By Timothy Harris
Throughout history, LGBTQ people have made great contributions to the world of technology, and some of the most prolific pioneers of computer science were queer. Today, nearly 10 percent of professional developers identify as LGBTQ, a statistic that is pushing the workforce at large to be inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all team members.
“If someone is not able to bring their full self to work, they’re not going to be fully engaged,” says Nikki Gibson, Pride ERG (Employee Resource Group) North America lead, Dell Technologies. “If you have to consciously think, Can I bring my full self to work? Can I make a comment about my family? Can I talk about what I did this weekend or what I’ve got going on in my personal life? How should I appear today?, then you’re not going to be fully engaged.”
If you have to consciously think, Can I bring my full self to work? Can I make a comment about my family? Can I talk about what I did this weekend or what I’ve got going on in my personal life? How should I appear today?, then you’re not going to be fully engaged.”
-Nikki Gibson, Dell Technologies
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts have had profound impacts on a company’s growth and dynamism, adds Paul Brisco, diversity advocate and site lead for Dell Technologies’ Pride ERG in Nashville. “I think it’s important for any institution to have all three. It broadens your appeal to everyone. When companies take stances and support people in marginalized communities, I know they’re set up for the future.”
Research backs up Brisco’s beliefs. According to Bentley University, DEI-conscious workplaces make for powerhouse companies. A 2020 McKinsey report outlines how diverse companies lead to higher profitability. Beyond the business benefits, inclusive workplaces also improve employee well-being. A recent report by BetterUp shows that workers in inclusive work environments are 50 percent less likely to leave, 56 percent more likely to work to improve their performance, and up to 167 percent more likely to recommend their organizations as great places to work.
As companies continue to implement inclusive policies, here’s how you, as an individual, can contribute to a work environment that is accepting of all.
“I think it’s important for any institution to have all three [diversity, equity, and inclusion]. It broadens your appeal to everyone. When companies take stances and support people in marginalized communities, I know they’re set up for the future.”
–Paul Brisco, Dell Technologies
1. List Your Pronouns in Your Email Signature.
Email signatures already serve the purpose of sharing basic information about yourself, so listing your pronouns here is a sensible—and easy—addition.
A common misconception is that only transgender people should list their pronouns in digital spaces like online bios or email signatures. However, this belief is actually exclusionary of trans folks. When cisgender team members list their pronouns in their email signature, it normalizes conversations around gender, prevents accidental misgendering, and dispels fears that the team member will make presumptions about gender.
2. Discover the Breadth of the LGBTQ Community.
An important part of being an ally at your tech job is educating yourself on the diversity of the queer community—even if you are a part of it. LGBTQ folks hold a wide spectrum of identities, beliefs, traditions, and values.
A fantastic starting point is educating yourself on the language used to represent different identities within the community. PFLAG, the largest organization for LGBTQ individuals and families, notes that even long-time allies frequently return to language as a way to reinforce allyship. “The terms associated with the LGBTQ community are vast, important, and evolve rapidly. Notably, they are a great way to keep educated and offer lots of ways to start moving what you learn into action,” reads PFLAG’s Ally Guide.
Some companies even offer training events, such as the gender-inclusive and pronoun training led by Dell’s Pride employee resource group (ERG). If your company does not offer any LGBTQ educational resources or if you’re looking for supplemental content, there are ample free resources available online.
3. Join Your Company’s LGBTQ ERG.
ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that connect team members through shared experiences and/or values. Though you may think an LGBTQ ERG is exclusive to queer folks, oftentimes allies are welcome.
“We probably have more allies who are members of Pride [ERG] than we have team members who identify as LGBTQ,” says Gibson. Dell’s Self-ID initiative, an internal program that allows team members to voluntarily identify with a number of minority groups, in part aims to measure the company’s impact on the LGBTQ community. The campaign also allows individuals to identify as LGBTQ allies. “Measurement is key. We wanted to measure recruiting and retention of LGBTQ folks, but also to be able to give our allies a voice to say, ‘Yes, I absolutely support this community.'”
“We wanted to measure recruiting and retention of LGBTQ folks, but also to be able to give our allies a voice to say, ‘Yes, I absolutely support this community.'”
A report from Boston Consulting Group found that ally programs help create a sense of shared responsibility among team members. “They are very effective in educating straight people and equipping them with the tools to intervene, shifting the burden to the entire workforce and away from the minority community,” the report reads.
4. Read Up on Your Company’s LGBTQ-Related Policies.
From insurance policies to internal personnel profiles and discrimination handling protocols, the workplace contains multitudes of opportunities to be considerate of queer team members. One way to be a more meaningful ally is to be knowledgeable about what your company does right, as well as areas that need improving. This way you can be an educated advocate for your LGBTQ colleagues.
Find out if your company has any resources for transitioning employees, such as Dell’s Transgender Toolkit, and if your company has any groups advocating on behalf of queer employees. Where you see places your company can do better, speak out and push for change.
Allyship and Diversity Go Hand-in-Hand
One of the easiest ways to ensure that a workplace attracts queer innovators is to support safety, respect, and equity for all. This requires dedicated, genuine allyship. Because of the pervasive impacts that tech innovations have on the world at large, it’s vital that queer people are in these spaces and have their unique perspectives heard.
We’re embarking on a road of constant improvement. As computer scientist Alan Turing eloquently said, “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”