What LGBTQIA+ Inclusion Means

Full disclosure: I’m a cis-gender, heterosexual male. Some might wonder why that information is necessary. I’ll tell you: when we’re collecting perspectives of people with lived experiences that differ from our own, it’s important to recognize our identities, how they have shaped our perception of the world and vice versa.  As Pride month comes to a close, I wanted to take some time like to reflect and uplift a few authentic experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the workplace and their perspectives on inclusion. We reached out to members of our own Avenica community and were met with very insightful and eye-opening feedback. Read on.

What does LGBTQIA+ Inclusion mean to you in general?

“LGBTQIA+ inclusion means that everyone is accepted for who they are no matter who they love but most importantly those people we accept have representation and their ideas and their stories are allowed to come to the front, it’s not something that’s held in the background.” – James Adams

“So I think for me, what that means is making sure everyone feels valid. Making sure everyone feels seen and loved. So, when it comes to a specific group of individuals who identify in a specific way, it’s no different than to be treated like just a normal human being is I would say more of a simplified term and really how I would define inclusion for a specific group and what that means to me.” – Tess Eby

What is one tip you would give an employer for how to foster an inclusive workplace environment for LGBTQIA+ community members?

“If I had to give any advice to an employer around LGBTQIA+ inclusion I would say that it’s important to acknowledge that our community is in the organization all year round, we’re not just here in June and you need to always strive to make sure that not only is there representation and that things feel safe at work but that it’s a welcoming environment no matter what time of the year it is.” – James Adams

“I feel like one tip that I would encourage workplaces to take an initiative to do is to have resources for somebody who might identify way in a specific way or for somebody who is part of a different community to turn to. Not only for LGBTQIA+ but that’s a place where they can go where there are like-minded individuals and they have the comfortability to open themselves up.” – Tess Eby

What is one tip you would give a member of the LGBTQIA+ community for how to find an inclusive workplace environment OR how to encourage an inclusive workplace environment?

“One tip that I would give for people who are trying to search for an inclusive workplace overall is take time to do your research when it comes to companies. Especially today, diversity and inclusion are one of the biggest things that I really see companies advertising as far as what they have to offer for employees. So hopefully that information will be helpful. If not, ask questions within the interview. I think that is usually a big hesitation for individuals who might not want to advertise their identity or sexual orientation which is okay, but then you have to take into consideration if you want to join a company where you don’t feel comfortable asking those questions initially. So, I think that would probably be my best tip. Do your research. Ask questions.” – Tess Eby

How do you think LGBTQIA+ inclusion looks at Avenica?

“Here at Avenica I believe that we do a really good job around inclusion. And not just for the LGBTQIA community but for everyone. We have a lot of efforts that go out to help our employees not only understand the different types of communities we have here at Avenica but why their differences are important. We have representation across a lot of communities, but we also have those people in all different levels of seniority when it comes to our organizational structure” – James Adams

“At Avenica, it’s a safe place. It’s a place where we foster the overall culture of being yourself. No matter what setting. I feel that people don’t have to hide who their significant other is. Or being able to openly be able to talk about their sexuality or the way they identify and really be themselves and really feel accepted within the overall culture and team.” – Tess Eby

Do you have any words of encouragement for the LGBTQIA+ community regarding the workplace or career growth/satisfaction?

“If I had to give any advice, it’s really simple: always be you. If you are 100% authentically representing who you are and who you believe to be, everything professionally will come easier. People want to know that human element of their employees, and the more they know, the more they can grow to enjoy you as an employee but also see how great you do in your role. Be yourself, it will never-ever be the wrong choice.” – James Adams

“Keep pushing yourself. My biggest thing is, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, then you’re growing. Also, to push the boundaries. If you’re in a workplace that you don’t think fosters inclusion and diversity, push those boundaries. Keep going. Keep pushing those boundaries, keep putting yourself out there and really overall just make sure you feel comfortable. Being within the community makes us no different than any other individuals, you can go as high as you want; really the sky is the limit. Just like any other individual out there.” – Tess Eby

Our stories are gifts and whenever one is shared with me, I can’t help but say “thank you” over and over again. Publicly identifying one’s self as LGBTQIA+ and sharing perspectives on lived experiences can be incredibly challenging. But the tradeoff is immeasurable. When brave people stand on their morals and beliefs in order to amplify voices of the historically silenced, we all become better because of it. I hope this dialogue helps to promote the burning urge to go out and create inclusion in every corner of the world. Doing so would create a landscape we could all take PRIDE in.

About Avenica

Through conversation, high-impact coaching, and best-in-class support, we translate and meet the needs of our client partners by identifying and transforming potential into high-performing professionals. At Avenica, we are working from the inside out to embrace diverse thought and perspectives while actively working to dismantle systems of oppression and implicit bias. With a deeply-held belief in human potential, we transform lives and enable organizations to achieve new heights.

If you’re interested in partnering with us to develop or hire your workforce, let’s talk. If you’re a job seeker, please join our network to connect with an Avenica Account Manager.

