Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 1 month ago

How To Create Equity for LGBTQ+ Employees? Be Brave

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Lorraine Vargas Townsend is a people enablement veteran who’s good at “breaking HR” in order to fix it. In this episode, she shares her passion for creating safe and equitable workplaces for LGBTQ+ employees and, by extension, all employees. 

 

According to Lorraine, too many companies focus their DEI efforts on recruitment, but that’s missing the mark. Instead, she says: “Start with how you fire people.”  

“Audits are the sexiest work in my book,” she says, possibly representing the first-ever leader to say as much. But she has good reason. Through her career, separation audits are often the point at which employees’ experiences of bias and inequity emerge, giving her the data she needs to make change. 

That said, the onus is on leaders to begin the hard work before a separation of any kind. Lorraine urges leaders to regularly pulse check LGBTQ+ employees about their experience of equity, or lack thereof, in the workplace. 

“I get that it can be uncomfortable, especially if you don't want employees to feel like you're singling them out,” she says. “But at the same time, you want to know what their experience is. My biggest advice here is: Just be brave.” 

To start productive and safe conversations about inclusion for LGBTQ+ and all employees, Lorraine offers these and other prompts: 

  1. What supports or hinders your growth and prosperity at this company? 
  2. What gives you Sunday night dread? 
  3. And more.

 

“What I'm giving you are not ‘magical queer questions,’” she says. “These are just questions about building a culture of belonging. Whatever you uncover will make your workplace safer and more inclusive for every single employee.”

 

Episode Highlights:

  • 2020 was the most deadly year for transgender and gender non-conforming people since 2013, when the HRC Foundation began tracking known deaths 
  • Suggestions to start conversations with LGBTQ+ employees about equity 
  • Why the separation audit is a powerful place to uncover inequity
  • Understanding that LGBTQ+ employees must evaluate the implications of when, whether and to whom they come out, over and again (and “it never gets easier”)
  • The need to revise travel, bereavement and family policies with an eye to inclusion

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Welcome to technically people acommunity conversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you bythe tech recruitment platform built in the podcast features, insights fromleaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard of building human centeredworkplaces of the future along the way you'll hear concepts thatwill stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself.What's the most future forward way to approach my people leadership, we allknow the future of work isn't waiting around. So, let's get on with the showhow everyone welcome to technically people. Welcome to the show have areally exciting conversation upcoming with a guest who is a firebrand, I would say: Loraine VargusTownsend served as the chief people officer, a companies like a cloud GarouMande and Athena health, and one of the many things that she's really good atis breaking HR and she does so in order to build equity for all people, andtoday, she's going to share her thoughts specifically around makingworkplaces better for LGBT plus employees. I would say and getting toknow learning she isn't not patient about making all this happen for goodreason. Two Thousand and twenty was the most deadly year for transgender andgender non conforming people, since two thousand and thirteen when the HumanRights Campaign Foundation began tracking these known deaths. Second, according to the Robert WoodJohnson Foundation, twenty two percent of lgbtq plus Americans haven't beenpaid equally and haven't been promoted at the same rate as their appears.These two points of discrimination are more pronounced for lgbtq plus peopleof Color, so that's the landscape. I want towelcome Lorena officially and thank you...

...for being here today. Thank you so muchfor inviting me what an introduction, those stats just start, getting myblood boiling right at the beginning, yeah, that's right! PRETTY PRETTYASTOUNDING TOPPED ABOUT HIM! So tell me learying something that peoplegenerally believe to be true about Dei that you are vehemently opposed to yeahthanks for that, I feel like the most incorrect place to start for De, and Iefforts is focusing all your energy around recruiting and hiring, and Ithink that's surprising- to most HR professionals and certainly to businessleaders. But I guess the main point of that is that you could recruit from ahuge pool of diverse people, and you could close all those hires on aparticular day like, for instance, the day before you produce your diversityand inclusion report for external publication, and it will look likeyou're very diverse. However, there's a good chance that the people inside yourorganization who are already working for you are not experiencing the kindof environment and culture that helps them to thrive. So, rather thanfocusing on bringing in more diverse people, I think it's really importantto talk to all of your diverse employees to understand how they feelmore welcome and more celebrated inside your organization, and one really easyway to do. That is to ask them how they're doing ask them how they feeland get a pulse check on what needs to be changed so that every employe insideyour organization can prosper yeah as far as this idea of doing a pulse checkon your employees, for so many leaders that is not going to be a comfortableconversation. Fifty nine percent of non lgbtq plus employees say that it'squote unprofessional to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity in theworkplace.

