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By Elizabeth Exline
Chad Parker is a classic overachiever. Not yet 50, he has already risen through the ranks at Blue Shield of California to become the director of talent mobility. He has helped grow his company’s Pride employee resource group (ERG) from a grassroots effort into an established entity. He is the first in his family of origin to earn a bachelor’s degree (and a master’s!). He already has three grandchildren.
How did Parker accomplish so much in so little time? “I’ve always been a goal-oriented person,” he says. His aptitude for optimizing processes, whether at work or in his own life, didn’t hurt either. Here’s the backstory.
According to Parker, his upbringing in Northern California was pretty “normal.” He was the second of three sons born to parents who both worked for the government. While neither of his parents ever earned a college degree, they did model the virtue of hard work, and Parker always believed he would go to college someday.
“There was always a silent expectation that we would continue our education beyond high school,” Parker says, “and both of my brothers did — but just never finished. It was important for me to do it, not just because it was a smart thing to do professionally, but to prove to myself I could do it.”
At first, Parker seemed on track to follow his brothers’ example. He attended a state college unsuccessfully for a semester and then decided to earn his associate degree at a community college to save money. This he accomplished while working full time and getting married when he was 20 years old.
One year later, his first child was born, and Parker needed a flexible university in order to earn his bachelor’s degree. “After having kids, I quickly realized I needed a program that would allow me to go to school in the evening but not require me to be there four to five days a week. This is when I found University of Phoenix,” he says.
Parker’s wife at the time was working in retail, so she and Parker finagled their schedules to juggle work and raising a family. She could work in the evenings on his non-school days and during the day on his school days. Parents and in-laws filled in the gaps.
“By the time I was 26, I had three children, I had finished my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and I had come out,” Parker summarizes. “I was going strong with both my personal and professional journeys.”
His personal journey included the life-changing revelation that Parker is gay. He describes coming out as both traumatic and a relief.
“The immediate feeling of coming out, even though there’s a whole mess of new stress that comes with that, the release of the stress of holding that in for years and years is worth it,” Parker says.
With the exception of an older brother, Parker’s family proved supportive. This, in turn, allowed Parker to flourish both personally and professionally.
“Since coming out in 1999, it’s always been important to me to show up as my authentic self and to be a role model for other LGBTQ employees,” Parker says. “Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I didn’t see people like me in leadership roles and certainly not ‘out.’ Once I came out, it was just so important for me to make sure others saw that I was successful and didn’t have to hide who I was, all in the hope of providing some courage to others to do the same.”
One way he’s accomplished this goal was to build his company’s Pride ERG from a grassroots organization into a robust group that numbers, Parker estimates, between 500 and 1,000 LGBTQ+ members and allies. Parker co-led the ERG for two years and is currently an active participant and advisor.
His work with the Pride ERG is one way Parker’s co-worker, Sonya Wade, sees him as different from other colleagues.
Wade has worked with Parker for a decade, and she’s seen firsthand how seriously he takes his commitment to building a positive workplace culture.
“He has a personal mission to ensure everyone feels they have a home and a safe place at Blue Shield,” Wade explains. “You can find him sitting on a panel for Pride discussions, volunteering in the community and, most importantly, being a resource for those who need it most.”
His commitment to mentoring others, combined with his finely honed aptitude for optimizing processes, makes Parker exceedingly effective in his current role at Blue Shield of California. He oversees four teams that manage programs to develop leaders internally, facilitate mentorship, and assess and coach executive performance.
It is a role that Parker finds supremely rewarding. “I know how much I’ve appreciated the opportunities afforded to me, and I love that I have a role and team that enable this type of work every single day,” he says.
While Parker relishes his work in human resources, it’s not where he started out. His background is in operations: He earned his Bachelor of Science in Management at University of Phoenix and then his MBA elsewhere, and he worked in banking before joining Blue Shield 11 years ago. Through the Pride ERG, however, he connected with the head of HR at Blue Shield and took a lateral move into the department as a program manager.
“I was able to utilize my operations background and my newfound HR background to help coach leaders,” Parker explains. “It just has progressed nicely. Now I’m helping develop leaders throughout the entire organization.”
And according to Wade, he’s doing it very well. “He is one of the most authentic, genuine leaders I have ever worked for,” she says. “He is fair, thoughtful, engaging and a great mentor.”
Today, Parker and his husband of six years (and partner for 13) have settled into a comfortable life together. Both work from home, their dogs deciding each day whether to go to the law side of the house (Parker’s husband is an attorney) or the HR side. They spend time with Parker’s children and grandchildren. They travel, read and go fishing.
Theirs, in short, is the sort of comfortable life that can come with hard work, discipline and, in Parker’s case at least, an education.
“It’s very humbling to be the first in your family to graduate college,” he says, “but it also taught me that I can do anything. If I can spend six to eight [years] getting my degrees, I could spend six months working on [an industry] certification or three months on a project. Making commitments to my professional development has always been something I’ve owned, and I’ve never waited for someone else to help me. Completing my degrees early in life helped me with this.”
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