Why I’m proud to sponsor our LGBT+ employee resource group

  • Posted on October 10, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes

Tomorrow we celebrate National Coming Out Day. It reminds me that when I joined Avanade six years ago, I was struck by the commitment to inclusion and diversity. That mattered to me because I like spending time with diverse groups of people, and I see great value in different points of view.

So when I had the opportunity to become executive sponsor of Prism, Avanade’s LGBT+* employee resource group, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always had close friends who identified as LGBT+ and I’ve been an LGBT+ ally for many years, so it was a natural fit.

Prism is an important part of our overall commitment to inclusion and diversity and is dedicated to the principle that everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed. Prism supports inclusion and LGBT+ equality to help create change, foster community and drive results. The group offers a means to network and engage LGBT+ people and their allies and provides training, support and education.

Four things I’ve learned as Prism executive sponsor
When I became executive sponsor, I discovered that I had a lot to learn, but four things stand out.
1.    It’s hard to be your true self. It was eye-opening to see how difficult it can be for someone who is LGBT+ to bring their authentic self to work. Feeling comfortable at work is something many of us take for granted. But nearly half of LGBT+ workers are closeted at work. People who are not out, or who are not comfortable talking about it, often spend significant effort and time hiding who they are. That can be exhausting and stressful. And it can be hard for them to participate in conversations with colleagues or to share family photos. This limits their ability to join in and be part of the work community.
2.    Coming out isn’t easy. Coming out isn’t a one-time activity; it happens every time an LGBT+ person meets new colleagues. It’s a constant thing – and can take a toll.
3.    Building an LGBT+ community is challenging. Because it’s not obvious who’s LGBT+, there’s no easy way to connect with people who are out and who self-identify. This makes it challenging to build a vibrant community and ally network within a work environment.
4.    Dangers exist beyond the workplace. While we’re committed to building a workplace where people feel safe and secure, that’s not true everywhere. There are places around the globe that are hostile toward the LGBT+ community, and we need to be careful about where we ask our people to go for events, meetings and other work-related activities.

How to make a difference
You may think there’s nothing you can do to make your workplace more inclusive. Or you may think it takes something big to truly make a difference. But every action is valuable, no matter how great or small.

Increase awareness: Help employees tell their stories by providing safe forums for discussions and community building.

Become an LGBT+ ally: An ally is someone who wants to support, advocate for and help a particular group regardless of whether they’re a member of that group themselves. Just by being an LGBT+ ally, you’re already making a difference. And if you don’t have an ally network in your workplace, get some like-minded people together to start one.

Get involved: Look for opportunities to participate in activities like Pride Month or National Coming Out Day.

Focus on training and education, especially for recruiters, managers and career advisers.

Avoid hetero-centricity: We live in a hetero-centric world, but there are things we can do to avoid that bias. Something as simple as asking a person what pronouns they prefer can make a big difference. For example, someone may identify as non-binary and prefer to use the pronouns they/them. The simple act of asking may lead that person to feel more comfortable.

Educate yourself: I found two books especially helpful: Allies at Work: Creating a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusive Work Environment by Dr. David M. Hall and The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business by John Browne.

Why I care
LGBT+ inclusion drives innovation by harnessing the power of diverse thinking. That’s good for our people, our clients and our business. Many companies assess potential partners and many job seekers evaluate potential employers based on their track record in diversity, corporate social responsibility and ethics. In fact, we were proud to be named a Bronze Employer in the 2018 Australian LGBTI Inclusion Awards.

A focus on LGBT+ inclusion can also have a positive financial impact on your business. According to a study by The Williams Institute, companies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity have linked these policies or diversity that specifically includes LGBT+ people to an improved bottom line (including 30 of 48 Fortune 500 companies).

People have the right to lead happy and productive lives and to feel comfortable showing up for work every day. That makes it possible for all of us to do our best work. If you feel the same way, take an action – big or small – to help make your workplace more inclusive and diverse.

*LGBT+ is an abbreviation that refers to people with diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity. They include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and other sexuality, sex and gender-diverse people, regardless of their term of self-identification. The abbreviation can vary and can include additional letters, such as I (intersex) and Q (queer/questioning) or even appear in a different order (e.g., GLBTI).

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