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Pride Month offers the opportunity to celebrate employees and the commitment to equality within the workplace. Here, Ranelle Dunnam, Alfredo Mendez, Tricia Wagner and Jill Thompson from Robert Half share their insights on how to support diverse communities to feel safe at work.
How do Employee Network Groups (ENGs) contribute to the LGBTQ+ employee experience at work?
Ranelle Dunnam: Employee Network Groups provide a supportive community of connection for employees who share similar experiences and unique issues and challenges. They are critical to the success of companies and assist with recruiting talent, outreach to the community, providing learning experiences for employees, and creating leaders through mentorship and development of their members. In essence, they drive inclusivity and are essential for business success. Our employee network groups have also helped to influence the creation of new policies and practices making the workplace a better place for all.
Alfredo Mendez: I think one of the things that both BELONG and proPRIDE have done incredibly well in their creation is really being able to create that sense of community and safety for people that tend to be vulnerable. LGBTQ+ status is not necessarily one of those things that you can just tell by looking at someone. I also recognize that it is hard for people to be able to come out and to feel like they can be themselves at work. And so, I do think these ENGs have done a phenomenal job of creating these safe spaces, being able to tackle some very difficult conversations about things that impact the LGBTQ+ community.
Tricia Wagner: Employee Network Groups also provide exposure, letting others who identify with a particular ENG know they are not alone. When I was interviewing with Protiviti one of the first things I did was investigate our ENGs. I knew I picked the right opportunity after seeing a member of proPRIDE in a video on our external website sharing her story of being OUT in the workplace and the inclusivity she felt at Protiviti. When going through the interview process in 2018, I was living in Pennsylvania, and you could literally still be fired for being gay1. For some, me included, I was able to be my authentic self at work before I was comfortable with my own family. ENGs encourage our employees to bring their authentic self to work and ensure a safe place for employees to be themselves. Work productivity and the quality of work produced increases when you are not constantly thinking if something you said, or the way you said it will bring unwanted attention.
Jill Thompson: It’s about understanding better what’s going on, internally and externally. That to me has been one of the touching things – that people are okay to be who they are and show up authentically. I don’t think we knew that before or acknowledged it. The ENGs give people an outlet and a safe space to be. That’s special.
Tricia: proPRIDE also serves as an example to parents of LGBTQ+ youth that there is nothing their children cannot do. A stigma can still be associated with the LGBTQ+ community and even the most supportive parents fear their LGBTQ children will experience prejudice. Seeing the members of proPRIDE from consultants to managing directors can give these parents confidence their children can be professionally successful while being OUT in the workplace.
Ranelle: One of the other areas that I think our ENGs do well is partnering and collaborating with other employee network groups and providing cross-allyship. Our proPRIDE ENG has partnered with our Parents Network Group and our Black/African American ENG on several events where these groups experience intersections. Again, another example of how our employee network groups improve our workplace culture.
How can managers create a space for employees to bring their whole self to work?
Tricia: I come from a religious conservative background that can best be described as right of conservative where several members of my family refused to come to my wedding. When I came out, I came out first in the workplace and it was the gay men, managers, that were non-judgemental and accepting, they made me feel comfortable. These managers let me know they were there and ready to listen if I wanted to talk. When we did begin talking, they shared their own experiences. These conversations helped me become comfortable in my own skin and begin bringing my whole self to the office. As managers, create spaces where our teams are comfortable and feel like they can share who they are, and we will accept them exactly the way they are.
Alf: I come from a somewhat similar background. I don't think we're right of conservative, but we are very much a Catholic family rooted in those values. When I came out, it was a whole event because I'm the firstborn. I carry my father's name, which creates an element around legacy and potentially breaking that legacy in some way. One of the things that I found that helped my parents, and could ultimately help our managers, is to find ways to remove the unknowns. I think a lot of times we carry a lot of assumptions into what being a member of the community looks like.
If we can help people pique that curiosity, it helps us educate and have conversations, which in turn allows us to create that overall feeling of acceptance and understanding. Sure, we've got to educate people around the nuances of the LGBTQ+ community but I think one of the simplest things that we can do is create this acknowledgment that it's difficult for members of the community to feel like they can be themselves. So how do we help build that sense of authenticity and how do managers help to support that in some way, shape or form? To me, that seems like the very foundational element for us to really consider.
Tricia: Specifically, as managers and leaders, we should share our stories. I bring my full self and do not hesitate to mention my wife and our family. What I have found through my openness, is that others are open with me. On more than one occasion I have had colleagues come up to me privately and tell me their own stories and that by telling them mine they also felt comfortable sharing.