So, given that there are some feelings,hesitations fears around their conversation tell us even give us some talk points about howleaders can broach the subject. I get that it can be uncomfortable,especially if you don't want employees to feel like you're singling them out,but at the same time you want to know what their experience is. I think mybiggest advice here is just be brave and start the dialogue, and I meanhonestly, if you're the front line manager for an employee. You have to beable to have these kind of brave conversations anyway, but what you haveto be ready for when you start that conversation is that you might get someanswers that you're uncomfortable with and so getting into the right mindsetto say. There's no answer here that can be taboo, because when you start askingquestions, you might start to uncover things like pay, an equity or promotion,discrimination or bad behavior at work. T- and I guess what I'm saying is justbe brave and do it anyway. So some questions to help you start a dialoguewould be. How does our company support or discourage your professionalgrowth or your prosperity in your career? Something else that's easy toask to any employee is how can we be a more inclusive workplace for youpersonally, another question: I love is Hey. What gives you the Sunday nightdread we've all been in that situation, where it's Sunday night and you can'tsleep and you're just stressed about going to work. I think, as a manager asa leader, it's important to understand how your employees are feeling onSunday night. So I mean what I'm giving you are not any magical, queerquestions. These are just questions about building a culture of belongingthat, whatever you uncover, will make your work force safer and moreinclusive for every single employee. Yes, and actually that reminds me of aprevious podcast, we did with Shannon...

Hog who was talking specifically aboutlanguage and job posts to her company. Carrots helps companies mitigate biasand their recruitment. Efforts found that if you were using this hyper masculine language, like coding,Injar ten x, you are likely to turn off women candidates. But if you use wordslike collaboration and communication, you will bring in women candidates andalso not turn off male candidates. So there is a thread there that runsthroughout the life cycle of the employee. For Sure Oh, my Gosh Tiffany,like you, can we can all imagine those times that we're in these big all headmeetings and it's like the rally cry to pump you up and you have this typicalexecutive leader who's like talking about going to war or like all thisstuff, and you just see half of the audience just go like. Oh, this againyou're so right, it's important in job description, language, it's importantwhen you're trying to attract candidates. It's also important for thepeople that you have working inside your building today. It's so normative- and it's likeindustry jargon at this point, so I think it's great to be aware of howlanguage affects people of underrepresented groups. Let's talkabout audits, I know you've done many throughout your career and I want it. Iwant to see if you can share some things that you've learned over theyears, but I think one of the things that makes me an odd person in H R isthat audits just bring me so much joy and happiness, and I know that'sunusual and it doesn't sound exciting, but it's my favorite place to startbecause that's the place where you can start to uncover bias, and inparticular, I think my favorite place to start when it comes to audits, ishow you fire people. You might be surprised about what your data tellsyou there. It's really important to remember when we're talking aboutinclusion and belonging in safety,...

