The below State of Pride address is from Out & Equal’s Pride Month Town Hall on June 24, 2021.
Erin Uritus, Out & Equal CEO, 2021
Good morning, I am Erin Uritus, the CEO of Out & Equal. I use she/ her pronouns. I am excited to be here with you all for the Out & Equal Pride Town Hall!
Since our beginning, Out & Equal has been guided by our fundamental belief in ourselves and the power we have to change the landscape for LGBTQ+ people. We are in our 25th year and it’s worth pausing to reflect on all that’s changed since our founders decided on a vision that none of us should have to choose between being “out” and “equal” at work and in our lives.
We built a case for our inclusion at work. We flexed our talent. We came out. We shared our stories, our personal journeys, with others in a way that touched them and made them think differently. By tapping into the shared humanity of those we interacted with, we turned acquaintances and colleagues into allies and co-conspirators. We organized.
And a handful of ERGs 25 years ago has become a global network effecting change across every industry and geography. Hundreds of major businesses have invested in our community and support LGBTQ+ ERGs – often led by out executive champions and including many, many allies.
Read a headline of corporate activism in the face of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, or just look at the number of Fortune 500 companies who have gender identity nondiscrimination polices, now – and you see the impact of our movement!
But we are not done yet, because we can’t be.
Here in the United States, we still lack core federal civil rights protections: A woman can be denied an apartment because she is a lesbian. A gay couple can be blocked from adopting a child. A transgender person can be denied service at a restaurant. The list goes on: jury service, federally-funded programs, and car loans, but until Congress passes the Equality Act, we are still vulnerable. Now, to go through this laundry list so rapidly can sometime lose the effect it should have, and most likely does have – especially if you have been someone who faced this kind of discrimination. This is fundamentally about not just about who we love, its about how we live.
We have also just experienced the most catastrophic spring legislative session of anti-trans bills to sweep the country since this effort began in 2015. And just last week the Supreme Court held that the city of Philadelphia could not enforce its rules barring discrimination against an LGBTQ couple that wanted to adopt a child. This was a painful decision because the discrimination at the heart of this case is being allowed to stand. Globally, we face incredible obstacles. In places like Brazil, Hungary, and Poland, political leaders are actively stoking hate against our community. Dozens of countries still criminalize our relationships. And governments have tried to squash civil society advocacy.
Even in the face of all of this, we know that our community is resilient, visionary, and proud. And June – Pride month – is often a time when we can and should pull from our memories all the moments of accomplishment and joyful relationships, so that we continue to gather strength as we continue to push for a more equal, more just path where we all belong.
Pride is an opportunity to celebrate the beautiful diversity of our community! There is beauty in each part of the LGBTQ community. And there is beauty in the fact that each of us have multiple identities that intersect in unique ways.
I am not just a bi+/pan/queer woman. I am also the mother of two biracial daughters. I am the sole breadwinner for my family. No person in the LGBTQ community is “just” in this community. Each and every one of us is a member of multiple communities. When we fight for inclusion, we know that we will not succeed unless we account for how gender, race, class, ability, nationality, and more impact what opportunities are available to each of us.
In the last year, many of us have had brave, necessary conversations about race, racism and privilege. More and more people have come to embrace the truth that racism and white supremacy are not just a part of America’s history, they are rampant in our present, and they will be a part our future unless we take more bold anti-racist action.
But what does action look like?
First, let me speak directly to those of you who, like me, are white. We need to continue to step back and listen to our Black, AAPI, Latin, and other colleagues. And we need to step forward to use our power and privilege to eradicate racism and combat white supremacy. Even as we make sure that other voices are centered, we must shoulder more of the burden of creating change. Nobody else should carry the weight of educating us, or our children. That’s certainly not the responsibility of people of color.
Second, I facilitate a lot of conversations with DEI practitioners. Over the past year, I have heard some themes emerge about the challenges that they are facing: Employees, and in particular employees of color, are skeptical. We hear them saying that my company “doesn’t really see me” or that my company “makes a big announcement, but they’re not really going to stick it out.” Companies need to ensure that the work that they do on racism is credible, that it is incorporated into long term plans that are driven by leadership and resourced as a priority.
Organizational allyship is not about splashy marketing campaigns or Pride month celebrations. Those of us in the DEI world must ask ourselves: What meaningful work is each of us doing to create space for these conversations? And important – when you ask people to share their experiences and feedback, what are you doing with it? How are you addressing the needs that people of color articulate?
If we do this, the future of work can really be for all of us.
We also know that there are big differences in the experiences – and in the opportunities available – to folks within the LGBTQ community, depending on the specific ways our identities intersect.
Out & Equal is taking action to make sure that the future of work is intersectional, and better. We’re thrilled so many of our partners are also stepping forward with us to effect meaningful change. How can we better support trans and nonbinary people, or LGBTQ people of color? What are the needs of LGBTQ women, or of Gen Z employees entering the workforce? The resources our partners have provided make it possible for Out & Equal to push forward with bold new programming. In the coming days, we’ll share more about Out & Equal’s new programs specficially focused on initatives to address the needs in these communities. It’s essential work, and I’m excited about the potential we have to make sustainable change. Please keep an eye on your inboxes for further details!
I am optimistic. We are living in a moment that is unlike the past. 2021 is a moment of opportunity for us. We can impact what the future of work will look like.
Before COVID changed our world, many of us were talking about “the Future of Work,” but it was an amorphous vision – it was something that was going to come one day. Things have changed. COVID forced us to concentrate and accelerate our focus.
In the early months, we had to figure out how to make it possible for our teams to work from home, or how to be safe as they continued to work in person.
Then, we had to work to sustain and support our employees – and one another – through the traumas of the pandemic – from isolation to new caretaking responsibilities, to the loss of jobs, to the loss of life, and to the ongoing attrition in our collective mental health.
And it wasn’t just COVID. Companies had to respond and act on the need to shed a light on racism in all its forms. Combatting racism is every organization’s obligation. Aligning values and standing on the right side of history are also necessary for their relevance.
There’s generational change afoot. Millennials and Gen Z have very high expectations of the companies that they do business with, and even higher expectations for companies they work for. And take note – they are not going to be swayed by gestures or suave talking points; they are going to want to see companies’ actions match their rhetoric.
You and I know that this was never “just” about supporting employees, this was, and remains, a fundamental business problem. Those who would not or could not adapt: they lose productivity, they lose employees, they lose business, and they lose the opportunity to grow as the economy bounces back.
Within the Out & Equal community, among the people who come to our events, read our website, drive change within partner companies – we have been talking for a long time about how to build the Future of Work. In this crucible of the past year, we saw some of the concepts we have long been talking about be put into action and stress-tested by the real world.
The Future of Work is emerging, and here’s what it looks like:
The Future of Work is Authentic:
Workplaces need to be spaces where the full lived experience of employees is acknowledged and respected.
For instance, our families – our partners, our kids, our elderly parents – they came onto the Zoom screen sometime this past year. And it was ok. We don’t need to hide our home life from our work life. We don’t need to pretend that we don’t have caregiving responsibilities. More of us can show up more authentically than ever before.
The Future of Work is resilient:
Poll after poll is showing record highs in the number of people who self-report suffering from depression or anxiety. Smart employers will not sweep this reality under the rug, they will recognize the impact that mental health has on each and every one of us, and they will guide their employees to be resilient – without sacrificing accountability.
The Future of Work is based on accountability:
Without accountability there can be no trust. Workplaces need to hold their employees accountable for their work, and for helping create the cultures we all want to work in. And companies and leaders are also being held accountable for their actions as well. Are they following through on their anti-racist rhetoric from last summer? Where are they on voting rights and voter suppression?
You and I are living at a turning point in history. Right now – rocked by COVID-19, coming to terms with anti-racism, and adapting to the high standards of Millennial and Gen Z workers – companies are rapidly shifting how they do this business. Determining and declaring what they stand for.
Whether we are executives or ERG members or DEI or HR professionals, we can and must be change agents. We can help our organizations navigate these waters and make the Future of Work better than its past.
I’m excited to be a part of this change with you.
Let’s declare this month – even today perhaps- that one year from now, next year at Pride month, that we will be PROUD- proud to be LGBTQ, proud to be an ally, and proud of what we have done this year to create the future we all deserve.