Marginalized by design

LGBTQ+ designers are here, queer, and being overlooked

This is the first in a multi-part series on LGBTQ+ inclusion in design. After your done with this article, read how bias shows up in design practices, and how to build an inclusive workplace.

The Philadelphia pride flag designed by More Color More Pride

Design is queer as in LGBTQ+, not gay as in happy

In the AIGA’s 2019 Design Census, 15% of respondents identified as LGBTQ+. Compared to the estimated 4.5% of American adults who are LGBTQ+, the field of design appears to be disproportionately queer.

And yet that representation does not translate to meaningful inclusion. LGBTQ+ respondents earned less, felt less job security and satisfaction, and were less senior than their cisgender, heterosexual peers.

Inclusivity benefits everyone

The design industry is not only letting down the queer community, it is also depriving itself of the value queer designers have to offer.

Investing in diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do from a moral perspective, it also drives material value for organizations that do.

Inclusive teams do better work.

Designers from minoritized communities bring unique perspectives to their teams, creating a breadth of shared insight homogenous teams can’t compete with.

Skeptics — usually straight, cis, white men who rightly fear their comfortable lead in the industry closing — counter that it’s “diversity of thought” that matters. But having contrarians on your team is not a meaningful form of diversity if their differing opinions come from a shared experience and understanding of the world.

Having contrarians on your team is not a meaningful form of diversity if their differing opinions come from a shared experience and understanding of the world.

True diversity of thought comes from a diversity of lived experiences that can’t be imitated by someone else’s self-professed empathy.

Diverse teams are more productive and able to innovate more reliably than homogenous teams. Businesses with diverse workforces are more profitable. They also attract more talent. Two-thirds of job seekers say diversity matters to them in a potential workplace.

For LGBTQ+ employees, an inclusive workplace can have a huge impact on retention. A quarter of LGBTQ+ workers have stayed in a job because their workplace offered an inclusive environment, and 10% left a workplace because it didn’t.

LGBTQ+ inclusion must include everyone

It takes more than making your logo rainbow in June to make queer employees feel valued and included. Inclusion is an ongoing process that starts with how and who you hire, how you compensate them, and how you support them through the challenges they face in the workplace.

Being truly queer-inclusive is not just about policy, it’s about daily practice. It’s also about more than LGBTQ+ identity in isolation.

Queer inclusion is intrinsically linked to combating bias against and increasing inclusion of women, people of color, immigrants, disabled people, and other marginalized groups because LGBTQ+ people come from all those communities.

The LGBTQ+ community is incredibly diverse, and while its experience in the workplace can be described in aggregated statistics, it is not a monolith. Within that range of experiences, when LGBTQ+ people also belong to other minoritized groups, they are without fail disproportionately impacted by bias.

Queer men are treated differently from queer women. Queer cisgender people face fewer barriers in the workplace than trans people. White LGBTQ+ people face less discrimination than queer people of color. For example, Black LGBTQ+ people are 20% more likely than white LGBTQ+ people to experience workplace bias.

If you are only reaching cisgender, white gay men who went to the same Ivy as you, your LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts have failed. I say this as a college-educated, cisgender, white gay man. The LGBTQ+ community has a wealth of perspectives and talents to offer your organization beyond my own. Seek them out, invite them in, let them do their job, and listen to them when they tell you what they need to do it well.

You will be glad you did.

Also, shout out to Mike Monteiro who is a supporter of this community and whose book Ruined by Design inspired the post titles in this series.

Queer Design Club

A space for LGBTQ+ creators

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