Pride Month is well underway in the Northern Hemisphere. While life in quarantine has been riddled with challenges beyond those of confinement, it has enabled us as a collective to spend time on self and societal reflection. Our beliefs and moral standards have evolved over time and so too should the way we conduct business and everyday life.
My own coming out story took place at Xero as a 26 year old. To get to the place that I felt compelled and able to share this part of myself was both because of, and despite, experiences I know most of the LGBTQ+ community can relate to. I remember the moment vividly – I was presenting to colleagues and quoted Beyoncé before making a joke along the lines of, “and if you didn’t already pick up on it, I’m gay.”
It’s a typical knee jerk reaction for Kiwis to laden a serious topic with humour. I know it made it easier for me at that moment. Coming to terms with my sexuality, initially to myself and then to others, was made possible by the accepting nature of my colleagues at Xero.
Through discussions I’ve had with other colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve found that they too have found solace here. My experience at Xero wasn’t the norm by any means. In previous positions and in non-professional social gatherings, well-meaning or ignorant comments made me feel that it was in the best interests of my career to stay in the closet.
So, how can we create a more inclusive culture, especially in a professional setting? I’d like to share these ideas that I know would have made a difference for me in my journey with my sexuality.
On the journey to the big picture, don’t forget the little stepping stones along the way
What many companies and individuals do is try to solve the big problems from the get go. This is not only a daunting task, but it leaves too much room to lose focus easily and without clear action items. Earlier in my career, I overheard colleagues joking about one of the gay executives. I let my ambitions get the best of me and convinced myself that accepting the truth about myself would hinder my career aspirations. It didn’t, but what some may perceive as “the little things” can create big mental challenges for people working through the process of accepting themselves for who they truly are.
We have to continue to celebrate differences loudly
Pride at Xero is huge. Our company logo is re-designed with the colors of the rainbow and the annual company Pride t-shirt is a staff favorite. It has been truly heartwarming seeing my colleagues wear our Pride stickers, change their social tiles to include Pride graphics, show up and be loud at the various Pride Parades we take part in around the world, and so much more. Whether they’re allies or a part of the LGBTQ+ community, they celebrate Pride like it’s their job. It has been a completely liberating environment to be in. I still remember the moment I felt comfortable to share my husband’s and my wedding anniversary like it was the most normal thing in the world – because it is. Fostering this environment and making participation fun and a way to connect on a deeper level to each other has been so important in how my LGBTQ+ colleagues and I feel coming to work.
To close, I wanted to shed light on an important part of the LGBTQ+ community, especially because our community owes them so much. The actions of heroes like Marsha P. Johnson during the Stonewall Riots sparked the modern revolution of the LGBTQ+ community – yet black trans-women are murdered and discriminated against more than any other member of the community. Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., and Pride fall in the same month, and are a reminder both of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It’s integral that we continue to grow, hear each other and accept one another. As Laverne Cox said so brilliantly “Your lives matter. Your voices matter. Your stories matter.”
Kia Kaha Benny ??