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Pride Month Roundtable: Extra Space Storage Leaders Discuss Pride & LGBTQ Inclusivity

For Pride Month, a group of Extra Space Storage leaders shared some insights into their careers and experiences as members of the LGBTQ community. Senior District Manager Paty Portilla led the discussion.

“Being a part of this community requires us to tell our truth or ‘come out’ more often than other communities,” said Portilla in opening the roundtable discussion. “It’s something that we do a lot, and depending on how your first initial coming out story went—if it was wildly successful or if it was something that was heartbreaking—there’s the moment that anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ says it for the first time. As you become confident in who you are and there’s an absence of shame, it just becomes one part of your many amazing characteristics.”

Participating with Portilla in this important conversation about leadership, inclusivity, and authenticity were:

  • Kim Lara-Kane, District Manager
  • David Wiehe, Director of Risk Management
  • Michael Duncan, National Solutions Center Team Lead
  • Joanie Bachonski, District Manager

Below are video clips and highlights from the discussion.

Q: Let’s start by having everyone introduce themselves.

Lara-Kane: My name is Kim Laura-Kane. I’m a District Manager in the Chung division, and I currently oversee 17 properties. I’m a bit of a rookie with Extra Space Storage. I’ve been here for a little over a year and a half.

Wiehe: My name is David Wiehe. I’ve worked for Extra Space Storage for just over five years. I started in the Accounting department, and I’m currently making a transition to the Risk Management department.

Duncan: My name is Michael Duncan, and I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for five and a half years. I started on what I call the Texas tour. I was an Assistant Manager in Houston, then a Store Manager, then a District Team Lead in San Antonio, and also spent time in Austin. This year, I made the transition to becoming the newest Team Lead at the National Solutions Center.

Bachonski: My name is Joanie Bachonski. I’m a District Manager in Central New Jersey. I started with Extra Space Storage ten years ago as a Store Manager. I was a District Team Lead, then a Division Learning Manager, a Senior Division Learning Manager, and then I came back to Operations as a District Manager.

Portilla: I’m Paty Portilla, Senior District Manager in Southern California, and I will be with Extra Space Storage for six years next month.

Q: We all identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Pride means to you.

Duncan: For me, Pride is not just a month out of the year. It’s every day of my entire existence. It’s how I behave and what I put forth in the world as the best part of myself—and accepting myself and the world around me.

Lara-Kane: Pride for me is the absence of shame in everything that I do. So in my personal life, being able to be open and out, and in my professional life as well.

Bachonski: Pride is about community. I think everyone on this call has experienced some form of discrimination by family, or friends, or by people we don’t know. I’m so proud to be part of a community that has come together to fight for injustice for all members of our great amazing community.

Q: In our past, perhaps there have been times when we’ve experienced discrimination. I’d love to ask you guys how you create a safe space for yourself and others.

Wiehe: When I was younger, I think there were a lot more unsafe places than there are today, fortunately. When I started working at Extra Space Storage, I had been married at that point, and my spouse was a part of who I was. So I bring him up, just like I bring up our five-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever in conversations when it comes to talking with colleagues and team members about what my family unit consists of. Creating safe spaces, from my perspective, is as much about sharing who I am so that people feel comfortable sharing who they are.

Lara-Kane: It’s important for me to let my managers know about my family. So I talk about my wife and my son all the time. When I first started with the company, I was very lucky that I had five members of the LGBTQ community on my team, so there were a lot of safe spaces for me personally in my first district. It’s imperative to make sure I tell people who I am and let them know that it’s okay to be who you are and that I’m a safe person to be with. Being really transparent with my team creates that safe place.

Bachonski: I came out in high school in the late ’90s. Coming out to friends and family at such a young age and during that time was very difficult. Now, I try to make my life very authentic. I don’t necessarily come out, but it comes out through conversation. Being gay is a big part of who I am, but it’s not all of who I am.

Duncan: I came out in high school in the ’80s. A door was opened for me, and my family got to know my truth. When my parents didn’t know what to do with me, I got lucky that they sent me to live with my grandparents, who were very open, inviting, and engaging. My grandfather would say things like “You can’t change where you come from, but you can change how you react to it. You can change how you put it forward.” So from that, I always try to lead by being kind and make sure that when people talk with me they know it’s an open environment. I will always share my truth, but I will first feel out the situation before putting it out on the table.

Q: Let’s talk about creating an inclusive team. How you are an ally as a leader?

