“Why wouldn’t we want the best for everyone …”

“I treat all of my friends the same …”

“It’s not fun when things aren’t fair.”

The quotes above came from Zelia, the six-year-old daughter of Heidi Herald, Highmark’s Director of Employee Wellness & Model Account Strategy, as they marched in the 2014 Pittsburgh Pride parade in June. Heidi had attended Pride before as a Highmark volunteer, but this year she decided to bring her children, Zelia and two-year-old Ada. In our interview, Heidi talks about that experience and broader issues of valuing and embracing differences.

Donald Bertschman: Talk a little about the decision to attend Pride this year and bring your daughters.

Heidi Herald: Highmark’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and Marketing departments have been great partners with Employee Wellness, so one aspect of this is that I want to be a good partner with them. But I also looked at it as an opportunity to give my kids exposure to people’s differences. Where we live, people are not all that different. I want them to understand that everybody is different, and that’s a beautiful thing. I also knew Pride was being marketed as a family-friendly event, and I wanted to support that.

Heidi Herald brought her two daughters to the Pride march in Pittsburgh

Highmark employee Heidi Herald with daughters Ada (left) and Zelia (right) at the 2014 Pittsburgh Pride march.

DBWhat did you tell your daughters about the event?

HH: I said we were going to march in a parade that celebrates differences among all of us. My six-year-old focused on “parade” and thought there would be music, so it wasn’t quite what she expected. But I reminded her of the reason we were there — to celebrate differences and wanting things to be fair for everybody. That’s something my husband and I look for opportunities to weave in to conversation with them — that not everybody is the same and that we like to be around all different people. Pride was an actionable way to show that.

DB: You may already know this, but when Highmark became the first corporate sponsor of Pride in Pittsburgh in 2008, the company sponsored a kids’ play area. So, from the start, there’s been a focus on family-friendliness. With that said, as a parent, talk about the family-friendliness of the Pittsburgh event.

HH: We went mainly for the march, so I can’t speak to how much there was to do for kids afterward. Except for Sara Oliver-Carter’s grandchildren, we didn’t see many other kids marching. We saw more kids among the people lining the sides of the parade. It was a very energizing crowd!

DB: Did your kids enjoy the event?

HH: I don’t know if I would say “enjoyed,” but it’s not always about getting a balloon and a hot dog. This was about the experience and show of support. At six, I don’t know how much Zelia might process the deeper meanings. But I’m willing to bet she’ll remember the experience. She’s talked about it since then and, a year from now, it wouldn’t surprise me if she said, “Mom, are we going to march in that parade again?”

DB: Do you think Pride made an impression in terms of LGBT individuals specifically just in seeing lots of men partnered with men, women partnered with women?

HH: My daughter didn’t seem to notice that. When my husband asked her what she saw, she said “people walking.” But there you have it – people, right? So, the takeaway might be that this is the way things normally should be. The more you expose your kids to difference, the more that difference becomes “normal.”

DB: So instead of “normal” just meaning the people in your neighborhood or school, it expands to include the people at Pride, people seen in different places you’ve traveled.

HH: Yes. I know “normal” can have some negative connotations. But the idea of expanding the definition of normal seems appropriate here.

DB: The quotes you shared with our team from Zelia are so wonderful (see top of article). Were they inspired by anything specific at Pride or part of a larger conversation?

HH: I tried to spur conversation around why we were there — to celebrate everyone’s differences — in a way that I thought she’d get, so saying things like, “Do you know how it is when you’re on the playground and someone doesn’t want to play with you, or someone’s not giving you a turn?” I tried to give her examples she could relate to that would help her make the connections.

DB: What was it like for you to be at Pride hearing a child’s perspective?

HH: I thought about how every day we become less innocent. I think there’s a natural acceptance and fairness in children, but then many kids unlearn that. As a parent, I don’t know that you can “teach” empathy so much as you imply it by the tone and words you choose around your children. You never want to feed into “‘they’ do this and that’s bad” thinking. You want to show the importance of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. So — if you find out your child is disruptive in class, it’s not just “stop being disruptive.” It’s, “How do you think that affects the other kids in class?” That shifts a child out of their own little world and they start seeing that the choices they make can either have a positive impact or negative impact on others.

Highmark employees march in the Pittsburgh Pride parade (2014)

The Highmark employee contingent marching in Pittsburgh’s Pride parade, 2014.

DB: Central PA Pride is coming up on July 26, and is also a family-friendly event. Whether for that, or next year’s Pittsburgh Pride, what would you say to parents who are considering taking their kids but are not sure what the kids will get out of the event, or are worried that their kids will be bored?

HH: 93% of communication is nonverbal. You can talk about diversity and celebrating differences all you want, but if you’re not doing things that show your kids that, the words don’t always have the impact. As for boredom, the march in Pittsburgh is half an hour. It’s a very manageable timeframe. These are events where you can spend as much or little time as you want.

DB: Your area of expertise at Highmark is partly about building a good employee culture. From that angle, how did you feel about being at Pride with your kids as part of the Highmark contingent?

HH: There was a lot of positive feeling — just those acknowledging nods of “you’re here too” and “good to see you.” In the big picture, this might sound cheesy, but I felt proud. Any time I see us doing good works in the community, I feel proud. That’s a great indication of the culture we’re trying to build at Highmark. When people do external good works, that automatically comes back into the workplace.