How companies can celebrate intersectional diversity in a remote-work world

June 29, 2020, 6:00 PM UTC

This year’s Pride Month has been a study in contrasts. The power of our community was never more evident than when health and safety kept us physically apart. We saw genuine milestones of progress and tragic reminders of how much further we have to go. And all June long, across the U.S., we’ve seen firsthand that the ideal of equal dignity for all people is both powerful and elusive. 

Equality has to be demanded, fought for, and won. As LGBTQIA+ organizations have written in an open letter, “Today, we join together again to say #BlackLivesMatter and commit ourselves to the action those words require.”

Pride commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York City, a series of angry demonstrations against police brutality and harassment that lit the spark that became the modern-day gay rights movement. Over time, it has become part celebration and part protest—appropriate for a movement originally focused on sexual freedom and identity, but which has become an assertion of human rights and equal dignity for all.

For businesses that value diversity, honoring Pride in 2020 has required flexibility to adapt to a remote-work world. More importantly, it has also demanded an intentionally intersectional approach, focused on centering the experience of LGBTQIA+ people of color and supporting all those coming together to press for solutions to racial inequity and systemic injustice.

This has required strategic commitment and compassionate leadership (no small thing amid a deep economic downturn). And in the process, it has helped some companies develop a template for celebrating intersectional diversity in a remote-work world. Here are a few takeaways based on our experience at my company. 

Bring in outside experts on intersectionality

With schedules more flexible because no one can travel, companies have a unique opportunity to bring in more vital external perspectives. This proved especially important this June, as companies sought to broaden the voices they elevate, turning to experts on intersectionality to meet the demands of this moment.  

At our company, we welcomed Jonathan Capehart, Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post columnist, who shared his experience as a Black gay man and his view on the shifting political terrain; Geena Rocero, a widely celebrated trans advocate and model whose powerful TED Talk about coming out has been viewed millions of times; and GLG social impact fellow Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, whose organization works to prevent suicide and safeguard the mental health of LGBTQIA+ young people, and which has focused especially this month on supporting young people of color.

These three intersectional outside voices made inclusion and diversity come alive for our employees. In a remote-work world, take advantage of the increased flexibility to bring in the most powerful voices you can find.

Turn the floor over to your employees

As Pride Month began, our LGBTQIA+ employee resource group—many of whom, in their words, weren’t feeling very celebratory at all—decided to collectively issue a letter standing in solidarity with their Black colleagues and with all people of color fighting systemic violence and injustice. Leadership might pave the way, but when it comes to celebrating diverse groups, there are no more powerful voices than your own employees. Throughout the month, we turned the floor over to them. This included a series of op-eds on community issues on our intranet, and a wide range of virtual gatherings, coffee chats, and happy hours over Zoom.

Paradoxically, the context of remote work can give your LGBTQIA+ employees (and all employees from marginalized groups) greater visibility than they might have in a physical office. Zoom can level the playing field, in particular, for employees from smaller offices or from regions where LGBTQIA+ issues are less culturally acceptable. In these places, Zoom has allowed every participant to feel like they’re in the same “place,” with the same opportunities to make their voices heard.

Reaffirm your strategic commitment to diversity and inclusion for all

In a period when every company is facing the twin challenges of a pandemic and a deep recession, the time and resources it takes to celebrate intersectional diversity might not seem worth it. Don’t be tempted. Especially now, employees need to know you have their backs. The month of June has been an opportunity for companies to vocally affirm the right of Black and LGBTQIA+ employees—and employees from all underrepresented groups—to feel safe in who they are at your (and their) company.

These efforts must continue all year long, not only because they will help your employees be more engaged, fulfilled, and productive, but also because they’re simply the right thing to do (now more than ever). During a period of extended physical separation and often painful uncertainty, celebrating intersectional diversity is an opportunity for companies to assert leadership in their communities and sustain connection among their stakeholders.

And that’s important for all of us. Marginalized and underrepresented groups have much to teach the world in 2020—about how to cope with isolation, foster community, and vigorously stand up for the dignity of all people in the face of common vulnerability. And each of them deserves support from the companies where they work.

Those of us, like myself, who lived through the AIDS pandemic know that while times of crisis bring great pain and difficulty, they also present opportunities to strengthen community and common understanding. Even—and perhaps especially—during a time of social distancing, this Pride Month has been an invaluable opportunity for individuals and businesses to come together in support of the rights of all employees to be their most authentic selves.

Richard Socarides is executive vice president and chief communications officer at GLG, a former White House special assistant, a writer for The New Yorker, and a longtime LGBTQ rights activist.

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