Laying the Foundation for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Insights

Laying the Foundation for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Teron Buford

By: Teron Buford, VP Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Growing up as a Black male in inner-city Chicago, I experienced my fair share of hardships. One might think that, as opportunities presented themselves, things got easier. Not exactly. Laws of thermodynamics suggest that energy is never destroyed but is transferred from entity to entity. I think the same can be said about the struggles of people of color as they navigate the landscape of predominantly white educational and professional workspaces. The worry and anxiety shifted from my neighborhood to my classroom. From my classroom to my office. All along the way, the challenges never subsided; they morphed to fit my new landscapes.

I remember sitting in an English 101 course as we covered literature that focused on social injustice. This took place at a predominantly white college in St. Paul, Minnesota. We were reading a book in which the author purposely left behind her financial stability to explore what it might mean to live on minimum wage. From paycheck to paycheck. During one of our class discussions, a young woman raised her hand and matter-of-factly asked “why don’t people just save more of their money? If they just saved more money, they wouldn’t have to live like they do.” My blood boiled as my inner monologue argued with itself: “Wow! She clearly has no idea about the systems in place that impede financial mobility and financial security. Is it my job to educate her? Am I to be the spokesperson for a group of underserved, underrepresented, and clearly misunderstood people? If I raise my hand, am I going to find myself on an island, fighting a worthy but losing battle? What do I stand to gain if I speak up? What do I stand to lose if I don’t?” I gathered my thoughts, calmed my spirit, and raised my hand.

I remember sitting in a meeting with a former employer where we were looking for ways to bring greater access to a product. We discussed some of the feedback we’d received that claimed our processes were biased and skewed, our policies were rooted in oppression, and that we were effectively marginalizing an already over-marginalized population. We went around the table giving countless examples of our intentions and explaining why our operations needed to remain the same. Some scoffed at the notion that we were a part of the problem. They even pointed out ways in which we have provided the solution. After about 40 minutes of pacifying and justifying our perspectives, my inner monologue was at it again: “I mean, the feedback is making good points. How can so many people experience our product in the same negative way and be wholeheartedly wrong? I understand that our intentions are positive, but does that outweigh the actual impact? Ok, now this is high stakes. Speaking up could jeopardize my job. My income. My family’s finances. Is this my fight? Can someone else do it? Maybe I can send a softly worded email after the meeting? No. That won’t get it done.” I cleared my throat, collected my thoughts, tried to push aside the fear, and spoke my piece.

“Diversity” seems to be the new buzzword floating around the atmosphere. Organizations are scrambling to recruit new and diverse talent. Interestingly enough, I was on a call with a friend at a large organization the other day. He’d asked why most of his diverse employees were leaving the company after 2-3 years. He’d shared that they had solid compensation packages, fancy titles, and fulfilling job responsibilities. I asked about the company’s culture as it relates to equity and inclusion and, not to my surprise, he couldn’t speak to it fully. And that’s the issue: treating DEI as a numbers game will never pan out in the end. The environment matters. The culture of the company as it relates to belonging matters. And, if companies are ever going to get ahead of the curve, they’ll have to build environments that are intentionally conducive to respecting diversity, building equity, and living out inclusion.

For the longest time, we based the success of diversity initiatives on sheer numbers. “That company has XX% people of color and women, which means they’re doing well.” Today, we understand that the issue is a bit too complex for tally marks alone to tell the whole story. Diversity and inclusion, from my perspective, is cultivating an environment that is not only demographically representative of the greater population, but also encourages, empowers, and uplifts the voices of employees who have been historically under-represented, under-valued and, quite frankly, silenced. A commitment to living out these ideals should not only be reflected in a company’s mission, vision, and values, but should be genuinely felt across the company.

There is something to be said for companies that have paid more than just lip service to their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Creating positions, departments, and/or committees with the dedicated responsibilities of increasing diversity and inclusion within an organization is a step in the right direction. Each company, however, will have a different set of obstacles to overcome on their journeys towards creating diverse and inclusive environments and should look to their workforce to help them identify the gaps. At Avenica, for example, we’ve created a diversity board comprised of leaders from various departments who have united to create intentional company-wide learning opportunities. Each quarter has a theme around which topics will be introduced and each month has a dedicated learning goal. There’s a mix of readings, videos, interactive modules, and person-to-person conversations to help aid in the growth process. We will also be rolling out an anonymous feedback survey that will allow participants a safe space to provide input. Regardless of the approach, it cannot be stated enough that company-wide buy-in is integral in this process. Companies should intentionally work to ensure that all employees understand the value of a diverse and inclusive work environment.

All of this, of course, is easier said than done. The marathon of creating inclusive and welcoming spaces functions less as a one-person race and more like a relay; requiring a concerted effort from all involved. No one has all the answers. For more help with laying the foundation for DEI work, I’d recommend starting (but not stopping) with the resources below.

Stay strong.

 

About Avenica

Through conversation, high-impact coaching, and best-in-class support, we translate and meet the needs of our client partners by identifying and transforming potential into high-performing professionals. At Avenica, we are working from the inside out to embrace diverse thought and perspectives while actively working to dismantle systems of oppression and implicit bias. With a deeply-held belief in human potential, we transform lives and enable organizations to achieve new heights.

If you’re interested in partnering with us to develop or hire your workforce, let’s talk. If you’re a job seeker, please join our network to connect with an Avenica Account Manager.

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