From awareness to advocacy this Pride month
Working as an executive in the fashion industry, Deanna Steele long felt she was an ally to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Fashion and retail companies led the corporate charge in support of Pride and their LGBTQ+ associates, an effort that has since grown widespread awareness of LGBTQ+ causes at stores and corporates, and at many organizations through dedicated employee resource groups (ERGs).
PrideMatters is AlixPartners’ LGBTQ-focused ERG and gained Deanna as a member when she joined the company earlier this year as a Director. “The company introduced me to our ERGs in week one of orientation,” says Deanna; “I’m part of several, and I'm very passionate about Pride.”
For Deanna, the importance of inclusion shows up in big and small ways. It’s value shows in a firm’s bottom line, she notes, but also in a deeper appreciation for the value the people around her bring. Team diversity brings insight and innovation in thinking and developing solutions, and with that comes individual and team empowerment. “Once one moves past whatever the [job] title may be, you get to know who people are, what they care about, and why,” says Deanna. In the process, you move from “awareness to ally and advocate to true friend.”
When Deanna’s daughter came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she discovered the inflection between ally and family. She knew that her response to her daughter’s disclosure and all the days in front of them would involve acceptance and firsthand advocacy. She started doing her research.
“It’s one thing to understand how to support, include and advocate, yet entirely something else to discover and learn what kind of support a child might need and where to find it.” she says. “Their upbringing, including physical healthcare, education, mental health, and the ability to provide that kind of care needed…all of those are our responsibilities as parents.”
Parents are advocates in the most literal sense of the word. “We have to understand the various parts of the healthcare and educational systems, support networks, and community, and how they must come together to provide for our children,” she says.
Why does this matter? “The numbers relative to LGBTQ+ youth are staggering.”
According to CDC research, LGBTQ+ youth in the US are four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers – and transgender and gender diverse youth are nearly six times as likely to attempt suicide compared to cisgender youth.
The 2022 Trevor Project survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that LGBTQ+ youth who felt high social support reported suicidal thoughts at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support.
Connecting the dots, people in workforce will continue to come from diverse backgrounds – like the LGBTQ+ community, meaning awareness, acceptance, allyship and advocacy will continuous to be essential parts of work.
“At the personal level, it’s being open, accepting and even curious as to what someone is going through, what they need, and accepting them for who they are.
At the parental level it means ensuring that mental health providers, schools and other resources are aligned and able to provide that care. It also means making intelligent, informed choices about where to live and work.
At the corporate level, it translates as schedule flexibility, healthcare, gender-affirming care, mental health support, family leave, and other benefits. It is inclusion and involvement of diverse team members in pursuits, projects, and associate development.”
Advocacy requires a culture of authentic inclusion. Deanna says that means “taking the time to reach out to people who have identified as part of the community, saying, for example, ‘given your expertise and talent, we’d like you to get involved with this initiative or project’ in a way that makes sense for the team and for them.”
This month, Deanna’s family took part in several celebratory Pride events in the Boston area—from the one-million strong Boston Pride march to a queer prom. She considers them fortunate to live in a community that is supportive and inclusive, since the support a child needs will evolve over time.
“What might work for them for a week, month or year isn't necessarily the same as what will work for the next month or year, really, just like anyone.”
The work of people who make up a company is similar; it’s about delivery through building trust and support according to the needs of its greater community. A sense of belonging, a safe and accepting culture, family-supportive policies, and advocacy can make all the difference.