Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace: A Conversation with Katie Perkins of LGBTQ+ Workplace


Diversity and inclusion—thankfully, they’re fast becoming the norm and not the exception in today’s society and workplaces. We hear these words often, but what do they really mean? We spoke with Katie Perkins, founder of the LGBTQ+ Workplace about the necessity for policies that honour everyone, everywhere.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to found LGBTQ+ Workplace?
Sure! I came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community at 17yrs old. I began volunteering for community organizations and nonprofit groups doing education and advocacy work to further human rights. As I became more involved in these groups, I soon realized that this is not just something that I wanted to do in my free time, but something I am so passionate about that I needed it to be my life's work. So I made the choice to make a major career transition.

After spending a decade working in the medical industry, I went back to college and earned a degree in business and began focusing on how I can help further LGBTQ+ diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts in the workplace. While in college, I began working for several startup companies to gain experience and perspective. Then I moved on to taking a role as the strategic manager for a consulting group that specializes in LGBTQ+ workplace equality. Soon we were working with Fortune 500 companies and hosting a number of different live events, and I thought to myself, Wow, it would be great if some of the startups that I had worked with had the ability to access this type of training. It’s my personal belief that D&I training should not be something only the large and highly profitable organizations can afford. So I created the LGBTQ+ Workplace Education Center with the goal to be able to serve organizations of all sizes and organizational structures. We do this by offering services that are remote, in-person, or a combination of the two to meet the flexibility demands of the modern workplace. We even offer eCourses on our website that are available 24/7.

What does “diversity & inclusion” mean for the modern workplace?
Diversity and inclusion is a huge component of modern workplaces. Businesses have moved beyond the goal of simply having the look of a diverse workforce to now putting programs in place to make sure all of these workers feel valued, respected, and represented throughout the company. Employees are looking for companies where they can bring their authentic selves to the table everyday—this is one of the keys to achieving company loyalty.

More and more research is being conducted that highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion, not only for boosting workplace culture (satisfaction & engagement), but also the image of the brand and the bottom line (profit margins). Consumers are also doing their research and are looking for brands that are socially responsible; much of this work begins internally with diversity and inclusion and then spirals outward into the pieces a consumer sees, such as marketing, campaigns, and product lines. D&I components should be woven throughout everything the company does and each department should be thinking about these elements with the work they produce. It doesn’t work if there is just one D&I gatekeeper who looks at all of the ideas, content, and products before release. It has to be a team effort or it won’t be truly successful.

How can companies ensure they are living and breathing their D&I policies?
First and foremost, it requires buy-in from the leaders of the company! One of the biggest complaints we see from employees is that they feel their C-suite and managers do not genuinely care about or value diversity and inclusion. It’s seen as something that is written in a policy somewhere but not really acted upon or discussed at length. D&I involves participation from employees at all levels and is something that needs to be continually reassessed for changes in strategy. Make sure you set tangible D&I goals that can be measured.

One of the best ways to monitor the authenticity of your D&I policies is to put programs in place that allow employees’ voices to be heard. The feedback from your own employees is simple to gather but is extremely enlightening. Make sure you analyze this feedback and act on it! Often times employees feel their comments are being ignored—once they start feeling this way, it grows into not believing or trusting the company and loyalty is lost. This leads to less engagement and can eventually lead to looking for a new employer.

How can employees feel empowered in moments when they feel that D&I isn’t being honoured?
I feel that for most employees it is very difficult to feel empowered if they do not feel that D&I is being truly honoured and pursued. I can’t use the word ‘authenticity’ enough when speaking about D&I efforts. Employees quickly see through surface-level statements.

You have to think of it as: if your individuality and who you are as a person is not being encouraged to be brought to the workplace, then how are you going to open up and connect with others to bring your best work forward?

My advice to employees would be to arrange to have a meeting where you can express your concerns and offer possible solutions, and come prepared with examples. These are not always easy conversations to have, and they take vulnerability, but they are worth it.

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How can organizations recognize Pride Month?
This is a great question and we recently featured a post about this on our social media. During the month of Pride (traditionally June) we see a number of businesses coming out with Pride ads or products with rainbows on them. However, LGBTQ+ employees and consumers are looking for more than just slapping a rainbow on everything. Rainbow donuts are fun but we are looking for more serious conversations around the matter. It’s easy for a company to spend a few dollars on rainbows but this is not giving the culture its due justice. Many people in your workplace might not even know where Pride festivals and parades originated and why they are still so important. Or they might be unaware of the rights and protections that the LGBTQ+ community is still lacking. Use your platforms to educate!

Here are five ways your organization can recognize Pride Month:

  1. Participate in a Pride parade or festival. Make shirts and walk as a group to show your support, create a company parade float, sign up to be a corporate sponsor of the event, create a volunteer group, etc.

  2. Host an LGBTQ+ discussion panel where people can share their experiences and the audience can ask questions to further their understanding and learn ways to be an ally.

  3. Display educational information. Include local resources, education on the history of Pride Month, ways to get involved with furthering LGBTQ+ inclusion at your company, etc.

  4. Invite LGBTQ+ employees to share their feedback with executives and managers on ways to improve your workplace culture.

  5. Host an open training on understanding LGBTQ+ culture and identities.

What are some first steps that companies can implement in creating a safer workplace for all?
There are so many simple things that can be done that cost nothing or next to nothing. Start by using pronouns anywhere you will be engaging in conversation: name badges, email signatures, and introductions in conversations are a few examples. This keeps people from making assumptions about gender identities based on how someone physically presents or how their name sounds. Teaching people to use pronouns in the workplace is one of our most popular trainings right now. People realize they should be doing it but aren't sure how or why. Second, make sure you have safe spaces for all people to access a restroom that they feel comfortable using. Sometimes this is only a matter of changing a sign or policy. Employees should always be able to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. Third, create ways for employees’ voices to be heard. If given the opportunity to do so (in the right environment) you can learn a lot about where your initiatives are missing the mark.

What is your vision for the future of D&I in the workplace?
Recently, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the power of a great workplace culture, and ultimately it comes down to the wellbeing of employees. It’s easier said than done because companies are still trying to perfect the right recipe. Contrary to popular belief, foosball tables, free snack bars, and rooftop happy hours are just not cutting it. Next generations of employees are looking for real conversations where they can connect and grow with their coworkers. They want to understand and be understood. My vision of this is one where the workplace evolves into a community feeling. Then we are cultivating these communities of neighbors who have different identities, backgrounds, and resources who are working together to further both personal and professional development of the whole city. Companies would then no longer be saying, “Hey come work for us because we have free massages two days a week”. Instead, it would be, “Hey come check out our amazing community where I know you will fit right in and make great contributions.”

Katie Perkins is the founder of LGBTQ+ Cultural Competency Training. They provide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for businesses of all sizes. Education and consulting services are offered remotely, on-location, or a combination of the two for the flexibility that your business or organization needs. For more information on The LGBTQ+ Workplace Education Center, visit www.lgbtqworkplace.com.

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