While the recent Supreme Court ruling that the LGBT community is legally protected from job discrimination is a huge win and a step in the right direction for our country, workplace discrimination still exists outside of the confines of the right to employment. In fact, despite these protections, there are a variety of ways in which the LGBT community faces discrimination at work, and they aren’t always as cut and dried as hurtful language or insults.
At a previous employer, I was challenged with overcoming this discrimination directly. On a smaller, project-based account that only required the ongoing work of one individual, I was assigned a senior director to oversee my work—but unlike my other accounts, would never be introduced to the client. Rather, I was informed that I was “not enough of a man’s man” to be featured on the account—and while the client had never expressed the slightest discomfort with the LGBT community, and my orientation had no impact on the work I produced, my superiors believed it was in the client’s best interest to keep my presence hidden. “When you work with men, you have to act like men,” my director said. “We just don’t think you have what it takes.”
This ideology soon seeped into other aspects of my job. Shortly after, I was routinely asked how I enjoyed living in the gay district (where I did not live), and upon receiving new office furniture, was told by the same individual that my department was lucky to have me because I was gay— “and all gay people are great with decor and interior design.”
Anyone who has met me or shared a workspace with me would beg to differ on my design or organizational skills—and these comments, paired with my behind-closed-doors client work, hurt. Despite my right to equal employment, when organizations do not actively speak up to ensure the equal and fair treatment of all employees, these comments are left unchecked and can have a lasting impact on the emotional well-being of staff.
In my case, regardless of my degree, work experience and professional qualifications, I was left to continue my work on the account only to turn it in and have someone else take the credit. I was not allowed in meetings or on calls, and was never mentioned or introduced when the client visited our office. Before long, it became abundantly clear: My company was proud to deliver the work I produced, but was not proud of who produced it—only because of my orientation.
It wasn’t until I left that organization that I learned that these experiences weren’t par for the industry, When I joined Affect, I soon understood that it is the individual responsibility of an employer to create an environment in which all employees feel they are treated fairly and supported. It’s vital that organizations show their support not only during Pride, but year-round. Guaranteeing an individual that they won’t be fired isn’t enough. Below are a few tips for continually celebrating Pride in the workplace.
- Keep an Open Dialogue Around Social Issues: The impact of current events and political issues can have vastly different effects on individuals. As a result, it’s vital that organizations keep an open dialogue around pertinent social issues to assure employees that they have support from their employers and coworkers, and to know that these individuals are listening to their needs and concerns. This idea of ongoing support can play a significant role in employee retention, as consistently keeping these issues top of mind can show employees that you take the issues impacting their lives outside of the office as seriously as their involvement and contributions at work.
- Celebrate Pride Month as an Office: To ensure a welcoming environment, offices need to celebrate Pride month as a group. Whether this is done through participation in a parade, a personal office celebration, or taking the opportunity to host an open dialogue about important social issues pertaining to the community, organizations should regularly encourage employees, regardless of their orientation, to celebrate and support the LGBT community. Leadership must show support for the community not out of obligation, but as a core facet of their company’s culture.
- Use Your Platform to Spread Support: Organizations must go beyond showing support just within the confines of their own office space. Rather, it’s important that organizations use their platform—blogs, newsletters, social media platforms and more—to take a stand and openly share their support for the LGBT community. By showing this support in front of all audiences, companies can better show that each member of their teams and communities is more than just another employee.
- Speak Your Pride Year-Round: The LGBT experience isn’t confined to one month of the year – so your organization’s open support shouldn’t be, either. It’s clear when an organization hops on the Pride bandwagon, and fair weather support does not equal a supportive work environment. Companies must make an effort to continually support the LGBT community, through daily actions that reinforce their stance and show solidarity.
- Foster a Culture of Trust: Above all, take the time to listen to your employees and implement a corporate environment where individuals feel safe to speak up about their experiences. By expressing an interest and understanding of individual experiences, leadership is more likely to learn about potential issues between staff members. Eliminating these issues before they become larger problems will leave organizations in a better position to retain talent, encourage diversity and protect their corporate reputation.
Creating a space that is welcoming to all individuals takes consistent work, understanding and compassion from senior leadership. However, by implementing the best practices outlined above, companies can cultivate a work environment where all feel equally supported, respected and valued by their organization. Moving forward, we should all take a little more PRIDE in our workplace. I have—and it’s made a world of difference in both my personal life and my career.
Terry Preston is a senior account executive at Affect.