We’ve all heard this in the last few years: “This pandemic era was unprecedented.” But, for a good part of the workforce that identifies as LGBTQ+, it had an even bigger impact.
A cultural revolution filled with challenges for intersecting communities also took place during this tumultuous time. And this is not this community’s first pandemic, but one of many faced over decades upon decades.
A McKinsey & Co. report found that companies’ stated commitment to LGBTQ+ equity hasn’t yet translated into results. LGBTQ+ employees, especially women, are underrepresented at every level of management. And when they are represented, they are often the only ones in the room with their given gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or race or ethnicity.
This translates into increased pressure to perform.
Across industries, LGBTQ+ women are more likely to feel discomfort, discrimination, and even danger in the workplace than straight, cisgender women or LGBTQ+ men — even within companies that have pro-LGBTQ+ and pro-women policies and partnerships.
So, what do inclusion and equity look like for this community when transitioning to a virtual or hybrid work environment?
We asked our employees how they learned to thrive when, historically, this community relied on pre-pandemic, unrestricted social access to the community. Here’s what they had to say.
What was your experience like working during the pandemic?
Isabel Larrow (she/her), Manager, Technical Support shared that as a bisexual woman, her identity within the LGBTQ+ community consistently experiences erasure due to persistent stereotypes and criticisms of what it means to be a bisexual.
Moving to a socially distanced world, compromised a lot of the outlets she leaned on to prevent the erasure from chipping away at her self-identity.
Without these outlets of validation outside of work, it was easy to feel as though she had lost a part of herself. Thankfully, she’s always made the choice to be out at work.
When the pandemic started and everyone moved away from usual social experiences, Isabel said she was grateful to still feel validated in regards to her identity amongst Lever coworkers and our employee resource group (ERG) for the LGBTQ+ community and allies, Leverhues.
Meanwhile, Kevin Forestell (he/him) on our Customer Success team, shared a similar sentiment. “Working during the pandemic has been a blessing in many ways, but it’s been difficult to maintain any sense of social normalcy, which for the LGBTQ+ community is a huge loss.
The one thing that didn’t change for me was the Leverhues, an incredible ERG we have at Lever for members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community.
Having the Leverhues to lean on over the past year has been really valuable, emotionally and socially. This year brought up all kinds of weird feelings, experiences, and interactions that I often went to my fellow Hues to chat about and unpack.”
How have you overcome the constructs that presented themselves, while living in a virtual world?
Casseia Todd (she/her), Software Engineer said, “As a person who figured out they were queer at a really young age, I grew up online. There wasn’t a large queer presence at my high school or in college, so seeking validation and community and just shared experiences, like any good millennial, I turned to the internet.
“Queer people,” she added, “have always found each other online. It’s been one of the only consistent places for so many of us, so that transition was surprisingly easier than I expected.”
Kevin added how, coming from New Brunswick, Canada, he had to learn about his own queerness by virtual means because there were no openly queer people in my community back then so I didn’t see it being that big of a hurdle.
That said, as someone who is very social, I was surprised by how much energy it took to maintain connections and relationships virtually,” said Kevin. “Ultimately, doing so made the isolation easier to deal with.”
What did you learn about yourself/others during the pandemic?
Casseia explained, “One of the things I’ve been really interested in recently is the concept of identity in isolation. We all wear different hats around different people. I don’t show up to work the same way as I show up to a family dinner or a night out with friends.
For her, Casseia added, so much of her understanding of myself and her relationship with my identity had only ever been defined in relation to other people.
“Who am I now that I’m alone all the time?,” said Casseia. “Many people have struggled with isolation during the pandemic. It’s been simultaneously a shared global experience and an incredibly personal one.
“But being separated from my community who validates my identity, my identity has morphed, shifted, changed shape. I care less and less about what words I’m using and more and more about how my actions are impacting those I care about and impacting my own sense of self.”
Kevin noted how he relocated and lived with his parents as an interim solution for much of the pandemic. In this time, he learned a lot about himself and what informs the person he is now.
“It’s been quite a journey,” said Kevin. “I learned that our community, at work and elsewhere, is wildly resilient to trauma and adversity thanks to the generations before us who endured the brunt of the uphill battles we continue to face.”
How do you motivate yourself to show up every day for work when there are so many external challenges presenting themselves on a daily basis?
Isabel relayed, “One of my favorite parts of being a manager is the individual relationships I get to foster with each person on my team. For me, these relationships are what drive me to show up day after day.
“My goal is to make sure each person can show up to work as their authentic self, and prioritize their wellbeing and personal growth over stressors that present themselves at work.”
The world has been such a stressful place for the last year and a half, Isabel said, so anything she can do for people to ensure that work is a productive, supportive, and non-stressful space, makes her motivated to show up.
Kevin stated, “I stay motivated by maintaining a connection with those who I admire and who inspire me to do better.
“In a year full of challenges, it’s been an opportune time to sort out what it is I want from life in the long term, and find an understanding of how to work towards my goals.”
What are some best practices or tips you’ve tried that have supported your wellbeing over the past year? Helped you thrive?
According to Kevin, It’s become really important to me to stay connected to my queer community, especially since relocating to the east coast of Canada where the LGBTQ+ population is incredibly small.
“Through online events, lunches at work with the Hues community, and other ways of connecting virtually, I’ve been able to feel heard and seen in a year when it could have been really challenging and harmful to not have had a community.“
3 Tips to Better Support Your LGBTQ+ Employees
1) Create space for employees in the LGBTQ+ community to engage with each other
ERGs are vital to inclusion at work and can create space for employees to engage with each other and find a community that makes them feel safe.
When creating an employee resource group, it’s important to ensure that all groups within your employee population are included.
Sending out a survey is a great way to begin understanding the backgrounds within your company, and allow your employees to define what participation looks like for members of the community and for allies.
It’s important that during difficult times, leadership prioritizes these ERGs to ensure all employees have an outlet for connection with those going through similar experiences, as it can help build psychological safety at work.
Prioritizing employee resource groups means not just creating them, but also giving them regular time to convene and provide financial support.
2) Make inclusivity, belonging, and representation part of all operational processes
Being more inclusive starts with how you treat your people and stems to every aspect of how your organization runs.
Inclusivity, belonging, representation, and giving space to historically underrepresented communities to thrive and be visible at work are three strategies recommended to anyone looking to do better.
Fostering pronoun visibility can create a more open and welcoming environment with both your candidates and employees is a great first step. Ask, “Are we being inclusive here? How can we make this more inclusive? How are we tracking improvements on our inclusivity?“
3) Reevaluate the benefits you provide your employees
Equitable parental leave must become a standard for all workplaces, and offering benefits and perks that address every individual’s unique and various circumstances will be critical to retaining employees from all backgrounds.
Are they inclusive of all genders? For example, Carrot, a family planning benefit, helps all employees when it comes to future family planning.
While June is traditionally a celebratory time for the LGBTQ+ community and allies, it is also the time to raise awareness for the sacrifices and contributions from historical leaders like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and countless others. It’s important to take this time to better understand how we can support the community at large, at work as well.
The community has found ways to overcome the constructs and maintain a version of the space previously shared in a new, virtual way. This is a time to learn and take action.
Let’s continue the celebration of LGBTQ+ progress in the years ahead.