June 17, 2020 | Written by: Victoria Pelletier
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The Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Monday, that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT+ employees from workplace discrimination, was a watershed event for the LGBT+ community and our allies nationwide.
For IBMers, it feels like the world is finally making progress on an issue we have been focused on for decades. Since 1984, when sexual orientation was added to our equal opportunity policy, LGBT+ IBMers have had a growing set of shields against discrimination. But for much of the world of work, the court ruling was a significant step forward in civil rights.
Significant, but not sufficient. Non-discrimination is only a step toward full inclusion. Even as we hail the court’s decision, we can and must do more to make workplaces everywhere fully inclusive institutions where people feel free to bring their full selves.
Even before the court ruling, IBM—amid the unfolding conversation about racial inequality and injustice in our society—was marking Pride Month by focusing on how we can support the LGBT+ families within our community.
In one example that’s particularly meaningful to me, we have created two new Slack channels. One, the LGBT+ Families group, brings together IBMers with a family member who identifies as LGBT+, to share advice and best practices, support one another and learn from each other’s experiences. The second, our LGBT+ Parents group, is designed to create a similarly safe, supportive space for LGBT+ parents, as well as LGBT+ people at any stage on the road to parenthood, and allies.
Personally, I have joined both of these groups: I identify as bisexual and have long welcomed the opportunity to mentor others, particularly as they come out at work. I am also parenting a 16-year-old daughter who identifies as queer.
Even as our society has progressed tremendously in terms of LGBT+ rights, many people have no one to turn to for advice, insight, mentorship and guidance. But my experiences have taught me that there are times when we can all benefit from the input and perspective of others. At IBM, we have some 350,000 employees worldwide. What a wealth of wisdom to draw from!
Bringing Our Full Selves to Work
As IBM’s Vice President of Talent and Transformation for North America, my job is to support clients nationwide with their workforce and people strategies. That includes helping them create an inclusive culture that supports productivity and innovation.
During two decades in this field, I have seen, first-hand, how an inclusive culture drives higher engagement, higher innovation and higher productivity. I have seen how companies benefit when they create diverse and inclusive environments. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also drives business results.
Of course we can all find plenty of affinity groups to join outside of the workplace. But it’s important that companies like IBM create forums like our new Slack groups so that we can connect on these issues within the workplace, where many of us spend a majority of our waking hours.
When people feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work and sharing their experiences, when people feel valued and appreciated as individuals, we create a culture fostering the innovation and engagement that the economy of the future depends on. This culture is built into the values of IBM, where our first equal-opportunity policy was established in 1953. We have consistently been a leader in diversity and inclusion, which is why I chose to join IBM two years ago. Still, we can—and will—do more, and I encourage other companies to push themselves in similar ways.
My daughter first came out to me when she was 11, during one of the many hours we used to spend alone in the car together, driving to and from her hockey games and practices. Given my own background—I have been married to my husband for four years, but my original co-parent to my daughter and her brother was my ex-wife, now deceased—she knew that I would be receptive to her disclosure. Even so, it can be scary for children and adolescents to broach these topics, and I can’t help but think that our forced “together time” in the car may have prompted her to start the conversation sooner than she would have otherwise.
As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions ease in many parts of the world, and as many businesses reopen, we may not have as much lockdown-imposed family time in the months to come. As our children and adolescents once again spread their wings, and as we and our partners start returning to the workplace (in person) or traveling for work, let’s be mindful of how important it is to have these meaningful conversations—even when they are uncomfortable to initiate and easy to avoid.
When we do have these discussions, let’s remember that we are not alone in any of this. I hope the new Supreme Court ruling will embolden and inspire LGBT+ individuals and communities at workplaces around the country: to not only bring their full selves to work, but to draw on one another’s wisdom and experiences through forums like our Slack groups.
Whether we are figuring out how to best support and celebrate children who are coming out as LGBT+ or questioning their own gender or sexual identity, whether we are wrestling with our own questions (logistical and otherwise) around parenthood or the road to parenthood, there are others who are out and who have already walked this road. In life, as in business, we are stronger together.