Stand up for Justice During Pride

Microsoft LGBTQI+ employees and allies speak out for queer and racial equity

Microsoft Design
Jun 17, 2020 · 8 min read

By: Aleksey Fedorov (he/him/they/them) and Tiernan Madorno (she/her), Co-Directors for Microsoft Pride

Image for post
Image for post

Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and countless others. Pride started because Black and Latinx transgender people stood up for justice in unjust society. Today, the struggle is no less real. We stand with and next to our Black and African American employees and communities in the fight against systemic oppression and racism. Now is not the time for silence.

When we speak, others react. Often with messages of support, and sometimes with hurtful labels and discouraging words. “Where’s straight Pride?” “Shouldn’t all lives matter?” These kinds of questions and statements are clear reminders that the fight for equality across ethnicities, gender, identity, sexual orientation, ability, immigration and more continues.

To move forward, we need people to understand the impact of blatant prejudice and bias, or more subtle microassaults, microinsults, or microinvalidations. And we also need allies to denounce those acts when they see them. We saw this last year when we launched the Microsoft Pride 2019 campaign. Many people resonated with the message our community put together, but many also shared negative remarks. Instead of running away from them, the LGBTQI+ people and allies at Microsoft are embracing the uncomfortable and inviting all to a dialogue. Because a dialogue can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to change.

Flat lay of sample images from the Pride campaign.
Flat lay of sample images from the Pride campaign.
This year’s visual design is centered around intimate stories via a hand-drawn, illustrative aesthetic that celebrates the diverse LGBTQI+ flags.

This year’s Microsoft Pride campaign is all about brave conversations. Employees from different backgrounds, some of whom are in countries where it’s almost illegal to be queer, volunteered to embrace the uncomfortableness of sharing their stories publicly. Dylan Marron, the host of the podcast Conversations with People Who Hate Me, also spoke with a small group of the LGBTQI+ community at Microsoft. They unpacked common misconceptions the community faces and discussed best ways to drive inclusion forward, even with the people who disagree with you.

We wanted the campaign designs to feel as fluid as the conversations themselves and as evocative as the possibilities they might create. We wanted the employees’ portraits to highlight vulnerabilities and turn them into strengths, creating a memorable, striking look. They include artful and personal illustrations of colorful chat bubbles intermingled with handwritten statements in a custom-made font. Thank you to the creative agency, Jordan Carter, and our in-house design teams, Sven Seger, Adam Krett, Andre Bazire, Jordan Andrew Carter, Eileen Milkoiche, Steve Foyle, Elliot Hsu, and the entire Global LGBTQI+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft (GLEAM) community and allies for developing this year’s look and feel.

Image for post
Image for post
Microsoft Surface‘s limited-edition Pride Skin, inspired by the many flags of the LGBTQI+ community. Profits are donated to advance LGBTQI+ and racial equity.

Other design components bring visibility to often overlooked LGBTQI+ identities. By embracing the 19 flags of various gender identities and sexual orientations, we show the strength, diversity, and unity of the LGBTQI+ community. The flag designs create a single bold image on our Microsoft Surface Skins, Xbox shirts, Windows backgrounds, and more. This design is both intimate and colorful, strong and nuanced as the communities themselves. The products that feature these designs are not released for profit.

To further support efforts fighting for racial and LGBTQI+ equity, we’re contributing $250,000 to the following nonprofits in Europe, North America, South America and Asia-Pacific to support their work on racial and LGBTQI+ equity: Know Your Rights Camp, OutRight Actional International, RainbowYOUTH, Campaign Against Homophobia, and Colombia Diversa.

And last, but certainly not least, we invited voices from throughout the design discipline to share their perspectives on topics like the role of allyship, representative leadership, expressing identity through UX designs, and the impact of identity on career. Honest and heartfelt, we hope these stories spark dialogue, encourage others to have meaningful conversation, and take a stand against the injustices they see.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Margrete Sævareid (she/her), Senior Program Manager

Q Oftentimes, when people think about Pride, they think of company culture rather than the company’s products. As product makers, how can the experiences we create support what Pride represents?

A I have worked in tech for a decade, and every year I see us moving away from being tech first to being human first. Our products are now informed by user research and human-centered design, a crucial change of perspective given the personal nature of productivity.

This past year has been quite transformational for me. About a year ago at an LGBTQI+ summit, I heard realities different from my experience as an out lesbian living in a progressive country. It deeply impacted me to hear firsthand how injustices against queerness have impacted people. It was also the first time I spent extensive time with nonbinary people, some of whom were close friends just beginning to explore that aspect of their identities. Their stories, coupled with my lack of awareness, hit me in a profound way that left me feeling naked and full of questions. I vowed to push myself and others toward a world where all are treated equally with respect and dignity.