...dignity and respect being at the heartof what you do is really critical, and when is that more important than whenyou're separating with an employee. I think that matters, whether thetermination is voluntary, involuntary mutually agreed upon or whateveriteration of the parting ways you can come up with. So I led this audit for acompany once that had a really diverse footprint on paper, but theirseparation audit revealed some surprises in this case, even though theleaders were super diverse women and men were treated differently duringtheir performance improvement plan process. This company gave men almosttwice the time to correct their performance issues than they gave women,and when I started sharing that data out, people were shocked by it, becausethat was not how the company felt about its. In particular, HR people getreally uncomfortable when you start to dig in on findings like this, not onlybecause they own the separation process, but also because they feel guilty, theyfeel complicit and as an HR leader. I can tell you that there are many goodintention, HR folks who will succumb to the pressure of an angry businessleader who is ready to pull the plug on someone, and it takes real courage todig in your heels and stand up, but the number one way you can fight this kindof systemic problem at work is with data and it's about having the datawhen you're, not in the heat of the moment. That's when you have thebiggest opportunity to really make a change. So audits are the sexiest workin my book yeah. So I think it. It probably wouldsound peculiar for people to hear you say: Adits give you joy and their sexy,but these often depressing findings are a pathway to positive change, soimagine you're an h or leader and you're facing a angry business leaderwho's like fire this person tomorrow. If you already have the foundation ofsaying like Hey, we have a performance...

...improvement process that has beenflawed, that we have not applied equally to women versus men, and so Iget that you want to terminate this person to morrow. But we have a processto protect and there's credibility in that process that will help us ensureparody and equality across all folks at our organization. So hold your horses,we're going to dig in we're going to start to see how we can turn thisperson's performance around and we're going to give people an equal chance,because it's the right thing to do, because that's the right way to treatpeople and that's what we want our company to be known for, so you have alot more power when you sit in the data, then just going like. Oh how manyconversations have you had? Have you documented a thing in their last performance reviewlike no one wants to? No one wants to hear that and no HR person wants tohave that conversation. Yeah Heavy documented, a thing, that's verydifferent from do you have data so just a shift gears a little bit. I wanted totalk to you about the nuances, the overwhelm the stress and the fear thatan employee faces when they decide to come out at work. We know forty six percent of lgbt plusworkers are closeted and that's again according to HRC, and also, I thinkit's important to to mention that concealment is actually not even anoption for transgender employees who have begun transitioning. So it'sanother layer unless they leave the company. It's another layer of stress,that's placed upon the employee, so give us a sense of the experience in away that will help people, leaders, empathize and even protect people. Thank you. I think this was such animportant topic, and I wonder if people minimize this nowbecause it is so usual to encounter...

...lgbtq employees at work these days, butcoming out is not a one and done experience and in fact, every time wehave a new boss, a new CO worker. Every time we change jobs or companies. Everytime we have our own relationship status, changes like get divorced ormarried or have expand our family. We have to ask ourselves this question:Like: Is it safe for me to come out right now with this person with thiscompany in this organization and how much energy will this take like? Wereally do have to spend time every single time assessing the situation, soit's really draining. Sometimes. I started my career at Del, I rememberbeing in my ties, and there was a colleague who I liked so much and Ireally looked up to. I worked with her really closely and I was so scared tocome out to her, and I did this whole weird thing like hey: Can we havedinner next week and we went to a Benegas. I don't even know if peopleknow what Ben Against this anymore and they had better Bannigan- is a stableof American culture. Oh good, but I took her to dinner to come out toher and I think she was really afraid of what I like why I was asking her togo to dinner. It was so formal, but you know what it was terrifying and up until that moment Ihad been using the and them pro nap nouns to talk about my partner, becausethat was the way I could not reveal her gender, because I was really scared ofrejection and it's maybe not something that people think about. But it is justas scary to come out to your peers as it is to your boss and even thoughyou're in a company, that's affirming. You still have this whole case by caseprocess that you have to go through with every co worker and...

