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Blog | DEI | Diversity & Inclusion | Making our Strong Community Stronger

Fostering Inclusive Work Environments for the LGBTQIA+ Community

By | May 24, 2023

Explore ways you can foster inclusivity by understanding the intersection of multiple marginalized groups, taking advantage of ‘teachable moments,’ and creating an environment where employees know they belong.

 From Top Left to Right: Jess Pettitt, Dan Brown, Debbie Schildkraut, Larry Cook, Michelle Hebert and Julie Law

The LGBTQIA+ community is a vital part of not just the technology ecosystem, but the world as a whole. As part of the mainframe ecosystem’s Making Our Strong Community Stronger (MSCS) collaborative initiative, DEI consultant Jess Pettitt (she/her) moderated “Fostering Inclusive Work Environments for the LGBTQIA+ Community” on May 17, 2023—a thoughtful conversation with panelists about the importance of community, self-expression, and relationship-building in creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ individuals. The discussion also closely explored the impact of cultural polarization.

This webinar’s panelists included:

  • Debbie Schildkraut (she/her): Founder/President, Kestin Impact Consulting
  • Dan Brown (he/him): Head of Communication, LF Energy
  • Michelle Hébert (she/her): Enablement Manager – Data Services, Applied Systems
  • Larry Cook (he/him):Global Event Manager, Broadcom Mainframe Software

Conversation Highlights: Inclusive Spaces, Intersectionality, and More 

The session worked to honor diverse communities represented by LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Ally/Advocate/Accomplices, plus many more). Each panelist had a chance to introduce themselves and share their point of view on one important aspect that came up during pre-conversations ahead of the webinar.

Julie Law, (she/her/hers) CPO, Rocket Software, said it best in her introduction to the discussion when she added that her biggest takeaway was, “Seek to understand and assume positive intent.” She also shared some ground rules as a good set of principles to leverage as we all embark in these courageous conversations.

Dan Brown shared some internal and external resources and best practices from recruitment to retention once LGBTQIA+ employees are hired and promoted within an organization. Here are a few to use as a starting point for you and your work:

Michelle Hébert touched upon what some may say is a live wire topic around the intersectionality of our lived experiences and our professional roles. Michelle and her spouse currently live in Florida. She shared how “marginalization becomes compounded” when gender, sexuality, and other identities are underrepresented in technology and beyond.

Megan Rupert, a webinar participant and member of the MSCS committee from Broadcom Mainframe Software, replied in the chat, “Such a great point. We tend to reduce the LGBTQIA+ community down to their sexual orientation/preferences. But they are HUMAN. People are defined by their interests, their hobbies, their beliefs. That’s how we should be relating to each other.”

Another intersection of ideas came up when Larry Cook spoke to the moral argument and the business case for inclusion and how these conversations may vary based on one’s corporate role. Larry recommended being your authentic self and emphasized that managers are responsible for creating inclusive spaces. Together, this makes for happy and safe workplaces from behind our desks to the manufacturing line.

Larry also shared a quote from Ted Childs, former head of global diversity programs at IBM when he addressed Broadcom on why diversity programs matters. “In no uncertain terms,” he said, “the notion that diversity programs were a moral imperative was simply wrong. They are a business imperative. We are employed to make our company money. And if our customers feel that you are uncomfortable dealing with them, they will take their business elsewhere. And if you disagree, then hit the door. Go elsewhere.” This reminder got a wave of positive comments in the chat.

Debbie Schildkraut invoked the importance of employees’ families. To bring “our whole selves to work” includes employees that have LGBTQIA+ family members. As part of this work, she started a Community of Interest Group (CIG), sometimes called Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), that supports those with family members going through a coming out or transition process because what is happening in our personal lives shows up in our global company culture. Debbie also reminded us that allyship begins with everyday acts of supporting and standing up for others. These acts could range from using the correct pronouns for someone or monitoring your own defensiveness so that we can all have a sense of shared humanity.

Debbie also noted the ways senior management can heighten their awareness and sensitivity of being inclusive by taking actionables steps–including creating CIGs/ERGs, and setting an inclusive tone in physical workplaces by establishing gender-neutral bathrooms and alternative options to open-seat formatting.

Sharing Our Authentic Selves With Others

During the session, one participant asked, “How do you broach the conversation of sharing your authentic self with managers and/or colleagues who have not explicitly made it clear they support LGBTQIA+?” and the panel had a wide range of answers or suggestions.

Michelle responded, “I present myself with the assumption that I will be accepted.” She also added, when it is relative in a conversation, she says something like, “my spouse works in Cancer Protocols, and she is …” or she talks about the woes of raising children together just like everyone else. She also reminded us that “When we are afraid, we are judging [others] as not a ‘good person.’”

Debbie focused on the importance of creating teachable moments to support others. “Don’t just leave the anger there; you can go fix things and not leave them broken.” She added, “Maybe they can hear how they can be the bigger person through your role modeling.”

Dan recalled a story of coworkers that were fearful of coming out, but because he personally had dropped into a work conversation something about his “boyfriend,” this employee felt safer to tell everyone. Dan asked us all, “What can you do to make it more comfortable for others?”

This tied back to Debbie’s comments about lessening defensiveness, and she added, “This is also why it’s so important to not generalize and make assumptions about those you work with as a whole.” There is a line, Jess added, between making spaces more comfortable, and reflecting on how you may make others feel when you show up defensively.

Another key highlight that came up was the importance of LGBTQIA+ folks bringing themselves above the fear of not being accepted. Larry challenged us all to “take the monkey off our backs” when we aren’t accepted, as it is really their problem and not ours. There is a difference between acceptance and safety, comfort and danger.

Every employee must look at seven variables of company culture, which according to Jess, include:

  1. Customs
  2. Organizational style
  3. Artifacts
  4. Language
  5. Norms
  6. Beliefs
  7. Values

Businesses must also examine policies, procedures, and practices as well as bathrooms, privacy spaces, names and titles, and how each align with the organization’s values.

Teachable Moments in the LGBTQIA+ Space

As the session came to a close, Jess asked the panelists one more question. Based on one of her favorite quotes, “Just because we are one doesn’t mean we get it,” by Dr. Rev. Jamie Washington, she asked each panelist to name a learning edge within their own community that they are currently working on. These teachable moments in everyday conversations are as much for us as they are for those outside of the community.

Debbie shared that she is working on pronoun use and Larry talked about how important it is just to learn about his own co-workers’ backgrounds, religious practices, cultures, etc. Michelle shared that she had just learned that being Intersex is just as common as being a redhead, roughly one in four people. Dan offered intersectionality as a learning edge and named the discrimination and prejudices that exist inside the LGBTQIA+ community. We must all acknowledge our privileges and dominant identities even when we lead with our marginalized or subordinated gender identity, expression, and/or sexuality.

Ultimately, we all must take a moment to notice when we don’t know what we don’t know, and give gratitude to others that offer us the gift of becoming more conscious of our unconscious behaviors, language use, and the like. This self-reflection allows us all to be more responsible for who and how we are in the world and creates a better, more supportive, and inclusive space for all.

As we plan out our next few webinar series, the Making Our Strong Community Stronger team would love to know what matters to you most. Take a moment to share your ideas for upcoming and future webinars in this LinkedIn poll.

In case you missed the conversation, to check out the on-demand recording along with other webinars in the MSCS playlist on the Open Mainframe Project Youtube Channel.

Continue the conversation by reaching out to us on MSCS LinkedIn and we will be happy to answer questions, offer up additional resources, and more.