pride-2020-blogartboard-1

A Demand For Equality This Pride Month, From A "Pushy Girl"

6/24/2020
— Melissa Waggener Zorkin, Global CEO and Founder 

Pride Month is more than halfway over—yet like so many of our gatherings and celebrations, it was much more lowkey compared with years past. This is in part because the COVID pandemic has forced the world to press pause on parades and other group festivities. But it’s also because this past month has drawn the world’s attention to so many of the ways we’ve fallen short on the path to equality and justice. We’ve been making promises for generations, but we haven’t kept them—and today, all those broken promises are finally front-page news. Well thank goodness, I say, and maybe this year of 2020 is a year of CLARITY after all.

I often wish I kept a journal of the many things I’ve been called, a number of which refer to me being relentlessly optimistic and a “pushy girl.” When it comes to pushing for equality, I will happily own this title. Advocating for equality is as important to me in my personal life as it has been foundational to the company I’ve built. I’ve worked so hard to be sure everything we do at WE reflects that commitment, and I’m proud to say I think we’ve made progress. I’m proud The Human Rights Campaign has given us a perfect score two years in a row on its Corporate Equality Index, naming us a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality, and all the tangible ways in which we’re able to deliver on our values that our work and our world is better when everyone participates and is respected.

But although we’ve seen some promising steps forward, we have a long journey ahead of us. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination on the basis of sex: In other words, from now on, no one in the U.S. can be fired for being gay. This is genuinely terrific news, but it’s also a pretty low bar for equality—especially when you consider that in most states, in most cases, an employer can fire anybody for any reason at all, as long as that reason doesn’t explicitly run afoul of anti-discrimination law; and especially when you consider that it’s been illegal to discriminate against (for example) Black workers since 1964, and too many employers still find too many ways to do just that. In 2017, Black women earned 61 cents for every dollar their white male counterparts earned (and Latina women earned just 53 cents). Studies show that Black people are still overrepresented in the lowest-paying, least-secure professions with the worst working conditions. And the agencies in charge of enforcing the same anti-discrimination rules we celebrate today are underfunded and overextended.

And so we must keep pushing, pushing, pushing. Progress doesn’t mean we’re done fighting for equality; it means we’re just getting started. 

The first Pride Marches in the U.S. were protests: protests, in particular, against the police violence LGBTQ+ people faced every day. Those marches sent shock waves through the world, just like their counterparts are doing now. As allies, we can march alongside them; we can lift up their voices and amplify their fight—OUR fight—for justice and equality. But what else can we do?

First, we must all strive for empathy: to connect with others’ pain, even if we don’t feel that very specific pain firsthand. Although I’m a global CEO and founder of an agency, I’m also a woman who made her way to this position in the very male-dominated tech world. My experience of decades being the only woman in a room CANNOT and WILL NEVER compare to being the only trans person—or person of color, or trans person of color—in a room. I can never know how that feels. But I can consider how uncomfortable I’ve been when I’ve felt outnumbered, tell myself to multiply that feeling by 1,000 or 10,000, and get a little closer to understanding. For those of us looking for a starting place, whenever we can connect our own experiences being the “other” or being the voice with the least power is as good a place to start.

Second, it’s our responsibility to use the power and privilege we have to boost the voices of those who don’t. It’s our responsibility to show up, to be accountable, to think hard about the complexity and intersectionality of identity, to see where our power comes from and how we can share it.

Equality means a bigger table, with room for everyone. It also means that everyone at the table will have the same chance to speak and be heard. This month alone proves we have a ton of work to do. So, we keep fighting, advocating, making room, and most of all listening with empathy and an awareness of intersectionality. That’s my LIFETIME pledge. I’m committed personally. And our agency is committed to creating a workplace built on the undeniable necessity that everyone has an equal voice. Maybe one gift of the circumstances of these painful weeks is that we are collectively being called to action with renewed urgency. All of us who believe in equality must look hard at our values—and most of all our actions—to see what still needs to be done, and how we individually must step up.

This year, there were no parades and rainbow community celebrations. As someone who has loved the dance parties of positivity, the visible explosion of our beautiful diversity and, most important, the love for ALL that Pride represents, I miss it. But it’s also a critical reminder: Pride is not a parade or party or event or month. Our LGBTQI+ friends, family and co-workers—all underrepresented people—need us to advocate for change 365 days a year. Those who need our advocacy cannot wait. So, to honor Pride this year, I’m taking a fearless inventory of my commitments, and looking for ways to turn it up to 11. I invite you to do the same. Until all of us are equal, no one is. So yes—I’m pushing you right now. How will you use your power, privilege and platform to lift up our brothers and sisters who want what we all deserve, an equal and respected place at the table?