...that's tough yeah. I think case by casein terms of every CO worker but case by case in terms of every situation andconversation and as I've moved up in my career. That hasn't changed. That kindof pressure, and stress and awkwardness happens when you're talking to a board memberor when you're talking to a CEO, it's just as stressful every time and everytime I'm assessing the person I'm deciding if it's worth the risk to geta little bit personal, and that's only if they didn't force me into coming outby making an assumption, based on my appearances or off the fact that I'm amom and those conversations always start with the same tired question oflike. So what does your husband? Do? You sit there and you just go like crap,okay? Well, my wife or you go next topic. Please! The point is every timeyou assume you put us in a position t to have to assess before we answer thequestion yeah, and I also just want to build on the fact what you said aboutyour being a leader. The leader is going to be more visible than an in thetrenches, employee, they're going to maybe be thinking about modeling and inmy mind. I think it might even be more of a kind of pressure cooker situationand just to support that with a stat less than point three percent offortune, five hundred board directors were openly lgbtq, plus in two thousandand twenty completely. I will say, though, that if you're in a positionlike that, if you're lucky enough to be in one of those top jobs and you're anout or relatively out leader, you make such a difference to yourqueer employees, and I can tell you the pressure cooker does not necessarilycome from your employee base. Your employee base is looking at you andgoing like Oh my gosh. I can do it too.

I see someone that I can aspire to orsomething that I can believe in, or I know that there's someone at those toplayers who's watching out. For me, it's so important if you're comfortable andyou can to be out at those top layers because visibility matters. So thepressure cooker comes from the traditional seats of power boardmembers and billionaires who are making decisions on behalf of Your Company forsure yeah and in a previous podcast. We also talked about people, disclosingchronic illness or invisible disability to their employers, and the fear ofsurrounding that. The idea also came up that leadership. If they were to modeltalking about their own chronic illness or invisible disability, it could makea world of difference for those people and companies that are also living withthose chronic illnesses. Absolute. So let's get a little wonky policy wonkyand talk about the policies that Lgbtq plus employees need yeah. I think,what's really important, is to look at your benefits policies to make surethat they're really equitable for all different kinds of families and to makesure that all of your policies are prioritizing safety first and I'msaying policies, but I mean policies, processes benefits norms. You got tolook at all of that, so, for instance, if you offer maternity and paternityleave, why not simplify with a more equitable parentally of policy? Justbecause you don't push a baby out of your body, doesn't mean that you don'tdeserve the same amount of leave and bonding time and paid benefits. So at aprior company of mine they offered adoption and fertility support to helpemployees for their families, but what they didn't consider was Surgas, and itwas really personal to me because,...

...maybe miraculously in my family ittakes. It took three women to make a baby. So neither my wife nor I couldcarry our child, so we had to hire a surget. So while the fertility benefitwas great, I had similar legal cost to adoption and many of the medical coststhat my family and cured were not covered by our interets. So I was ableto use my position of power and influence as an HR leader to educatethe company on Surgas and how Queer families, and especially notably gayfathers, have to find alternative routes to starting our families, but wedeserve the same support and benefits and bonding time as our straightcounterparts yeah. I appreciate your bringing up so many different scenariosthat I don't think are top of mind like Sergay and theimplications that has from benefits perspective to our listeners and one acouple things that I thought were particularly enlightening. Surprisingare your points about bereavement and travel? Oh Yeah Yeah. These are hot hotspots. For me, too, lots of Queer folks are separated from their biologicalfamilies and supported by the families that they choose as they grow up andgrow their life. So when you turn your bereavement policy into a math equationthat factors in a blood relation and time you're, judging your employees andyou're, making it unsafe when your best friend or a parental figure dies orgets ill. The last thing that we want to navigate is your judgmental policythat will ask me to prove my relationship to them or dictates theamount of time I get to grieve and heal from such a monumental loss. So I wouldsay, treat your employees like adults who can be trusted to determine theamount of time that they need to grieve. This is not the business of the HRcommunity and another one around travel that you asked about. This is also ahot spot for me and it's something that...

