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LGBTQ Equality in the Workplace: Where Do We Go Next?

1/21/2020
— Kate Richmond, Chief Talent Officer 

For the second year, I’m proud that WE has been designated a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 2020 Corporate Equality Index (CEI). WE once again achieved a full 100-point score, thanks to our companywide prioritization of equity, inclusion and justice.

The HRC CEI criteria evaluate employers by looking at concrete steps they’ve taken to ensure greater equity for LGBTQ workers and their families in the form of comprehensive policies, benefits and practices. In 2019, WE focused our energy on providing equitable benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families and on internal education within the culture, with a focus on Pride Month and National Coming Out Day. We’ve also continued to ensure that the many nonprofit organizations we support are in line with our own anti-harassment and anti-discrimination principles and our commitment to providing a respectful workplace.

 

Always striving to do better and be better

The HRC assessment is one way we measure our own progress — if the work we’re doing is moving us in the right direction. And although we’re proud of our perfect score again this year, we still recognize that it doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. Rather, it says we’re continuing on the right path toward creating a culture where every individual can thrive. 

LGBTQ equality in the workplace is a subject that has been making headlines recently in the U.S. in light of the three U.S. Supreme Court cases that will determine whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination. Regardless of the final decision, WE, as an organization, is committed to the belief that all companies need to do what’s right. And that means creating an equitable workplace where people of all races, ethnicities, religions, national origins, genders and gender identities are given the same rights and opportunities AND feel welcomed and appreciated by a workplace culture that supports them.

Culture, collaboration and connection are the defining cornerstones of WE’s path to an inclusive workforce, industry and community. The HRC assessment is just one initiative in this complex and multilayered process through which we continually strive to do better.

 

Change takes leadership and grassroots action

Our WE Pride employee resource group, now 90 people strong, has been instrumental in providing strategic input to shape our priorities and investments and raising the bar on companywide education regarding pressing issues in countries and across U.S. states. They’ve continued to build momentum behind LGBTQ awareness and efforts within WE and in the community. Their passion and insights are driving the many efforts across our organization to ensure that WE continues to be an ally to all employees. We asked some members to share their perspectives on the most pressing trends and issues affecting the future of equity and equality within our company and in society at large.

 

What is the most pressing political, social or civil issue impacting the LGBTQ+ community that needs the most attention in 2020?

“Education is one of the most pressing issues — much of discrimination, if not all, is based on falsehoods, unfounded fears and willful ignorance. Providing education around the histories of LGBTQ+ people, along with only allowing good-faith discussions that are based in fact, will go a long way for helping LGBTQ+ people.”
Jalen Chapman, Account Executive, WE NYC

“The Supreme Court’s landmark judgement in 2018 decriminalizing homosexuality in India came as huge relief to the LGBTQ+ community. But it’s just the first step in a long journey towards equality. What is most needed is a change in societal perception and behavior — right from government officials and the police to the general public — towards the LGBTQ+ community.”
Mallika Agarwala, Sr. Director – Content, Avian WE (India)

“The most pressing issue impacting the LGBTQ+ community is violence against Black trans women. In 2019, there were at least 25 transgender or gender nonconforming people killed in the United States. A disproportionate number — nearly 3/4 — were Black trans women. As a country, we need to address this.”
Jamil Ghores, Resource Planning Manager, WE Seattle

“With same sex marriage being legalized in Australia, attention is now moving to inclusive environments for families with same sex parents and redefining the ‘normal’ family nucleus. This includes a wide range of considerations such as ensuring paternity and carer’s leave policies are inclusive for all families.”
Rebecca Wilson, Executive Vice President, WE Australia

“China has come a long way, but we still need increased exposure and education around the LGBTQ+ community. While LGBTQ+ people are often present in media, their stories as people are either ignored or censored. For instance, all references to Freddy Mercury’s bisexuality and HIV status were removed from the version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that was released in Chinese cinemas — this is the kind of erasure that LGBTQ+ face in China.”
WE Red Bridge (China)

 

What more could companies be doing to support LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace?

“Employers have a huge responsibility to support LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace. At a base line, this means inclusive hiring practices, inclusive health care options, gender-neutral bathrooms, equal pay, zero tolerance bullying polices — the list goes on and on. On a day-to-day basis, implement pronoun usage in your email signature templates and create channels and ERGs for your LGBTQ+ employees. If you are an employer, every time you make a workplace decision, I urge you to stop and think, ‘is there anyone I’m leaving out or alienating by using this language or by implementing this practice?’”
Sophie Ey, Account Executive, WE Portland

“Continue championing LGBTQ+ employees at your organizations. LGBTQ+ professionals today have come of age, professionally, in a spectrum of environments that bring valued lived experiences of patience, persistence, and perspective to teammates and clients. While it’s gotten easier to be fully out, don’t underestimate the mental and emotional histories they bring to work that help them be themselves at work.”
Rob Wilson, Senior Vice President, Content Strategy, WE San Francisco

“More companies should make sure that they (especially leadership) are frequently vocal in their support and active empowerment/protection of LGBTQ+ people in the workforce. In many ways, leaders shape the culture of a work environment, so they have the power to set the tone of an organization. These commitments to empowerment should also be reflected in company policies/benefits, as LGBTQ+ people require some different accommodations than their cisgender-heterosexual counterparts.”
Jalen Chapman, Account Executive, WE New York

“One issue I’ve noticed in the past decade is a disconnect with companies and their queer employees. As we enter 2020, companies should reflect within, hear the needs of their queer employees and put action behind their words.”
Rey Silva, Account Executive, WE San Francisco.

“LGBTQ+ support must come from the top. South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to legalise gay marriage — and equality for all is enshrined in our constitution. The private sector has followed this lead, so South Africans from all walks of life are, by and large, protected by our constitution.”
James Wilson, General Manager, WE South Africa

 

Partnering for equality over the long term

For us at WE, extending that commitment to LGBTQ equality into the community is paramount to driving the change we want to see in the world. We rely on partnerships with organizations that share our values and commitment to equality. In the communications industry, we partner with The LAGRANT FoundationColorComm and universities to extend opportunities in education. WE is proud to continue our great track record in the HRC community that represents a force of more than 3 million members and supporters nationwide. Striving for equality is a journey we’re committed to over the long term.

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