🏳️‍🌈 Pride Month: Inclusion and diversity at work

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June is the most colourful month of the year.

Pride Month occurs every June to honour the 1969 riots at New York City’s Stonewall, that were the centre of LGBTQ+ rights movement.

From that time on, the month of June started to be a moment where we all should celebrate our differences and work together towards a more inclusive and fair future. That’s exactly why here at YLD we decided to spark the discussion by inviting Ana and Letícia, both part of our People Team, to reflect on pride, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Letícia (L): More than ever, businesses all over the world are starting to publicly acknowledge the need for a more inclusive and diverse workplace. How do you recognise that a company is not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk when it comes to supporting the LGBTQ+ community?

Ana (A): That’s a very interesting question, but also a difficult one because each one of us has their own perception about how a company could support the LGBTQ+ community. For me, as part of it, what really matters is how you make your people feel on a daily basis.

The first step I take before joining a new company is doing some research to get some insight into its positioning on this topic while trying to understand if the company is actually fighting homophobia or just talking about it. There’s a big difference between these two positions.

To me, it’s all about communication and small details. One of the things that I always focus on is internal communication. A company that genuinely supports LGBTQ+ people will never use heteronormative language — this is a huge red flag. Instead, it will use LGBTQ+ inclusive and respectful language. Even if you believe none of your employees are openly gay, it is crucial to make sure that everyone is accepted, and know this. For that same reason, it is also essential to offer equal benefits to all employees (e.g. parental leave) regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification. You need to be a step ahead and have an inclusive mindset in everything you do because you never know what people’s circumstances are.

Apart from that, it’s all about being natural and following the rule “Ask & Tell” (as opposed to the policy of “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell”). I know this may sound a bit odd, but we need to talk openly about all different types of sexual orientation and make everyone feel okay with it because that’s the best way to move forward. I know that some people would feel uncomfortable or think that’s “none of their business”, but we need to change that way of thinking. If it’s genuine interest, no one will get offended, quite the opposite. Actually, natural conversation will definitely promote a safe and supportive environment. A company that supports LGBTQ+ employees will have a very open-minded environment and will make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in their own skin, no matter what.

A: On that note, I recently read an interesting article about using LGBTQ+ pride for increasing sales. Do you think pride and profit/reputation are interchangeable right now? What does Pride really represent today?

L: This is a really important discussion point. More and more companies are jumping on the Pride bandwagon, promoting themselves as allies and with relative success. But Pride goes way beyond sticking a rainbow on merchandise or visual identity once a year, claiming inclusivity and community awareness.

With companies growing their presence on social media, and transparency being a key aspect that people seek in brands, we are very quick to spot opportunism and lack of authenticity. That brings us to question the intentions of companies that do Pride month marketing: is it opportunistic or is it supportive? And with this, I am not saying companies should not engage with Pride, they absolutely should get involved with Pride-related initiatives. However, what ultimately defines the authenticity of those campaigns is how companies prove to “walk the walk” by actually changing policies that effectively foster diverse and inclusive workplaces which will benefit the LGBTQ+ community.

L: But Pride is such a broad concept, isn’t it? To me, Pride has to do with our singularities and what makes us unique. What does Pride mean to you, as an individual?

A: Absolutely. Pride has a very simple, but profound meaning. To me, pride is all about self-acceptance. It means accepting who you are and being comfortable with everything about yourself, even if it sometimes makes you feel awkward and vulnerable. Nobody should feel guilty or ashamed of who they are. Or, worst, hide themselves inside a closet. Instead, we all should be proud of ourselves and continue this on-going journey of self-acceptance.

Ana enjoying her holidays in Medellín (Colombia

A: Now that I think about it… Do you think it’s possible to bring our whole selves to work and be accepted as we are?

L: I do! An absolutely fundamental part of our mission in the People Team at YLD is working towards making everyone feel that they are treated fairly, with dignity and respect. Acceptance must be a priority especially within diverse and inclusive teams, but it’s important to keep in mind that the freedom to be yourself mustn’t oppress others around you. I urge companies to challenge their views, and invest in educating themselves on what that means for their people and their business. When people choose to bring their whole selves to work, companies are given the chance to have emotionally strong people that above all are encouraged to be free.

L: Would you agree that businesses should invest in more diverse workforces and inclusive company cultures?

