On his first day at Store 1532 in Burlington, Massachusetts, Ray Gao’s leaders told him their priority was for him to feel safe and comfortable at work so he can be his fullest self.
While simple, the statement meant a lot to the sales advisor. As a gay man who has autism, there have been multiple situations throughout his life where Ray has had to hide or hold back part of who he is. This immediate affirmation from his leaders gave Ray courage to ask for accommodations and talk openly about his background.
“I’ve never been in a space where I felt more welcome,” he said. “The leaders here really listen and have been so willing to create an environment where I can do my best work and be myself.”
This is exactly the type of culture general manager Sarah Hesbacker Currao strives to cultivate: where people feel heard and supported.
“As a leader, you can’t be afraid to be vulnerable or have uncomfortable conversations,” she said. “If someone mentions something about themselves that I don’t understand or know a lot about, I ask them to tell me more about it so I can learn how to be there for them.”
Ray’s journey to confidence in himself began long before he joined the Best Buy team.
He grew up in Anhui, China, and often felt the hesitation from his family, peers and society to talk about mental health, disabilities or his sexual orientation. When he came out to his parents as a teenager, he was met with a lot of resistance. This led him to move to the U.S. on his own in search of a more welcoming and accepting community.
And while Ray did find acceptance and enjoyed his studies at Georgetown University, he struggled with depression as a young adult. He often felt disconnected from others and uncomfortable in his own skin.
It wasn’t until a doctor asked Ray if he’d ever been diagnosed with autism that he finally felt affirmed for the struggles and differences he’d felt for most of his life.
“I broke down in tears,” Ray said. “I finally felt validated for the first time in my life. I’m not just an awkward person or bad at talking to people.”
Confidence to thrive
Now when Ray comes to work, he feels validated every day. Since joining the team four months ago, he’s become the leader in sales at Store 1532. He enjoys connecting with customers and helping them with their tech needs as a sales advisor.
The conversations and friendships with his colleagues are also something Ray loves about his job. He’s even volunteered to be the location’s well-being ambassador to help his colleagues learn about benefits and resources Best Buy offers.
“Ray cares a lot,” Sarah said. “The fact that he’s so ready to jump in and get involved any way he can says a lot about his character.”
What’s more, he’s not afraid to be vulnerable and share his background to build a deeper connection. He wants to use his story to help others — inside and outside the store.
“Even if my story can change one person’s moment within a day, that’s worth it to me,” he said.
In the future, Ray’s goal is to become an education lawyer to advocate for students with disabilities. Before joining Best Buy, he spent some time as a special education teacher.
For now, he’s focused on advocating for his colleagues and customers, ensuring everyone feels supported and has the information and resources they need.
“What I love about Best Buy is they use people’s strengths to the best of their abilities,” he said. “That makes people have the best ability to do what they do best.”
Learn more about inclusion, diversity and equity at Best Buy.