So, how can we create products that help people feel safe and seen? How can our products also teach the world about different perspectives? My experiences in the trans and queer community inspire me to emphasize creating safe spaces for identities to flourish. This level of thoughtful user experience requires creators to deeply understand social context and language as it applies to pronouns or any other aspect of identity. As designers, researchers, writers, and engineers, we must care for the human and deeply understand that people need to be seen and valued for who they are, so all marginalized communities across the globe can bring out their best selves.

Image for post
Image for post
Kat Noel (she/her/they/them), Conversational UI Writer

Q Bringing your authentic self is sometimes easier said than done. How does someone’s gender identity or expression impact their career?

A Sharing who you are — your experiences, your identities, your story — is a personal and sometimes difficult choice, especially in professional settings. LGBTQI+ employees often fear potential threats to their livelihood and safety if they choose to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s a decision that can require several considerations, including: How supportive and inclusive is your supervisor, team, and company? Is there a zero-tolerance policy that protects all employees from discrimination, bullying, and harassment? Does this policy detail how an organization deals with instances of such behavior? Are there any sources of support, such as employee-led resource groups and visible allies in senior leadership?

Openly inviting colleagues to learn more about us can be less daunting when the answer to most of these questions is an emphatic “yes.” Everyone deserves an accepting — not just tolerant — work culture that encourages us to authentically show up and thrive.

Image for post
Image for post
Ronette Lawrence (she/her), Customer Success Leader

Q Sally Ride once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” What’s the importance of having LGBTQI+ representation in leadership?

A I fit in a lot of boxes. I am a woman, a wife to a woman, a mother of two children, a birth mother to one, and a mother to one child my wife carried. I was raised in the deep south of the US, and my hometown is still largely racially segregated. I was raised by a farmer and a teacher. In September, I moved to Paris, France. All of those things contribute to the person I am and the experiences I have to share. But it has been a journey for me to fully embrace that these things are valuable.

I spent roughly the first 10 years of my career covering. Not hiding — I’ve never been shy about sharing when it was relevant — but trying to fit in, not to stand out. I tried to look like the norm, to emulate the successful people around me, most of whom were straight white men. I didn’t recognize that thinking differently could provide actual business value. But now, I see that my voice is important. Not just because of one box that I fit into, but because of all the boxes, even ones that cannot contain me.

So as Pride month continues, it’s a good time to reinforce that having leadership positions filled with a rainbow of people is the best way to build products and services that speak to the diversity of the human race. At all levels, we should build teams that bring difference, not sameness. And as individuals, we must uncover, honor and celebrate the true value that we each can bring.

Image for post
Image for post
Ava Schreiber (she/her), UX Engineer

Q Performative allyship is more about virtue-signaling than creating real change. What does meaningful allyship looks like?

AAllyship with the Black and LGBTQI+ community requires support for extremely diverse populations. Being an ally means recognizing your own privileges and understanding that Black and LGBTQI+ people exist at all ages, sizes, genders, and sexualities. These are groups that continue to experience trauma, discrimination, addiction, housing instability, poverty, incarceration, and violence at higher rates. And risks compound for people who identify with the intersection of these groups, like Black queer trans folx. Look up Tony McDade and Iyanna Dior if you’re interested in learning more.

To help you more readily recognize discrimination, intolerance, and bias (including your own), keep learning about the specific concerns and hardships these groups face. Follow Black and LGBTQI+ activists and study ableism, ageism, sexism, racism, and the intersections of all those subjects. These topics are always expanding, growing, and evolving. Being an ally involves a continued willingness to adapt, learn, and grow.

For the queer community specifically, while some of us may be clearly visible, others are not. Be conscious of inclusivity 100% of the time, not just around people who are out. Speak up if you hear something disparaging or non-inclusive. Set an example for those around you and make it clear that you are a safe person to turn to. If you see someone in a potentially dangerous or harmful situation, ask if you can help, and stay with them — the physical presence of an ally may help deescalate a situation. Unless the situation requires an urgent and immediate emergency response, try to confirm with involved parties before calling 911, as some individuals may be hesitant to seek additional intervention.

Be a meaningful ally by offering a sense of safety, providing vocal support, educating yourself on LGBTQI+ issues, and providing unconditional acceptance regardless of gender, presentation, race, or any other defining characteristics.

Image for post
Image for post

Join us in the fight to advance LGBTQI+ and racial equity. Keep talking, keep learning, keep taking a stand against systemic racism, sexism, fears and misconceptions. Share your thoughts with us on social by using #MicrosoftPride and #Pride.

To stay in the know with Microsoft Design, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or join our Windows Insider program. And if you are interested in joining our team at Microsoft, head over to aka.ms/DesignCareers.

Microsoft Design

Stories from the thinkers and tinkerers at Microsoft

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store