Ranelle: I think sharing your story is key for leaders. And we do a great job at Protiviti and Robert Half of storytelling. It requires our leaders to practice and model being vulnerable and authentic. These are soft skills, but these skills - such as vulnerability, empathy, and transparency, keep our employees engaged and productive. So, in the end, it does affect your bottom line because you have employees providing discretionary effort based on how they experience the workplace, their leaders, and one another, and when done well, companies experience thriving workplaces.
Jill: I think everybody's kind of hit on it around, you know, just trying to provide that safe place for people. And in some ways thinking about how you would want it to be, too. It's just not always easy for people to say who they are and so allow them to be whatever it is in that moment and then, you know, open to whatever comes next.
Ranelle: Leaders can also do simple things like sharing their pronouns when introducing themselves or sharing something in support of Pride Month at their desks or on their Microsoft Teams background. These are ways to show support that doesn't require much effort yet yields positive results in our employees feeling a sense of safety. As Alf shared, LGBTQIA+ status is not something necessarily that you can tell by looking at someone, so being intentional about demonstrating support in meaningful ways significantly impacts our employees for the best.
What experience or interaction with a colleague/peer/manager made you feel at ease/comfortable being your whole-self at work?
Tricia: During the interview process, I was interviewing with a Managing Director and proPRIDE came up. The office I was interviewing with at the time did not have a proPRIDE champion and he immediately let me know he had sponsored a Pride group at his last company and was happy to take that on again as an ally. He and I then went on to talk about possible Pride month activities we could plan.
Alf: During my interview process with Robert Half, every single person I interviewed with asked about my wall of pictures that sits in the background and asked who that was with me. They engaged in the conversation around my relationship with my husband. That curiosity from these leaders enabled us to be able to have that conversation. I think that just goes to demonstrate what a great culture we have as an organization where we genuinely care about each other, and we want to be supportive of one another. Sometimes we may not ask the right questions or say the right things, but I truly believe it comes from a place of goodness and a willingness to learn. Keeping that as a guiding principle across will continue to be what makes Robert Half and Protiviti an incredibly unique and special place to work.
What training and support is most beneficial?
Alf: At Robert Half we introduce you to unconscious bias as a concept when you join the organization. We introduce you to our anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in our various countries. We've updated that training to include components around sexual orientation and gender identity. Protiviti and Robert Half are both proud sponsors of Out & Equal, which is a leading LGBTQ+ professional organization. That partnership allows us to leverage resources and tools that we can then incorporate and bring back into the workplace.
Ranelle: Our ENGs - both proPRIDE and BELONG also promote and provide learning experiences for our employees regarding pronouns, sexual orientation, gender identity, and allyship, to name a few. Additionally, these ENGs and our other ENGS in the enterprise have opportunities to meet with our executive teams and senior leaders to share their goals, aspirations, and areas of opportunity, allowing our leaders to be educated on issues most important to our employees. It also provides a pulse for them to understand our employees better. We also afford individual learning for our employees through internal learning platforms. Ultimately as an ally, I know I am responsible for learning about the LGBTQIA+ community and keeping up to date on information related to this community. Staying curious is important, and I know I can ask individuals in this community questions because I've built solid relationships; however, we have internal company resources that all employees can access, so encouraging and promoting self-education to our employees is also necessary and important. We will continue to provide training company-wide for employees through different learning avenues; however, we are all responsible for staying abreast and learning independently. Some generations entering the workplace are well-informed on diversity, equity inclusion, and social issues, so we must stay educated, informed, and relevant. They seek employers who recognize and celebrate differences, promote belonging and provide safe work environments.
Alf: Companies used to think that doing this work was simply a nice to have – like icing on a cake. The reality is that people entering or re-entering the workforce have come to expect a focus on inclusion and belonging. They want to engage in courageous conversations. They want their company to support those conversations in some way, shape or form. I believe that if we want to continue to attract new talent, then we have to invest in the right resources to incorporate this work and make it part of our organizational DNA.
Jill: Smart companies realize that it needs to be a part of their business strategy and it is vital to attracting the talent that Alf just shared earlier.
Tricia: I think to everyone's point it is about having a good representation of new or re-entering consultants to our more seasoned and experienced team members that demonstrate this is part of our DNA and a part of our company’s history.
Ranelle Dunnam is the Director of Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Protiviti and is responsible for developing and executing DEI strategy on behalf of the organization.
Alfredo Mendez is Vice President of the DEI Community at Robert Half. He sets global strategies and programs that support a culture of growth and inclusion.
Jill Thompson is the Vice President of Human Resources at Robert Half. She is responsible for HR Business Partners, HR Services and Compliance, and Talent Acquisition teams.
Tricia Wagner is an Associate Director at Protiviti. She provides customers with information on security assessments, privacy reviews, risk assessments, data privacy, security program development and vendor management.