While organizations will inevitably shift to the rainbow version of their logo and post messages of support, LGBTQ individuals won’t have the opportunity to gather and celebrate this year. This, unfortunately, also means that we won’t feel the sense of camaraderie, safety and inclusion that comes with sharing space and experiences with those of common backgrounds and struggles. For some, this will be a bummer; for others, more seriously, it removes yet another critical lifeline.
I told some friends, then family over time, but work was one of the only places I felt I could be fully “out.” In part, I had an accepting group of co-workers in each of my early jobs (in food service, education, and then the nonprofit setting); and in part, it felt lower stakes. If, for some reason, they didn’t accept me: I wasn’t sacrificing a lifelong relationship, the way I may have with friends or family that didn’t embrace me. I was lucky, as I found that embrace – once I opened myself to it – in all aspects of my life.
Fast forward to today: again, I’m lucky. Privileged. Even amidst a pandemic. I’m a cis-gendered, white, married, healthy, employed man. I have a husband and a dog – both of whom are relatively self-sufficient – and, while we want kids, we do not yet have them and thus don’t have to be homeschool teachers in our “free time” (which, even as a former high school teacher, seems incredibly daunting to me). I work for a firm where I feel my “whole self” is valued, serve clients where I don’t have to “hide” part of my identity, and have found that seeing my co-workers, via Zoom in their home environments, to be a “silver lining” that allows me to get to know many of them better, on a more human level.
However, during this moment of crisis we all find ourselves in, no two set of circumstances are the same. Putting aside the fact that the LGBTQ community’s economic and health outcomes are at even more risk than ever (I encourage you to read the Human Rights Campaign’s issue brief on the crisis) and the pandemic is exacerbating daunting, systemic issues – this is a moment where organizations and leaders need to step up and support their LGBTQ employees. In particular, the isolation this crisis necessitates can put them at risk – either due to not having a supportive home network, or compounding existing mental health stressors.
Regardless of industry or sector, we know that workplaces can be a place of belonging and, in some instances, are the only place that LGBTQ individuals are “out” or have a sense of community. And, as we noted in our report on LGBTQ Talent Strategy, there’s a lot to be done in attracting, selecting, retaining and developing LGBTQ leaders through raising awareness, mitigating hostility by managing risks, and developing internal networks. This is hard work, even under normal circumstances, and given what we know about the importance of D&I efforts in terms of talent (and ultimately, bottom-line) outcomes, now is NOT the time to take your foot off the proverbial pedal.
We know that inclusive leaders do several things well. Particularly relevant and important in this moment are fostering open dialogue, and leading with empathy and courage.
|Intrapersonal Dimensions||Inclusive Leadership Competencies||Interpersonal Dimensions|
|Reading Situations & Challenges||Innovative Collaboration||Leveraging Differences to Win|
|Reflecting With Empathy||Empowering Others||Developing with Feedback|
|Holding Self Accountable||Courageous Accountability||Holding Others Accountable|
|Indentifying Motivation, Priveledge & Acument||Awareness & Clarity||Fostering Open Dialogue|
As leaders, ask yourselves:
- Do you make it comfortable for your LGBTQ employees to be “themselves” to the degree they want to, without having to engage in code switching and impression management?
- Are you prepared to effectively engage with LGBTQ team members, regardless of whether they’re craving your engagement – or terrified that you’ll ask about that “part” of their identity?
This is not easy; it’s a dance and a fine line to walk.
Specifically, I encourage you to:
Identify motivation, privilege and acumen:
Know and own your “starting point”; we all have biases and privileges that influence how we operate, and while we can’t change them, we can mitigate them by being mindful and self-aware
Foster open dialogue:
Be authentic, transparent, and make yourself available for conversation; ask questions, without putting anyone on the spot, and model courage by answering those that others ask of you
Reflect with empathy:
Stemming from that dialogue, empathy is a form of caring that comes from understanding and requires you to “show your cards”
This crisis presents incredible challenges, but also real opportunities for leaders who care deeply for their LGBTQ colleagues and truly embody inclusive leadership principles. By operating with this framework, we’re not only enabling the success of our team members – we might be offering a critical lifeline and sense of belonging when it’s most needed.
Celebrate the wins, keep your eyes on the horizon, and look forward to Pride when we’re all back together again.