I recently have been thinking aboutbecause of my move from Boston to Austin. So you might be surprised ifabout how unsafe it still feels for Queer and employees when we'retraveling. So my wife is Gender Queer and we have a daughter so we're bothsuper protective and we were driving across the country to move from Bostonto Austin. You know we spent a considerable amount of time researchingwhat cities we could feel safe in what hotel chains might be the mostcomfortable for us once we cross the Mason Dixon Line basically, and youmight not realize it but queer folks like us, we still feel threatened inmany states and cities, and so when you ask your queer employees to travel, youalso need to be thinking about the burden that it places on them and givethem opportunities to say no without consequences. When it comes to physicalsafety. There goes the all. I have a wonderful view of theGrandville El Tape and some blackout curtains to. I thinkwe call that character. Yes, yes, yes, it's quaint and cosy real estate. Talk, okay, so we're pulling out a themewhich is this idea of things that people in general may not consider whenthey're thinking about what Lgbtq, plus employees and human beings need tocontend with, and I know from your personal experience, you can shareanother pretty astounding reality. Yes, you're talking about having to adopt mydaughter, so I think lots of people don't realize that even in states whereour relationships are protected, we still need lots of support andoftentimes legal help to protect our...

...families, and it's really critical. Now,since Ruth Baterino died, when we were considering the move to Texas, it justhappened. That was exactly where our BG died and I can't properly tell you what kind of panic that inspired in thequeer community, but it did accelerate our process of doing a second parentadoption for our daughter. So I in Massachusetts our family felt reallysafe. We have same sex parents on the BIRST certificate. Gay Marriage islegal in the Commonwealth and it was way before it was federally protected,but outside of that progressive bubble, we just weren't sure what we couldcontinue to count on and in second parent adoption, you're, basicallytaking legal action to give both parents equal and protected rights totheir child. So it might sound crazy, but a lot of us have to adopt our own.Children are biological children and that's normal to us and it'sinfuriating and it's something that you have to be in a certain position ofprivilege to be able to do as well. So it's also queer folks have hurdles toget pregnant to start their family that come in for in the form of monetarymonetary obstacles, but that continues throughout the life of building ourfamilies all the way through to having access to lawyers to be able to protectour families, even if our family status gets overturned yeah. So I just wantedto give listeners a little bit of extra context here and please correct me ifI'm wrong, but for same sex couples that are raising a child together, thelaw will often recognize only one legal parents and that recognition isautomatically extended to the...

...biological parent. So, with a secondpair of adoption, the adopting parent gains legal rights, parental rights,while the quote unquote, first parent or the biological parent in many cases,does not lose their parental rights. Do I have that to have that right?Absolutely that sums it up, and I think one of the things not to do if you hearthat some of your gay friends or employees are going through the secondparent adoption process. Please don't congratulate them on going through withthat process, because it is actually not a celebration. It's not acelebration like congratulation you, you adopted your child. This can be avery invasive process that, frankly it's just not it's not just. I think. First of all, I will not congratulateyou. I will instead say I'm so sorry, then. I think that infuriating isactually the onlly sane response to that yeah. Can I give you an example ofsome of the documents or the things that we have to create to protect ourfamilies, because I think it's important for people to know. We needto go and create all of the legal paperwork as if our marriages, weren'tlegal and in some states and in some cases, administrations, administration,changes, we're told to go really overboard. It's about creating wills,trust, advance directives, durable powers of attorney both for health carefor finances. The HIPPA released forms, hospital, visitation forms, funeral andbody disposition forms, and we have to be very specific in these documents.It's just not safe to generalize. By saying I grant all of these privilegesto my spouse, because in some cases our spouse might not be recognized. We haveto add language in our documents that say something like, regardless of therecognition of the legal status of my...

