to attend this summit twice, bringing back what I learned to broaden the knowledge and awareness within the Financial Shared Services Organization.

Finally, my suggestions, if you are interested in becoming an ally and more supportive and inclusive, include:

  1. Group shot of Brielle with other members of Cisco's PRIDE ERO. Joining Cisco’s PRIDE Inclusive Community, if you’re a Cisco employee
  2. Attending and supporting local PRIDE events. Some in the RTP area include:
  3. Patronizing restaurants and stores that are LGBTQ+ owned (Yelp can help you locate them)
  4. Taking the Cisco Pride Allyship Training Program in Degreed, if you’re a Cisco employee
  5. Sharing a pride flag in the background of your office if you are an ally or member of this community – this exemplifies a safe space for us

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Brielle Mayle

Global Financial Operations Manager

Cisco Capital