A: No questions about it. However, in my opinion, only companies that have an inclusive culture will be able to embrace diversity. Otherwise, they’re just trying to increase diversity statistics instead of creating a real environment that ensures people feel welcome. This is a hot topic nowadays, which is positive, but we should do it for the right reasons. Diversity is important because it helps to create opportunities for everyone, especially for traditionally underrepresented groups, which, in turn, helps to promote equality. Other than that, having a diverse workforce will create a more heterogeneous group, allowing us to see things from different points of view and help us achieve our full potential as individuals, and as companies. It creates a better experience for everyone, and, ultimately, develops a culture of innovation. We definitely need more colourful workplaces, don’t we? We are all equally important, and that’s the message that must be spread.

A: And that said, what baby steps should we all follow to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces where people feel supported not to hide their identity at work?

L: From my perspective, the most important of all the steps is education. The moment we decide to educate ourselves on someone else’s perspective is the moment we decide to expand our views about the world and the people around us. To learn about others and their values, to listen to their struggles and fears, is to express genuine interest and respect for them while cultivating trust, tolerance and empathy.

A: Totally. Educating yourself and challenging your own assumptions should always be the first step. Another thing we definitely must do is to listen, include and involve those who belong to minority groups in our strategy and work side by side with them. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and understand exactly what their concerns, expectations and reality are. It is important to create tailored policies that match their needs as much as possible and they must have an active and participatory voice on that too. There is a big difference between political statements and real commitment — and here is where great companies stand out.

We should all embrace this cause and participate in this process. For example, all of us who work in the recruitment field have a strong responsibility in this area. Everything starts with us and we must be aware of all the pitfalls of unconscious and confirmation bias, otherwise we will make non-diverse hiring decisions. Alongside that, there are some simple and practical strategies we should use to create a more inclusive recruitment process: 1) write an inclusive job description to attract a more diverse audience; 2) involve a wider variety of people in the recruitment process to make sure we have a representative group; 3) strengthen employer branding by showcasing what we are doing to have/create an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Photo by Davisco on [Unsplash]

L: Why do you think so many companies struggle with diversity progression in the workplace?

A: One of the main reasons why, unfortunately, many companies, especially SMEs, get stuck in their diversity progression is the fact they don’t have a D&I department (or a designated responsible for that area) to tackle those issues. For that reason, sometimes, things are done in an abstract and ad-hoc way lacking a concrete strategy. This is also linked to the fact that they’re more used to following a line of mitigation rather than a preventive one, which is not enough anymore. To me, this is definitely “the” obstacle.

Apart from this, the unconscious bias I’ve mentioned in the previous question is another big barrier. We need to be more open to the difference and continuously challenge our preconceptions and stereotypes. Just think about this: in the 21st Century, there are people from minority groups hiding and changing personal information from their resumes or even during interviews. All this because they are afraid of jeopardising their chances of being hired due to their name (in the case of ethnic names) or because they’re married to someone of the same gender, for example. It is crucial to be aware of that and to knock all that prejudice down.

Obviously, I believe there are other barriers, but those two are top of mind, in my opinion.

L: Lastly, what are some charities that, in your opinion, should be praised for the work they develop and support they provide to the LGBTQ+ community?

A: There are a lot of organisations out there that are doing a great job to support the LGBTQ+ community. In Portugal, I would highlight Associação ILGA Portugal and AMPLOS. ILGA is the largest and oldest association fighting for equality and against discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community in here. They are always battling for equal rights in the parliament and doing a great job, truth to be told. AMPLOS, on the other hand, is an amazing organization created by parents of LGBTQ+ people who are providing support to other parents and relatives. They carry out various initiatives, but, above all, their aim is to inform, demystify bias and help create a just society.

L: In the UK, I praise the fantastic work of Akt and MindOut. Akt (formerly the Albert Kennedy Trust) is a UK based charity set up in Manchester as the world’s first-ever service for homeless LGBTQ+ youth, providing safe homes, support and mentoring. MindOut is a mental health service run by and for lesbians, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people with experience of mental health issues. If you are able to, please support them with donations, so they can continue their vital work.

A: Thank you, Letícia. It was great to share some thoughts with you about these important topics. Let’s keep up the good work at YLD!

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Do you want to know more about LGBTQ+ movement history? Take a look here to understand the key milestones of LGBTQ+ rights and here  to have a better idea of what Stonewall riots really mean to the community.

🏳️‍🌈 Pride Month: Inclusion and diversity at work
was originally published in YLD Blog on Medium.
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