Growing up, my parents shared many stories of the struggle, perseverance, and the marginalization of black people. My father frequently closed with, “There’s no shame in being black, it just ain’t easy at times.”
He wasn’t kidding! I grew up in a society located smack dab in the middle of the land of the free, and home of the brave where what was consistently characterized as “normal” or “acceptable” looked very little like me. This made me even more committed to inclusiveness and promoting the ideal of freedom to be as we are, and live unabashed and unapologetically–even when it’s not easy.
As an HR Leader, I am all for any opportunity to disrupt the notion that diversity is something to be hidden, downplayed, or tamped out. But this moment in time is not about me or mine; it’s about our LGBT community, who like so many other groups, still face discrimination in employment for simply for being who they are. This is an age-old struggle that began long before the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Here we are, three years after President Barack Obama proclaimed the month of June LGBT Pride Month, and HR Leaders have a prime opportunity, if not an obligation, to bring awareness to critical issues that relate to individuals that share our workplace.
In my humble HR opinion, we tend to shy away from anything with an appearance of favoring one community of people over another when it comes to marginalized populations.
But let’s look at it differently.
Try viewing your organization’s response to LGBT Pride Month as the perfect opportunity to ensure that you are promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace.
In his proclamation, President Obama called upon the people of the United States “to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.” Who could possibly have a problem with that?
With that in mind, here are some ways to support your organization and employees during LGBT Pride Month.
Even though this is LGBT Pride Month, there is nothing that says organizations can’t take this opportunity to focus on some history 101. I had someone tell me the other day that Pride started in San Francisco when some guys got to together to have a parade. “It was so successful it caught on.” When I asked if the individual had heard of the Stonewall Riots, they asked if that is where the Watts Riots took place. Only days earlier I had someone ask, “Were your grandparents–or I guess it would be great grandparents–slaves?” and Back in May, I had someone ask if, “Cinco de Mayo was the same thing as that Day of the Dead celebration thing.”
I’m not trying to start anything–but sometimes we can be a little uninformed when it comes to history; particularly if it has not held a space of significance in our lives. Educate your employees on the historical significance of LGBT Pride. Share with your employees that this month was chosen in correlation with the Stonewall Riots, which occurred on June 28th, 1969, in New York City, and is considered by many the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. Sharing such history serves as a reminder to employers and employees of the major strives taken towards ensuring tolerance and diversity in the workplace today.
Conduct a Culture Check
Raise the question to your fellow leaders, “What is our stance on LGBT Pride Month?” If none is identified, perhaps this might be a good time to take one. This might be the perfect time to take a look at how your organization acknowledges LGBT Pride Month, Black History Month, religious holidays/celebrations, Solstice, etc. Do you give everyone an opportunity to share their story and celebrate their differences; or declare a moratorium on the acknowledgment of all things, unlike mainstream actions?
Take this opportunity to establish some practices on how to acknowledge and celebrate your diversity. Review your culture and environment to ensure that tolerance and inclusion are woven into the fiber of the organization. Do a check of your policy manuals to make sure they include anti-discrimination clauses for LGBT employees. Make this an opportunity to remind all employees that your organization is a diversity-friendly organization (if indeed you are) that will not tolerate discrimination, exclusion, or insensitivity from one employee to another. Establish a safe environment for employees to have candid discussions about who they are without fear or reprisal of violating some antiquated notion of political correctness. Referring to a black man, as “black” is not politically incorrect, it’s a fact people. Last but not least, allow employees to give feedback on how they feel the company is handling LGBT and equality within the workplace at large.
Don’t be intimidated to promote participation
A break room or common area where employees are known to gather is the perfect spot to post your organization’s commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion statement; or information promoting opportunities to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. This makes employees aware of events, but also emphasizes the company’s stance on LGBT acceptance. Seek opportunities to partner with organizations that advocate for LGBT rights and people. There may be opportunities for your employees to volunteer, be a part of learning opportunities, facilitated discussions, and training to better understand issues related the human rights and the LGBT community at large.
There is a disruption that needs to happen as we continue to strive for equality and inclusiveness that goes well beyond the rainbow.
However, this is LGBT Pride Month, and it serves as a great opportunity for HR pros to lead the charge in reinforcing your organization’s stance on tolerance and diversity in the workplace. HR leaders are in a unique position to take the discussion to the next level. Sure, it’s so much easier to sit back and let the opportunity pass quietly; after all, there is safety in homogeny. But does that really serve your organization and employees in the long run?
William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Virginia Mason, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He has a proven track record for building employee satisfaction through building leadership competencies and strong collaborative HR partnerships with leadership teams that focus on the staff retention and fostering cultures of engagement. William regularly shared his insights and experience though for a number of Talent publications including Fistful of Talent, Career Crossroads (CXRWorks), and The HR Gazette and believes that an organization’s human capital is their most valuable asset.