Wiehe: The more I work with a diverse team, the more I believe in the importance of inclusivity. I try to lead in that area by being a good listener who shows an interest in allowing someone to share their story whenever they’re ready to. And by their story, I mean whatever aspect of their life they’re interested in sharing with me at that point in time. From there, with individuals, there seems to be momentum, and over the course of having a team in place for an extended period of time, you can start to build a thick fabric with team members for good growth.

Bachonski: David, I love how you mentioned listening. I think what’s important is listening to everybody and not just people who think the same way that you do. When I think of making an inclusive team, it’s about challenging myself to be uncomfortable in situations where I might be in discussions with someone who disagrees with me. Recently, we had a Diversity & Inclusion workshop, and we had really great discussions along those lines. I had an employee who is a white straight male say to me, “I was very apprehensive about these courses and workshops because I thought I was going to be blamed for something.” That took me back, and I said, “Okay, yeah, let’s talk about that. I want to hear how you feel.” We had a great discussion, and sometimes, when we talk about being inclusive, we have to make sure that we are truly inclusive and not excluding people. Listening means listening to everyone.

Q: What guides you to be a great leader?

Lara-Kane: Being a great leader means identifying the difference between being a leader and a boss. I firmly believe that our people are our biggest asset. I firmly believe that the future leaders of our company are currently working with us today. It’s my responsibility to meet them where they are and to make sure they understand that our relationship will be mutual—I will take from them, and they will take from me. So being humble in my position and knowing that we are one team, but most importantly making sure they know they are welcome on my team and together we’re going to great things.

Wiehe: Vulnerability is probably the biggest strength that a leader can share with people. To do that and to have people feel comfortable and ensure everything is honest and a safe space combine to be part of the core pieces of my leadership style.

Duncan: I like to let people know that I come from a place of inclusivity, and I believe that there’s room at the table for everybody. I have used that as my guiding principle for myself through my development with Extra Space Storage. Similarly, to emulate the leaders within this organization that have been very open to me and have allowed me to be who I am, and have challenged me to be better in how I perceived myself and my weaknesses.

Q: What career advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Lara-Kane: My time with Extra Space Storage has been amazing this first year, even through the pandemic. My best advice if you’re just starting, either with this company or in the industry, is don’t be afraid to ask questions. And if you need to ask a question again, ask the question again. It’s a great way to learn about a new industry.

Wiehe: I couldn’t agree with those sentiments more. Don’t be afraid to ask repeated questions because ultimately, what you’re saying to someone is “I want to learn this.” Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to not fit in perfectly on the first day. For anyone who has started a new job, career, or just graduating college, it takes a while to feel like you’re settled into that new role. Don’t feel like it should be smooth right at first. Asking questions and showing a bit of vulnerability is a great place to start.

Bachonski: When I was promoted from the field to my first corporate position with Extra Space Storage, I had to go to Salt Lake City for the first time. I remember some of my friends saying, “Don’t tell anyone you’re gay! Don’t come out!” We had this big dinner the first night, and the CEO at the time knew everybody. He came up to me and said, “Joanie, I heard you just got married. What’s your husband’s name?” I said, “Corinne!” We laughed, and he proceeded to asked questions about Corinne. I guess the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone is that coming out is very personal, and you do it in your own time at your own pace. But number one, always be yourself and don’t allow yourself to be in situations where you feel uncomfortable. Like Kim said earlier, speak up. If something doesn’t feel right, say something.

Duncan: I had a new District Vice President come into my office in the field and ask me about my career goals with Extra Space Storage. He asked, “Have you ever thought about taking your team-building skills to the National Solutions Center?” My first response was “Utah?” But the transition to come here was so smooth and I still thank him for that. Every time I get a new team member, I say, “I want you to know upfront, every single person in this room was new at some point, so whatever you’re feeling is completely natural and we’ll work through it together.” I always tell them that there is a place for all of us at this organization, and every voice is important. So let’s just kill it together!

Portilla: I love that career advice. I see it now as a luxury, but I worked for a company that didn’t align with my personal values in the past. That’s turned into the best career advice I can give someone—know what your values are and make sure that you know what your company’s values are and that they are at least somewhat aligned. That’s why hosting this roundtable has been such a pleasure because my values align with Extra Space Storage’s values, as I think some of yours do as well. We’ve had this opportunity to share advice with people like us and to people who are allies, and it’s been really impactful to hear all of you speak. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy days to join us today. I appreciate you.

Extra Space Storage is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace with its Diversity & Inclusion committees and internal initiatives like the recent “Ask—Listen—Act” campaign. Learn more about our values and company culture.