By Amelia Harnish
When Chief Member Saydeah Howard was preparing for graduation from Stanford University in 1994, she had a choice to make: Was she going to be "out" on her resume? When a Stanford career counselor first posed this question to Howard, she thought, "What do you mean? Do I need to put a line in here that says, Oh by the way, I’m gay?" Howard says. "But back then, that was a real question, whether you were going to put Gay Speakers Bureau on your resume."
Ultimately, Howard decided to keep her first resume focused on academics. "I made a specific choice. I wanted to come out professionally in the same way I did in my life. Being a lesbian is just a part of my world. I didn’t want to put a big sign on it." Since then, Howard has built a storied career. Currently, she’s the Chief Talent Officer at venture capital firm, IVP, where she oversees human resources for IVP itself and advises companies IVP invests in on recruiting the right executives to grow their businesses. She’s helped build the teams that took companies like Snap and Slack from small start-ups to household names.
At every company Howard has worked for, she’s made it a point to make the fact that she’s an out and proud lesbian as apparent as the fact that she’s an immigrant from West Africa or that she loves sports. "I have privilege in being able to say this, but I’m a big believer in not wanting to be at a place where I’m not wanted," Howard says. "I’ve known since I was a kid and I’ve been out as a gay person since I was 16 years old. There’s no job that would be big enough for me to hide it." No doubt, Howard’s story is a testament to the successes of the gay rights movement. In many ways, we’ve come a long way since the days when Ellen DeGeneres was blacklisted in Hollywood for making a simple declaration — "Yep, I’m gay" — on the cover of TIME. Today, there is nary a corporate logo that isn’t rainbow colored for Pride month, and it is illegal in all 50 states to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. And yet, Howard is right to point out her privilege. In far too many workplaces all across the country, LGBTQIA+ individuals are still facing invisibility and discrimination. When you crunch the numbers you’ll find that LGBTQIA+ women are more underrepresented in corporate America than straight women, according to McKinsey’s ongoing Women at Work research. As Pride month 2021 continues, it’s not enough to celebrate how far we’ve come — we must also plot where we’re going. Ahead, LGBTQIA+ Chief Members talk about where Pride must take us next.
More Support and Hiring for Transgender People
Transgender people are still being left behind. During the fourth quarter of 2020, 19% of transgender individuals were unemployed at a time when the national unemployment rate was estimated around 8%, according to research released in March by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and PSB Insights. Per the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than 25% of trans people have lost a job simply for identifying as transgender, and more than 75% have experienced some form of discrimination. Harassment, bias, and even violence on the job are common, and even more so for transgender people of color.
What can executives and companies do? "In hiring and recruitment, we have to take steps to diversify our candidate pool and lower the barriers to entry," says Chief Member Christa Orth, Principle at Wingo NYC. "That means making sure to advertise your anti-discrimination policies in job announcements, specific salary ranges in job listings, and actually doing recruitment in the communities where you want to hire."
Forget "Culture Fit"
Company culture is something executives are right to obsess over. It's the glue that holds a team together and can be the thing that keeps employees engaged. But when it comes to hiring, culture fit should be dropped from the lexicon. In many cases, all it does is serve to exclude people from marginalized groups.
"Culture fit can be really subjective," Howard says. "I'd love for the world of work to be about the experience. Can you come in and solve our problems? Whether you identify as male or female, nonbinary, straight, bi, it shouldn't come into it." Too much focus on "culture fit" can be a cover for companies and leaders to simply continue to hire and promote people who fit a certain mold.
Embrace and Celebrate the Full Spectrum of LGBTQIA+ Experiences
The beneficiaries of much of the progress over the past few decades have been wealthy, white, and cisgender. "Folks who follow a heteronormative pattern of life find a lot of acceptance. Schools welcome families that are two men or two women easily now. But the moment you break the pattern, it's a different story," says Chief Member Claire Milligan, CEO of Aimably. "I have that privilege, but I know it's a different experience for others."
The tone is set by leadership, and so it's up to leaders to change this. "We really need to shift our conversations as executives to include more value for emotional and heart-driven leadership. We have a serious bias towards complete rationality and logic," Milligan adds. "If we see people as human beings, be it mental health or discrimination, we can actually leverage that to be a better company and a better place to work for people of all kinds of marginalized identities."
Bonus: Making it safe for LGBTQIA+ individuals to bring their whole selves to work, makes it safer for every employee to do so.
Focus on Intersectionality
Pride is not just about giving the company logo rainbow hues. It's about actually making a difference for the most marginalized LGBTQIA+ people. If you ask Orth, this is going to require transformative thinking for many workplaces. "Many of the companies we work for are for-profit and even non-profits operate in the structures of white supremacy and capitalism," Orth says. "We have to dismantle that so we can work on economic inequality for BIPOC queer and trans people. It really is about turning over power. How do you do that? You invest a lot of time and money in BIPOC queer and trans staff."
It also means putting a real focus on uplifting queer communities outside of your office's four walls. "Pride is a big corporate event. We're a community that's courted because we have dollars. I try to think beyond myself and my friends, and think about what it is like to be young, poor, have no medical access, and how can we contribute to lifting those people up?" Milligan says. "Executives need to think about that. We're at a point where we're really good at talking about white gay people and heteronormative white gay families, we're not good at mixing that with poverty, race, disability. We need to center the most marginalized."