What employer participation in Pride means to employees

Being out at work, as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, can be a tricky thing.

As an educator, expressing pride in one’s identity isn’t just a chance to set an example for students, but to make life easier, more authentic and ultimately better for staff as well, says Corey Johnson, a professor at the University of Waterloo.

“One of the things when I arrived four years ago and took over as the chair of the gender and sexual diversity work group is I was disappointed that faculty and staff weren’t showing up to support and march with the students in ways that were meaningful,” he says. “So in an effort to start to work towards that and to show the students we really did care, I asked the president of the university if he would march with me and he agreed. And it was one of those simple things, no one had ever asked him. So I did, and he did.”

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This year, the university specifically invited those who’ve completed its Making Spaces ally training to march in the Toronto Pride parade.

“There can be some chosen invisibility,” says Johnson. “And I think it does and says a lot for faculty and administration to show up at something like Pride and march with the students, not only to set an example for the students about how to live and be out on campus, but I think it also sends a message to other faculty and staff that we are a culture and a university space that embraces the LGBTQ2S+ community and that perhaps they can be out on our campus, in ways that can be more meaningful, more comfortable for them.

“And the more out they are, the better it is for our students to see role models who have jobs, live and work on our campus, teach in our classrooms. It’s a win-win for everyone when we show up and be visible in these sorts of spaces.”

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More than 2,000 kilometres away, educators at another post-secondary institution, Winnipeg’s Red River College, also prepared for Pride celebrations earlier in June.

“It’s important to me to walk as a member of my family and as a member of my community, but also as a proud member of a college that recognizes and supports the diversity of identity in that way,” says Christine Watson, vice-president, academic at Red River College. “My kids (I have an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old, boys), they walk with me and my wife, and then many staff who don’t actually know that I’m in a same-sex marriage meet us there. So it also helps to build community within the college, but also then we have staff, faculty and students walking together.”

Red River College also put together proprietary training for staff so they can get back to basics in understanding the various identities within the LGBTQ2S+ and how to be conscientious and supportive at work. All of senior management took the ally training together last year. For the online segment, the staff created a series of videos.

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“It starts with definitions,” says Watson. “What is diversity? What is inclusion? What’s the difference? What’s the difference between prejudice and bias? A lot of the value-laden words that we often use around these issues, they start by [defining them]. They even go through all of the different categories: What is two-spirit? What is lesbian? What is gay? So that we’re not just using LGBTQ2S+ as a placeholder for homogeneity . . . but instead, getting to the history behind every one of those terms.”

It’s important that this type of training approaches these topics from a human-centred perspective, says Watson. As part of the videos, she used her own life as an example. “There are real people who either identify or don’t identify as those terms. So I talk about how my marriage is a same-sex marriage but I don’t identify as a lesbian. So those are just some examples of where they really break it down.”

After the online component, employees taking the module are brought together to finish the training in person, at which point they receive certificates to be displayed in their offices.

The YMCA of Greater Toronto, which had 100 employees march in the Toronto Pride parade, as well as a health and fitness pop-up space at the event, also offers employee training on LGBTQ2S+ identities. Lorraine Sixto, the charity’s senior general manager of people and organizational development, says the sessions are staff-led but sometimes members of the public join as well.

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“The focus is on helping our staff understand the community,” she says. This year the GTA YMCA’s training focused around intersectionality, or an understanding of how individuals’ gender, race, sexuality and other identifiers influence the way they experience the world. “It’s understanding . . . how everyone can be more inclusive and understand a bit more about the different stories that our staff come to work with, and create an environment that is caring.”

In those training sessions, says Sixto, staff are encouraged to consider the different components of their identities. “It’s very positive, but often we think about ourselves in one dimension, and so it’s really helping staff understand that we have so many different dimensions.”

As an example, Sixto refers to the first thing someone might think about when they wake up in the morning. “For some of us, it’s gender. I think about my gender expression, in the sense of, I make a decision of am I putting on pants, am I putting on a skirt, am I putting on a dress? Other people think about age, they may think about their physical ability. Those are all examples of intersections that we have as individuals.”

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The charity also has a best-practices guide for employees around gender expression, and affirming individuals’ pronoun choices. “It’s important for us because diversity and social inclusion is the heart of what we do,” says Sixto. “We think it’s important for building healthy and inclusive communities. “We have to build staff knowledge so our program participants experience a sense of belonging.”

For the GTA YMCA’s employee base, of which 40 per cent are under the age of 30, inclusion is an important value, she adds. “The LGBTQ2S+ community and what happens in that community is really important to them as well.”

Halfway across the country, Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corp. introduced a half-day training workshop for managers who have a “direct impact on corporate culture.” The workshop, presented by the University of Regina’s Pride Centre for Sexuality and Diversity, was designed to make managers who are in charge of recruitment and retention, benefits, internal and external communications and more understand LGBTQ2S+ issues, dispel myths and provide them with tools to better recruit and support LGBTQ2S+ employees.

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Michelle Englot, SaskTel’s manager of external communications, wrote in an email to Benefits Canada that the workshop was in high demand and the Pride Centre later presented an abridged version through a lunch-and-learn.

“As a result of these inroads and SaskTel’s continual push to remain reflective of the communities it serves, a new SaskTel [gay-straight alliance] advisory committee was formed to help provide guidance around these issues,” noted Englot. “This committee now acts as an advisory panel to strategic groups seeking input from LGBTQ2S+ perspectives in order to help better design products and services, help identify and address cultural gaps within the company, as well as help lead future activities and involvement with the LGBTQ2S+ community.”

On June 19, PepsiCo Foods Canada held its first Pride festival on its campus in Mississauga, Ont., and employees marched in Pride parades across Canada. The company also has an employee resource group for LGBTQ2S+ employees called EQUAL, which was involved in Pride-month programming. “We could not be prouder to have such an incredibly passionate and engaged workforce who champion diversity and engagement every day,” said communications director Sheri Morgan in an email.

The Home Depot Canada sponsored Toronto Pride’s welcome centre and donation stations, which raise funds for the parade through donations and selling stickers, and more than 100 of its employees marched in the parade with the company’s 43-foot toolbox float. “We encouraged our associates to invite their loved ones, friends, etc. to participate,” said spokesperson Alyssa Haw in an email.

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