This year has been a whirlwind for me. It has also shown me three distinct companies, and three distinct approaches to workplace diversity and inclusion. As an out employee I felt it was important to address those three approaches to help others assess if their workplace is really inclusive.
The first approach we will call legally bound. This approach many of us have experienced, it is when coming out is met with, well, this is a new avenue for us, so we will have to see what we are allowed to do. This approach also relies on us to navigate the stress of coming out, and work, with also being the legal and human resources expert for ourselves. This approach is the worst for your company to pursue and to use for your employees. In my own journey I needed to do all the leg work. I needed to study other companies human resources policies and relay them back to my company, and also needed to schedule and lead meetings in which I needed to discuss the intricate and personal details of my coming out story — worse yet — I had to do this for rooms full of people I saw less than three work hours a week. It forced me to be under the microscope and under pressure. I needed to get my work done, projects completed, and also meet with human resources to discuss their role and ways we needed to move forward.
The worst part of the legally bound approach is there is no discipline for others that refuse to accept you as you are. This occurs because you are forced to be the educator, and the legal aid. In my journey I constantly rose concerns, and they were met with, “people are people” and “that isn’t a complaint others have noted.” Your complaints are valid, and microaggressions are still discrimination. If your company is not willing to train fellow colleagues on diversity and inclusion, they are not inclusive, they simply tolerate you. When you come out, or work out, you should not have to be a worker, lawyer, and human resources specialist for yourself. A legal bound company will do just enough to cover themselves from legal recourse based on state and federal laws as they currently stand.
The second approach I call lip-service cosmetics. This is when a company markets and shares about diversity, but the day in and day out processes are not much more than what is legally required. In this sort of organization there will be allies in the workplace, and there will be “Pride” but it is not an approach that seeks to learn the nuances or to change its own approaches. An example of this is a trans employee’s preferred name. In many states the process of a legal name change is long and expensive. Does your company allow you name to be displayed as you are known, or are they “bound by law?” In this approach a company believes they are diverse and inclusive because they call you by the right name, but they still make you out yourself on id badges, or sign-ins. It is pride and diversity as long as they don’t have to change a process. Worse yet, the lip-service, and imaging make you feel comfortable, but then you encounter that whole populations are left out of diverse approaches and company policy. So the pros are you will more than likely find more support and allies day to day, but you still need to fight for yourself day to day, and be the legal and training champion. It is still wearing because your emotional energy is spent protecting yourself, and advocating while you are in semi-inclusive space.
The third approach is called culture shift. This approach is best known as a company that seeks the best for all their employees, is looking for further ways to be inclusive, and holds the entire company to a standard of acceptance and welcome. In this role, the organization has an HR staff that is already trained and continuing training on diversity, and inclusion. You may also see that the company has invested in training for the entire staff, and each department on new practices, and tools. For example, a company focused on shifting culture to full inclusion of all people will have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. A group of employees that are willing to advocate for all, and not expecting you to do all the work, but to be there to support you daily. This is a company that also may have online resources on company servers about your LGBT identities, and learning about pronouns, and gender too. In general you will notice staff signature that seek to be inclusive with pronouns, you will hear it in presentations, and reflected by leadership and hiring. Most importantly the company will not ever say, we’ve never done it that way, but they will say thank you, and we will learn and do better tomorrow. In an organization like this, you are free to work, because they have the practices, policy and staff in place to support you, and hold colleagues accountable through professional development and best practices.
You can find out about all of these approaches during the job search, in the interview process, and with feet on the ground when you join an organization. My biggest tips for learning about a company's inclusive practices or lack thereof are as follows.
- Google the leadership — look up the founder, the CEO, and your hiring manager. See if you can track down quotes, giving, and philanthropy. Even if something was said in the past it may still be lingering at a company, and reflect the beliefs of some of the longest tenured members.
- Research the company site, social media, and Glassdoor — many companies have really tried to be up front with diversity and inclusion practices, and will have a page on their site about it, if they don’t ask about this in the interview or during on-boarding. Also, scour social media and Glassdoor. See what others have said about the company from a client perspective, and also see what employees or past employees are saying.
- Invest in time with your manager and with your HR department — Building a strong relationship with your manager is always important, in the process, learn about their journey, and ask them about what they have seen at the company, or previous organization. Managers want to make sure their team is cared for, and a good manager will always go to bat for you. Secondly, get to know your HR department and HR leads. These people interact with legal practices, benefit add-ons and more, see what they know and as the relationship develops feel free to recommend new initiatives for the company.
- Finally don’t be afraid to job hunt — If you find out your employer is not inclusive, you do not owe them your time. An organization also has a commitment to honor and value their talent. If someone doesn’t value having you, another organization will. So keep your eyes open and always honor your own dignity.
Finally, many companies are moving forward. The fact that more and more states are passing equality bills will continue to further our cause, and give us added protections. However, every organization has different layers that we need to be aware of when it comes to inclusive practices. It is up to us to do our research, and to hold our employers to the same standards we hold ourselves to, and they hold us to in the workplace. I hope this will continue to help you push your organization forward as you learn about equity at work.