...marriage or my relationship. These aremy wishes, and I know that employers and organizations- and even many of mystraight friends, have no idea the hurdles that we have to go through inorder to protect our families yeah, and I was reading that courts are notrequired to uphold those particular agreements. I understand that thatwritten agreement actually just sort of demonstrates your intent if a custodydispute were to emerge and that's just sort of one example of what seemspretty broken, there is still so much work to do, and I think we can't getcomplacent and we do need to be telling everyone who will listen. What we stillhave to face- and one of my favorite things to say is the gays are not okay,we are still not okay, even though we can get married, even though we mighthave to name two same six parent names on a birth certificate or might be ableto have insurance for our families. There is still so much work to do in honestly, just if you can rewind thepodcast and go back to the beginning statistics about two thousand andtwenty being the deadliest year on record. According to HRC, I wanted togive our listeners aside. Not you've heard me refer to HRC statistics and I'd like to go oncea further and direct listeners to the HRC corporate equality index, which isa national benchmarking tool with regard to corporate policies for lgbtqplus employees, but it ranks companies across criteria like work, force,protections and inclusive benefits, and it ranks them on on a scale of zero toa hundred points, and those companies that are in a hundred points become abest place to work for LGBTQ plus...

...equality. So for our listeners, ifyou're interested in participating, I would urge you to visit the site. Ithink it also matters for the TA profession, when you consider thattwenty five percent of lgbtq plus employees say that they stay in a jobif it is lgbtq plus inclusive. So we use that index I'll. Tell you whenwe're looking at jobs, one we're thinking about where to go. Next, yourqueer employees do go. Look at that. That is a factor excellent okay, so Ihave it so how about we dive in now to our twominute take away if you had to choose a few of the most important points, etherfrom our conversation or about this topic that you want people tounderstand or do what would they be? I guess first of all I would say when itcomes to belonging and inclusion. Diversity is the outcome, not the goal,so the goal is creating the most inclusive and safe environment for allemployees, so tackle that first and start with how you fire people thatwill probably open your eyes and give you a taste of where to go next.Another thing, I would say, is talk and listen to your queer employees abouthow they can feel more safe, more included and more celebrated at yourcompany when you exclude people because you're not sure about how to start theconversation, it's cowardly, but it's also psychologically damaging. Don'tforget that lots of US went through times in our life, where we wererejected, where we were ostracize even when we were shunned, there are deepemotional scars there. Another thing, don't assume someone's orientation orgender or force them to come out with your assumption. Please just ask abouttheir partner. If you feel some really deep urge to ask, don't ask aboutsomeone's husband, Orr wife ask about...

...their partner. Let people know whatyour pronouns are and ask them what theirs are and then finally go. Look atyour Hetero normative policies, your parental lave, your family policies,travel and bereavement and go rewrite with them with an ivor inclusion, anddon't forget that your queer employees and our families we need good legalbenefits. So please, please think about that as you're designing your benefitplans for next year and be on so Loren. I just can't thank you enough. I have afeeling listeners might want to connect with you or learn more about you tellme what's a good way for them to reach you yeah. I think the best way islinked in I'm. The only Loraine Vargus Townson on Lindon- and I also intend tobe writing a bit more on the medium. So you can find me there too, yeahfantastic listeners go check out, laren on Lindon and on medium and as far asthis podcast, please go ahead and subscribe on your podcast player ofchoice, and you can do that by visiting technically people com. So thank you community for being withus today and we'll talk to you next week. Are you an employer of choice anddo you want the most talented candidates to know it built in isaccepting submissions for its annual best places to work awards? The ProgramHonors Tech Company, as BECCO above and beyond, for employees offeringexception of perks, benefits and company cultures, get noticed, get onthe winners list. Now it's the first place in Toland professionals go toresearch employers when they're ready to make a move in this market. Youcan't afford to miss top Thoman, so don't miss the deadline November,Twelfth Two Thousand and twenty one visit employers stop built in Com sbest places to work. You've been listening to technicallypeople. A community conversation about the future of work. If you want to hearmore cutting edge ideas about creating...

...human center, workplaces subscribe onyour favorite, podcast player and you'll, never miss an episode and, ifyou're over the moon about what you've heard we'd be honored. If you took thetime to give us a five star review so signing off until we meet again in thefuture, I.

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