All of us, in our personal lives and in our professional lives, are dealing with COVID19.
Unfortunately, COVID19 is interrupting plans for a number of Out & Equal in-person events. We’ve had to reschedule some of them and we are turning to virtual programming to keep our work going. Historically, we have relied on in-person events to learn from each other, to understand what challenges ERGs and D&I experts are grappling with, and to collaborate on developing strategies that work.
About a year ago, however, Out & Equal made the strategic choice to supplement our in-person events with a new set of tools and offerings. We knew that events like Summit, Executive Forum, Global Forums, and Southern States Forums, only happen occasionally. And we knew that we could leverage technology to get more done and revolutionize our work. In this period of uncertainty, this decision feels more important than ever. Technology will make it possible for us to continue our work, to continue supporting workplaces as they build cultures of belonging, and to continue supporting LGBTQ+ employees.
I’m proud that we are ahead of the curve. We’ve already put investments in place that will help us continue to meet our mission, like the Out & Equal Global Hub – a virtual global community that centralizes LGBTQ D&I best practices, thought leadership, and community connection in an accessible virtual space.
These types of investments make us resilient so that…
1. Belonging won’t be canceled
2. Out & Equal won’t be canceled.
3. LGBTQ employees will not be canceled!
My message to all of you is: We are here for you. We are here for you now. And, you should know, our commitment extends beyond this crisis.
We are committed to innovating with you. We are committed to creative connection. We are committed to you as individuals, and to bringing you professional development opportunities that help you thrive. And we are committed to ERG and D&I leaders, in your important role as change agents within your companies.
We call this the Business of Belonging. You already know how important belonging is to a company. You know that when employees can bring their full, authentic selves to work that it makes a difference in terms of teamwork, in terms of efficiency and quality, in terms of recruiting and retention, in terms of employees’ day-to-day experience in our companies.
Many of you have heard me talk about belonging. Out & Equal began talking about moving from Diversity, to Inclusion, to workplace Cultures of Belonging two years ago. That’s when belonging became a pillar of Out & Equal’s new strategic plan.
Belonging is not a warm and soft hug, and it must not rest on what some think is a soft or in-actionable concept. Rather, it is a smart, strategic, laser-focus on optimal organizational culture. We must be grounded in the core principal of belonging—that our potential is fulfilled only when we are bound up in the interdependence of connection.
In the best of times, sustaining a culture of belonging is hard enough in an office. It is an entirely different challenge in the current environment. We’ve been talking about the challenges of remote employees for a long time. Now, that’s become a reality like never before. But it’s also happening in the midst of a crisis which makes it all the more complex.
I want you to think about three factors with regard to the current crisis and how it’s impacting our workplaces: Isolation, fear, and trauma.
Isolation: More and more studies are indicating that loneliness and isolation are real problems, leading to a myriad of psychological, social and economic repercussions. We need to mitigate both the effects of feeling lonely and of being alone. We need to be focused on health and wellbeing, and we need to be mindful of the effects of isolation on ourselves and our teammates.
Fear: In addition to isolation, there’s something else going on right now that might seem too obvious to mention, but it cannot go unsaid. There’s a lot of fear and stress that’s related to financial insecurity, to the insecurity around getting sick, to political and social insecurity- not just for ourselves but for friends and family. And even if you’re managing your own stress well, your colleague, or partner or your family member might not be. We are all most-likely beginning to see or feel the effects of a system where many of us are showing up anxious, angry, or distracted.
Trauma: For some of us in the LGBTQ movement, all of this talk about a virus, and an epidemic, is opening up old wounds. We remember living through another time when the virus being talked about was HIV. We remember how we were treated by the government, by healthcare providers, by employers. We remember being rejected. We remember the fear. We remember the friends we lost.
This memory. It hurts. For some of us it can be physically painful to think about. But I want you to think about it. I want you to think about it because it can bring out some good.. And if you’re not old enough to have lived through it, I want you to take some time to listen to the stories of those who did.
There’s more in those memories than pain. There is also a muscle. And that muscle can help us through this moment: When people were dying of complications of HIV and being shunned again and again, our community came together. Every part of the L.G.B.T.Q. took action to care for those who were sick, to advocate for approaches that work, to fight the stigma, to stand up for those who needed help.
This is muscle memory that our community has. It is muscle memory that we need to flex. And it is a muscle that we can help others — all across society — figure out how to use.
Flexing that muscle means leaning into the fear and discomfort by shoring up strength through connection and support.
Conferences and meetings are being canceled left and right, but our ability to check in on each other, to retain optimism and compassion, to work hard… none of that has been canceled.
We know this is true. We know that solving global crises requires all of the innovation, creativity and solidarity a people can muster. We need to collectively reject attempts to make this global pandemic a rallying cry for xenophobia and discrimination.
I have been part of D&I efforts in both the private and public sectors during other extremely stressful times. And having weathered the fear and anxiety of the September 11th attacks and subsequent wars, global economic recessions and more, I firmly believe that our efforts to build strong, inclusive workplaces are not “nice to haves” after a crisis passes. To the contrary!
This work we are all engaged in is exactly the foundation that workplaces and societies as a whole need to get through these crises. If we are divided, suspicious or devaluing of our differences, then we will not get out of this in decent shape. We are in the middle of a major stress-test of our systems and we are strong enough and forward-looking enough to know that inclusion and belonging are needed now more than ever.
We are all in this together and it’s up to each of us to choose how we make this mentality real every day. I hope that each of you will choose courage, connection and facing outward. Our future selves will thank us for taking this extraordinary moment to extend friendship, help and determination all around us.
This moment is tough. But we are the LGBTQ+ movement. We’ve been through tough times before!
Whether it was the HIV crisis, or, more recently, the election in Brazil of a president who expressed so much hate for us. Two years ago, during that election, I had the privilege of supporting an initiative by business and NGO leaders in Brazil to make a strong and public statement in support of inclusion and against that hatred. Before that happened, nobody could have imagined the business community coming out this way in Brazil. But it did! In the United States we’ve made so much progress towards equal rights, and any day now our Supreme Court will rule on whether existing law means that you can be fired for being gay… or transgender. Out & Equal worked with a coalition to bring together 206 major businesses to officially ask the court to rule for LGBT rights. Those businesses represent more than 7 million employees, a wide variety of industries, and more than $5 trillion in revenue.
Things are hard now and may continue to be challenging. But I know and believe we will come through this crisis. And we will do it together.
I want to leave you with a story that underpins all that we stand for, as Out & Equal and as an LGBTQ community. A good friend of mine, a leader who works for one of the top hotel brands in the world, called me the other day.
I asked him, “How are you doing? I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the hospitality industry right now.”
He said, “Yes, it’s horrible, business is not good and our stock is falling rapidly. People are stressed but we are doing what we can.”
As I listened to him and thought about all the employees that work for this hotel globally, and the possible economic implications for them as a company and him personally, and I told him how sorry I was that he, they and we all are going through this.
And then you know what he said?
He said, “But Erin, that’s not why I’m calling today.”
“I just took a quick break to call you because my daughter’s best friend in high school is a young trans woman, and when they canceled schools and closed the dorms where she was staying, she let my daughter know that she fears going back home to a situation with her family that is not good. We may take her into our home, but what else can I do for her? What resources might I connect her to?”
I was overwhelmed with his kindness and his generosity. Here’s a man who has many other concerns, many other pressing and urgent items to attend to. And he takes the time to be an ally, to show up and take care of someone who needs it.
Please know that we at Out & Equal are here for you. We will be continuing to connect in ways that allow us to support and uplift each other. Please take care of yourselves and of each other.
Erin Uritus, CEO
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates