Across the world, the pandemic has catalyzed epiphanies about work, life and the integration of the two. For some people, this has looked like re-thinking how to show up authentically in the workplace, especially after realizing they are not heterosexual or cisgender during the pandemic. Stories about the reflective nature of quarantine have flooded the internet. In addition, many culture critics have observed how societal norms are supported by heteronormativity and gender roles.
"Most of us don't have the time and space in our busy schedules and within capitalism for self reflection. This time is offering us that," somatic trauma therapist Andrea Glik told Autostraddle. "Additionally, as we call into question larger questions about the world — who serves us, what does the future hold, what is even certain anymore — it leads us to question ourselves and the way we have been living, sometimes forcing us to face our truest selves."
As Ryan Mason, a Fortune 500 corporate investigator, told Elemental, "Sitting here, processing what I wanted to get out of life, watching all the economic upheaval, friends who have died from the virus: 'There's no time like the present to come out.'" Still, along with joy and wonder, fear is a common thread throughout these stories.
An upcoming milestone in many LGBTQ folks' journeys will be coming out at work. This presents an ongoing opportunity for HR professionals to show up for LGBTQ employees. While hybrid work may be new territory, Marsha Bonner, vice president of people and culture at Urban Resource Institute and a Crain's New York Business 2021 Notable LGBTQ Leader & Executive, told HR Dive that LGBTQ advocacy shouldn't look any different from Zoom to the office.
"Welcoming people back into the workplace should not be really any different than how employees were situated and positioned in the workplace before COVID-19. The same respect for what LGBTQ employees bring to the workplace and the work that they do, should not be minimized or marginalized in any way whatsoever," Bonner said; employers and employees should continue doing the work to recognize their unconscious bias.
Reassess the framework
This includes company culture around pronouns. As Cecilia Persson-Ramos, Cubic Corp.'s senior manager of diversity and inclusion, puts it, using someone's correct pronouns is "one of the simplest things you can do to respect someone's identity." Creating a welcoming culture around pronouns can look like encouraging employees to add their pronouns to their Zoom display names.
This gives employees practice for face-to-face meetings, where introductions including pronouns should also become commonplace. "I actually think once we meet in person [again more frequently], we can learn from that experience and say look, 'We trained ourselves to do this. Now, we do this automatically,'" Persson-Ramos said.
Providing LGBTQ-inclusive benefits is another way employers can nurture employees. Under Persson-Ramos, Cubic Corp. earned a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign in its corporate equality index. A key part of that award, she said, was due to LGBTQ Cubic Corp. employees having the ability to add any family member to their benefits package — something that isn't always possible for the community.
"I would say the inclusion of the Human Rights Campaign equality index and receiving a 100% score was a critical step on that journey. Participating is an important message in itself — it says that you care. You want to do it," she explained. But, she added, "that doesn't mean that those touch points — that are so important for the community — are there," Persson-Ramos said, adding that she sees this award as only the beginning.
Educate, educate, educate
Training also plays a key role. Along with breaking down LGBTQ terms and creating a glossary, Persson-Ramos and her team were concerned about striking the right note in their LGBTQ training.
Creating for a global audience, they wanted to be mindful of the different levels of enfranchisement and discrimination their LGBTQ employees would face across the world. Tapping into Cubic Corp.'s LGBTQ community for feedback proved helpful here, Persson-Ramos said.
Continue candid conversations
Policies, benefits and education are critical to LGBTQ employee well-being, according to Akilah Cadet, DHSc, MPH, founder of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging firm Change Cadet. Additionally, she said the murder of George Floyd and renewed interest in DEIB can serve as a catalyst for fresh, difficult conversations about identity.
"With that shift in momentum, there are opportunities to say, 'Well, who else should we include?'" she said. Cadet also addressed the LGBTQ employee, who may now feel ready "to share more of themselves, their identity and their culture" with their co-workers. "The opportunity is to be more vocal and to remind people who are having these conversations of 'what do we do for BIPOC?' to also include the LGBTQ community," she said.
And these discussions may be uncomfortable, but that discomfort can be productive. "Embrace the conversation that will come and understand the underlying anger that might exist. It's there. I know it's there. [But] by having these conversations, you're bringing [LGBTQ folks] into the light," Bonner said.
Speaking about trans employees in particular, she added, "I love how they step into their lives. I think [cis people] should be good followers, instead of trying to dilute them in the way that we want them to be. Follow them into the way of understanding, openness, and authenticity — that's how life is meant to be."
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect quote from Bonner. HR Dive regrets the error.