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Going Beyond Pride Month: Fostering a Welcoming Workplace for LGBTQ+ Employees

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Credit: istockphoto.com/Cecilie_Arcurs

With Pride Month behind us, many organizations have shifted their messaging and focus to business as usual, leaving openly shared commitments to the LGBTQ+ community on the backburner until June of next year.

While LGBTQ+ individuals have made significant strides in recent years — with the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling that LGBTQ+ employees are legally protected from job discrimination — the work is not yet over. This is because these laws do not protect LGBTQ+ persons from other forms of discrimination at work, many of which are not as obvious as a direct insult or physical harm.

At the start of my career, I joined an organization where I faced these forms of discrimination regularly. After onboarding to my accounts, I was placed on a smaller client that required the day-to-day management of only one individual. However, to my surprise, I was informed that a senior director would be placed on the account with me — and that I would never be introduced to the client. Their reasoning was made clear to me: “We don’t think you’re enough of a man’s man for this account,” my director said. “When you work with men, you have to act like men — and we just don’t think you have what it takes.”

Despite aligning with the gender identity in question, and the client never once stating that they had any issues with LGBTQ+ individuals, my presence on the account remained hidden entirely. While I produced all of its work, I was not allowed in meetings, on client calls or even introduced when the client came to visit. Instead, all communications and directions were managed by the director, who served as the mouthpiece for the work I created. Before long, the agency’s ideology seeped into other areas of my professional life. I was regularly asked about my experience living in the city’s gay district, where I did not live. When our office received new furniture, I was told that my team was lucky to have me, as “all gay people are great with décor and interior design.”

Any individual who has shared a personal or professional workspace with me can attest to the fact that I, without a shred of doubt, lack so much as an inkling of enhanced design or organizational skills; the routine commentary and ideology held by my workplace began to impact me both personally and professionally. Although I had a degree, professional qualifications and was equal in experience to other employees at the agency, I wasn’t treated fairly. The issue resided in a gray area in which I felt I had no one to talk to about or help me address the challenges. Instead, I continued to do my work, only to have another individual take credit for it. The agency’s stance became clear: My company was proud to share the work I produced with our clients, but they weren’t proud of the gay employee who produced it.

Upon leaving this organization, I learned that my professional experiences weren’t necessarily universal. Upon joining my current company, Affect, I soon learned that it is up to each and every individual employer to ensure they are cultivating a work environment in which all employees feel safe, equally treated and supported. Since finding a job where I feel supported and regularly celebrated, Affect has shown me that in order to successfully cultivate a welcoming workplace for LGBTQ+ employees, organizations must go above and beyond celebrating Pride one month out of the year. Below are some ways that employers can create a culture of support in their offices.

  • Use Your Company’s Platform to Share Support: In order to show unwavering and universal support, organizations must ensure that they go beyond the walls of their own office. Organizations should use whatever platforms they have, such as social media channels, blogs, newsletters and more, to make their stance on LGBTQ+ issues clear and apparent. This show of support to professional networks, current and potential clients, employees and other organizations allows the company to highlight their positioning and show to LGBTQ+ employees that they are more than just another worker.
  • Celebrate Pride Month as an Office: To show that universal support is part of the very foundation of an organization, companies should ensure they celebrate Pride Month as a group. Whether done through charitable work and donations, in-office celebrations, attending a parade or a professional event centered on the month, organizations should encourage all employees, regardless of orientation or gender identity, to participate. What’s more, it’s important that organizations without openly LGBTQ+ employees do this, as leadership should show that their support for the community isn’t an obligation. Rather, it is a core belief.
  • Create a Corporate Culture of Trust: All employees want to feel supported in their place of work. Managers can take the first step by expressing a genuine interest in each employee and garnering an understanding of their experiences. By creating an environment in which individuals feel comfortable speaking up about their issues, perspectives and experiences, organizations are better equipped to ensure employee happiness and retain talent. This type of culture puts management and other leadership in a better position to eliminate potential issues before they evolve into much larger challenges.
  • Keep Social Issues Front and Center: The events and circumstances of the world outside of the workplace can have dramatically varying impacts on individuals. In our world’s tumultuous times, political issues and current events are inescapable and can have an impact on workers’ safety and mental health. As a result, it’s urgent that organizations keep an open, respectful dialogue around social issues in the office. By showing an awareness — and support — for individuals as they navigate these challenges, and by attentively listening to specific needs and concerns, companies can show that their employees are top of mind and valued as individuals.
  • Make Your Pride Year-Round: LGBTQ+ individuals don’t live their experience only one month out of the year, so why should we accept when an organization only celebrates these individuals in June? It is wildly apparent when an organization uses Pride Month as a bandwagon tool, and once the rainbow logos fade and messages of support shift back to regularly scheduled programming, this half-attempt at support does not equate to a supportive professional environment. Instead, organizations must keep this messaging clear and consistent year-round and continue with daily actions to ensure that their workspace is safe, supportive and in solidarity with LGBTQ+ employees and individuals. By openly voicing their support and acceptance for LGBTQ+ individuals and implementing these beliefs into their hiring processes, employee protections and corporate culture, organizations will be better positioned to establish themselves as equal opportunity employers for all — and cultivate an environment that embraces Pride in all forms.

Fostering a welcoming work environment takes dedication, consistency and understanding. By implementing the practices mentioned above, organizations can ensure they are implementing a workspace where all employees feel welcome, supported and respected. Finding an environment where I can openly be myself — in all forms — has made a world of difference in both my personal life and my career. By showing year-round Pride, organizations can create the same experiences for their teams.

Terry Preston, Senior Account Executive, Affect

Terry Preston is a senior account executive at Affect. In this role, Terry specializes in the execution of media relations strategies, the production of written materials and more for clients in the B2B technology, consumer and logistics industries. Prior to Affect, Terry handled the PR efforts for numerous luxury travel and hospitality, B2B technology and consumer-facing clients — from strategic planning to developing press materials and securing client placements. He holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations from the University of Tampa.

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