This story is a part of our “A Day in the Life'' series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. Throughout June, we’re celebrating Pride Month and featuring members of 2Q, the company’s Business Resource Network for LGBTQIA+ employees and allies.
Sheana Abrahams never envisioned herself working in the corporate world. As a South African biokineticist, she spent her days prescribing exercise routines for patients, contributing to scientific research projects, and performing wellness and fitness testing for different companies.
Eventually, that last part of her job description sent Sheana down an entirely new professional path. “I was really amazed at how companies had an invested interest in their employees' well-being,” says Sheana. “Suddenly, I saw a new opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Soon after, a friend referred Sheana to an open role in Cape Town at GetSmarter, now a brand of 2U, Inc. “When I heard that GetSmarter was hiring a health and wellness manager, I decided to venture from the health professional space into the corporate world,” recalls Sheana. “And I have never looked back since!”
Read on to learn how the past nine years at 2U have brought Sheana professional purpose, lasting friendships, and an inspiring community of fellow LGBTQIA+ employees. Here’s her story, in her own words.
Beach volleyball action shot
Why did you join 2U/GetSmarter? What is it about the company that sparked your interest?
I joined GetSmarter because I loved how the company invests in its employees' well-being. From the moment I stepped into the office for my first interview, I felt welcomed and always knew that I could be my most authentic self.
How would you describe your role as a wellness manager at 2U?
I work in the Total Rewards team, with a focus on employee benefits and health and wellness for the South Africa and UK regions. I love getting to work with so many amazing 2Utes and being a part of projects and initiatives that impact people's lives. I also love the culture here—I’ve made so many friends at 2U who literally feel like family. I’m proud that I get to be part of an organization where I and so many others can come to work every day and be our most authentic selves.
2U's Cape Town office decked out for Pride (typically celebrated two weeks in February and/or March vs. the month of June in the U.S.)
If you are comfortable doing so, tell us your “coming out” story.
It was a really hard experience. I was forced to come out to my mom when I wasn’t really ready, because a friend who I had confided in about my sexuality outed me to everyone at university. My mom made me leave her house, and I had a lot of family members and “friends'' who did not accept me. I had to fend for myself, hold down two jobs, go to university, and play volleyball full-time because I was on a sports scholarship.
Even though it was a tough time in my life, it taught me resilience, perseverance, and to always stand up for what I believe in and live my truth. Since then, I have educated my family members and friends who were not accepting of my lifestyle choice—today, they are so supportive of me, my partner, and standing up for LGBTQIA+ rights.
Company meeting spotlight: Sheana was the first recipient of 2U's No Back Row Award for "Relationships Matter"
Why did you join 2Q and how have you been involved in the Business Resource Network (BRN) so far?
I joined 2Q in 2019 when the BRN was first started, as I wanted to raise awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community and LGBTQIA+ issues, and to help create a space where everyone feels safe, seen, and heard and can unapologetically be their most authentic selves. When I joined 2Q, I was the international chair for two years, representing the Cape Town and UK regions.
There have been so many highlights being part of 2Q. The first was being able to work with an amazing bunch of 2Utes from all over the globe on the 2Q leadership team. Second was hosting and celebrating our first big 2U Pride event in the Cape Town office. And third was going to the Pride Shelter in 2019 with other 2Q members for National Coming Out Day and helping to create a vegetable and herb garden for the shelter.
Sheana and colleagues planting a garden for the Pride Shelter
Cape Town Pride is celebrated at a different time of year (typically February into March) than Pride Month in the United States and other parts of the world. Give us some insight into what Cape Town Pride is all about and what it means to you!
Cape Town Pride provides a platform for every part of Cape Town’s LGBTQIA+ community to raise awareness about relevant issues. The Cape Pride Parade goes through the heart of the central business district, and it’s a day where everyone can come together in a safe space and support each other while celebrating being their most authentic self. For me, it’s all about visibility, awareness, equality, love, and acceptance.
Frommer’s Travel describes Cape Town as “the gay capital of Africa” and says it was “voted the second-largest gay capital in the world.” Do you agree with these statements? What’s your take on LGBTQIA+ life in South Africa?
I think that there is definitely a large LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa, but there is still a lot of awareness that needs to be done about LGBTQIA+ issues. There are still many communities and areas in Cape Town and South Africa where people who identify as LGBTQIA+ are not accepted, and there are still way too many hate crimes toward LGBTQIA+ people taking place. There has been a lot of progression, but more change still needs to happen.
Sheana pausing for a reflective moment while exploring her home city of Cape Town
This year’s theme for 2Q Pride Month is “Color Me Proud.” How does this theme specifically resonate in your work at 2U and your life?
From the first time I stepped into a GetSmarter/2U office, I never ever felt like I needed to hide who I was—I was always able to show my “true colors” and be myself. This has allowed me to have confidence in my work environment and perform to the best of my ability, because I feel safe and supported. I am proud to be a 2Ute and part of an organization that encourages us to celebrate our diversity and be inclusive of everyone.
Out of everything you’ve done at 2U so far, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being part of all the different committees and initiatives—such as the Community Steering Committee, the Transformation Committee, and 2Q—that have contributed to diversity and inclusion and raised funds or created awareness for important causes in our workplace and community. I’m always amazed and inspired by 2Utes and how everyone comes together to support each other.
Sheana on the set of Expresso, "South Africa's feel-good breakfast show"
In 2018, we had an initiative to raise awareness and funds for the Sunflower Fund (now called DKMS), which fights blood diseases like leukemia through the recruitment of stem cell donors and maintaining a registry of potential donors committed to helping anyone in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant. Our aim was to raise 20,000 rands in one week, and for each 5,000-rand milestone reached, a 2Ute would volunteer to shave, cut, or color spray their hair on the final day of the week. We wound up raising double the amount of money, so many 2Utes shaved their heads showing solidarity for people who have been affected by leukemia and cancer or cut their hair to donate to the Cancer Association of South Africa.
Sheana shaving her head for Cut for Hope
What advice would you give to someone just starting at 2U?
Network and meet people within the organization! There are so many amazing 2Utes all across the globe. Never be afraid to challenge yourself, either. 2U really allows you to grow, learn, and be creative—so cherish each opportunity.
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