Coming Out Day: LGBTQ+ in the Workplace
In celebration of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, WE's LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG), alongside San Francisco GM Steve Kerns hosted a panel of SF communication professionals to share their experience of being open about their LGBTQ+ identity in the workforce. Why is this important? According to a Human Rights Campaign 2014 study, over half of all LGBTQ+ workers nationwide hide their identity in the workplace. Imagine if you didn’t feel safe talking to your co-workers about your partner/spouse/kids. Building and supporting inclusive and accepting workplace environments is crucial to reducing workplace discrimination.
Panelist Mike Porcaro, head of Global Corporate Communications at Dell Boomi, was one of the professionals who shared his experience on National Coming Out Day. Mike came out in his 20’s after starting his career and witnessed the contrast between life in the closet versus being openly gay in the workplace — more than ever he became aware of the discrepancies that existed.
When Mike began searching for his next role, inclusivity was a significant factor in his decision. While meeting with senior staff during the interview process, Mike recalls that he "looked for the questions" inclusive leadership should ask. Throughout his career, he’s witnessed the impact of building an accepting workplace from the ground up. Supportive and vocal leadership is the start to any inclusive workplace, as another panelist, SVP of Current Marketing Clint Bagley, shared during the discussion. Clint has actively provided support to LGBTQ+ colleagues looking to be open and embrace their true selves in the workplace. Clint shared his experience with accepting leadership, calling the best leaders ones who “embrace things that bring inclusivity into the conversation.”
Our third panelist, Jeff Koo, VP at Spark PR, shared some valuable lessons he learned while establishing a place for inclusivity and acceptance in his workplace. As with making any other companywide change, Jeff noted that when supporting an inclusive workplace or starting a resource group, "Not everyone is going to play nice …" — there will be people who do not agree with you. He added that the trick is to try to promote openness and understanding, so people do not worry about their positions being compromised. According to Jeff, LGBTQ+ ERGs should also provide value to the overall business function; he suggested organizing an event, even making a time or monetary donation — there should be some purpose. Whether it be a social or more philanthropic group, he continues, "find a way to make an impact." In recent years, the corporate environment has begun to evolve. Although it’s not perfect, we’re seeing a developing workplace, with 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies having extended workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation.
Welcome to the new standard of business. WE’s Brands in Motion study reveals telling realities about brands in today’s market. Reality #3: The Unilever Effect shows there is an expectation that brands must deliver product effectiveness and social good. ERGs and other employee support groups are part of a larger expectation that brands should provide stability during unstable times, to both employees and consumers alike, which taps into our Brands in Motion Reality #1: Stability is an element of motion
In support of National Coming Out Day, WE’s own Melissa Waggener Zorkin exemplified active, vocal leadership in a tweet last week: “#PROUD to support our @WEcomms LGBTQ+ employees on #ComingOutDay. I love their courage, vulnerability & leadership.” Upfront gestures as simple as a tweet may seem like they make limited impact, but they help reflect business morale and the support of fellow WE employees. Groups like WE Pride can be a game changer for someone who feels reserved from being their authentic self in the workplace. Although it may be challenging, building a support network in the office, such as an ERG, will have a large impact.
For this year’s National Coming Out Day, we gathered to reflect on the reality of being a part of the LGBTQ+ and ally community. A few Pride members, myself included, also shared coming out anecdotes on WE’s social channels. For a truly supportive workplace, inclusivity happens when teams and the business are actively supportive and create opportunities similar to this one to celebrate diversity. If you don’t feel welcome in your workplace, know you have support. Speak out, be vocal and advocate for equality each day.