Why LGBTQIA+ representation matters in the workplace
I was asked to talk about LGBTQIA+ for 5 min in the context of an internal DEIB network at my workplace. I was not giving other guidance, just the headline LGBTQIA+. As I sat down to decide what to talk about, a fundamental question popped in my mind:
Why does LGBTQIA+ representation matter in the workplace?
Being our whole selves at work is important. When we are our whole selves at work, we share our ideas, we can challenge the status quo, we can enable innovation and we can create a psychologically safe work environment. But being our whole selves at work can be really hard, especially when who we are is not part of the norm or the majority.
And sometimes, this is especially hard because we don’t want people to change the way they perceive us, we don’t want others to judge us, exclude us or be distant. And if being yourself isn’t the norm, there is always a chance that showing your true colors might lead some people to change their views of you.
That is why representation is so important.
It matters because if there are many people of diverse backgrounds, it makes it easier for others to be their whole selves at work without being afraid.
That is also why I personally continue to be out and vocal at work. I want to show others that it is possible to succeed while being my whole self and that it’s possible to be ourselves at work without fear.
Additionally, representation also matters because it enables us to educate people around the organization about the adversity we face and how being part of the LGBTQIA+ community might create some work constraints as we don’t have the same legal status everywhere around the globe. By doing so, we can create a work environment that is more inclusive as people learn to relate to our reality a little more.
I live in Denmark where the LGBTQIA community has attained rights on par with the hetero population and hence, one would think that LGBTQIA rights are of lesser relevance. When that is said, I work in a global company and even here in Europe, many countries do not offer the same rights to LGBTQIA+ people as they do for heterosexual people. And one does not have to travel that far to find such a place. For example, I would not have been able to marry my wife and have my two kids through public funded insemination in Poland.
In addition to the above, I want to raise attention to one last item. LGBTQIA stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual. And over the years we have made great progress in terms of inclusion for the first 3 letters L, G and B (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals) but I think many workplaces need to make an extra effort to ensure that the rest of the “alphabet” feels comfortable at work and that everyone has a place to be themselves. For example, many companies today only recognize two genders, male and female and we are yet to figure out how we maneuver around people who are non-binary or gender fluid. There is also a lot of work for us to do to make sure that all people in the rainbow alphabet feel safe and comfortable at work. To do so, this means building more awareness with all of our colleagues and helping everyone know how to engage so that we create workplace environments where everyone feels comfortable, included and able to be themselves at work.