The world is a constantly changing place, and while this has meant that the LGBTQ+ community has seen huge progress in the fight for equal rights over the past 50 years, it’s not always been a positive evolution.
Today we’re seeing policies introduced that take LGBTQ+ rights multiple steps backwards, including bills prohibiting the discussion of sexual orientation in schools and restrictions on gender-affirming medical care in the US.
With some countries making it almost impossible to be out as an LGBTQ+ person, and the fear of not being accepted ever-present, businesses should be working on designing a workplace that helps LGBTQ+ employees feel safe and valued.
Unpredictable and changing political ideologies mean we can never be complacent when it comes to inclusivity, and there’s one group that should be spearheading these conversations: LGBTQ+ team members.
My Pride experience
As a mixed-race teenager in the 1970s and 80s, being seen as different in any way was a source of ridicule. With my ethnicity being more visible than my sexual orientation, I focused on hiding my ethnicity. Fitting in became my top priority.
In the early 1990s, I moved to Hong Kong for five years, where I fell head over heels in love with a woman at the age of 26. Used to hiding the real me, I was suddenly faced with a reality in which I felt different for not only my ethnicity but my sexuality as well.
Although my feelings and identity felt authentic, the world suddenly looked very different to me and gone were straight privileges like holding hands in public and casually mentioning my partner’s pronoun to people.
Fast forward to my early days at IBM and I was open about my sexuality to my immediate colleagues, but it wasn’t until I came across the IBM EAGLE community that I realized the full extent of support that was available to me.
I haven’t looked back since and have felt constant acceptance from my managers and team members throughout my time at IBM and now Kyndryl.
Why we need inclusivity
Fostering a truly inclusive and diverse working environment for employees has benefits beyond simply virtue signaling as a company.
By building LGBTQ+ inclusivity into the organization and all of its practices, business leaders can ensure that all staff are respected, feeding into a wider sense of wellbeing and work satisfaction.
When people feel the support to be themselves, they can let their guard down and minimize alert and anxiety levels, allowing them to direct their energy to creative thinking and problem solving.
This, in turn, boosts work collaboration and productivity, making the business more attractive to talent from more diverse backgrounds, therefore creating a positive cycle of inclusivity. It also equips employees and business leaders with the tools to better navigate LBGTQ+ dialogue in their professional and personal lives.
This is why Pride Month is such an important time for businesses looking to improve LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
The month-long celebration is an opportunity to shine a light on LGBTQ+ employees and their stories, providing positive role models for employees who are considering coming out at work and creating a larger platform for issues to be projected from. And it’s vital that long-term business initiatives reflect inclusivity as much as short-term Pride celebrations do.
LBGTQ+ employees should be given as much chance of being promoted as others do, should receive the same benefits, and should be represented at every level of the business. You cannot be what you cannot see, so I’m keen for us to have visible role models to help others feel a greater sense of belonging.
Visibility and being a role model
At Kyndryl, we thread support and acceptance across teams and disciplines via the Kyndryl Inclusion Networks (KINs), and particularly our Out Role Models.
KINs are dedicated to creating space for employees to seek out help or advice when it comes to recruitment, retention, advancement, and allyship, and our Out Role Models are individuals working to maintain this culture of positive inclusion.
As Out Role Models, we have the honor and the obligation to make everyone feel welcome in an inclusive workplace.
It’s never been more important for those who want to come out at work to see role models, as we’re signaling that the business embraces diversity, stands for that commitment, understands the importance of representation, and will make the workplace a safe place to be yourself, no matter your sexuality or gender identity.
Earlier in my career, I found myself coming up against others who believed that the LGBTQ+ community was less important than those minority groups that are more visible.
After navigating various conversations like this, I realized how important it is to have a safe, inclusive workplace where people feel comfortable asking awkward questions, offering different opinions, and being open to new ideas.
Being an Out Role Model allows me to boost LGBTQ+ visibility, help create space for these conversations, and allow others to bring their whole selves to work without fear of prejudice or ridicule.
Becoming a better ally is a three-step process, achieved by being curious, being active, and being vocal. Start by being curious about the people you work with, their experiences, and the experiences of the wider LGBTQ+ community.
Be open and interested but ensure you’re not asking LGBTQ+ folks intrusive or probing questions that could make them uncomfortable.
Secondly, be active by becoming an active member of LGBTQ+ support groups, relevant events, and showing your support visibly with actions like putting your pronouns in your email signature.
Make the effort to find out about reporting processes at your workplace and inspire others to act as allies.
In being vocal, you should be rallying senior leaders to be active champions of the LGBTQ+ community and challenging any problematic behavior you witness – never be a bystander.
But above all, ensure that you’re centering the voices of LGBTQ+ people, recognize your own privilege, and always listen and give others a platform when they need it.
People are at the heart of Kyndryl, so it’s my hope that, by acting as an Out Role Model, I can help build a workplace experience that values belonging, support, and inclusivity above all else.
Embracing diversity and inclusion is a continued commitment that we all need to act on, not just during Pride month, but every single day of the year.
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