Digital Pride: LGBT Inclusion in the Digital Age
After the success of last year’s very first Digital Pride – a series of global online events created by Gay Star News to extend the reach of the LGBTQI* Pride movement – Fujitsu and Shine were delighted to be involved again this year.
Last year’s Digital Pride reached over 25 million people in 240 countries, and this year we wanted to do our bit again to join in with the conversations being shared online.
On Thursday evening, Dr Sue Black OBE chaired an intercontinental discussion about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In particular, the webchat focused on how digital technology itself – and the increasing digitisation of the workplace – can contribute to greater inclusivity.
She was joined by Fujitsu employees in London, Lisbon and Sunnyvale, as well as Mick Loizou Michail of Yahoo and Stewart Monk from Oracle. LGBTQI activists Marta Ramos, Executive Director of ILGA Portugal, and Gabrielle Antolovich, Board President of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center for the Silicon Valley, also joined the conversation.
Technology, Dr Black said, gives us the opportunity to create a level playing field for arguably the first time in human history.
But we’re not there yet.
So she put it to the panel: what can we as organisations do in practice to engage the LGBTQI communities?
Fujitsu’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Ambassador, Steven Cox, noted how people’s use of technology in their personal lives has come to impact how they want to use it at work.
Social media in particular, he said, has made people more accustomed to using instant messaging services and digital notice boards to communicate with colleagues and share news more widely within their organisations.
Mick Loizou Michail agreed that social media-esque forms of communication have been really effective not only in connecting people from minority groups but also in giving those groups greater visibility via company intranet systems.
This important aspect of visibility was something echoed throughout the evening.
Sarah Kaiser, Fujitsu UK&I’s Diversity & Inclusion Lead, said she loves the way digital communication has helped people connect.
The power of sharing personal stories, she said, is often underappreciated. Digital hubs within Fujitsu have helped people from across the organisation to share their stories with one another much more easily – regardless of whether they’re sat at a desk or out in the field.
As is often the case, however, there can be a downside to even the most positive thing.
Marta Ramos pointed out that online bullying and hate speech is a problem we can’t ignore, and that businesses need to do their bit to ensure the digital realm is a safe space for all.
Sitting alongside Marta in Lisbon, Fujitsu Marketing Operations Manager, Helena Santos, agreed that while digitisation can increase visibility it also makes some more vulnerable. We shouldn’t, she argued, simply try and cover up the trickier, less savoury aspects.
Digital, though, is no silver bullet.
Gabrielle Antolovich sagely pointed out the importance of considering generational, cultural and even international boundaries when it comes to discussing LGBTQI issues in the workplace.
Younger people, she said, might not value face-to-face interactions as highly as those from older generations, and vice versa. Older employees, meanwhile, might find digital communication a less comfortable way to interact with others.
Marta agreed, emphasising too that what works for teams in the UK might not work in the US or in Portugal – that workers in different countries will feel different societal pressures.
It can be a quandary, said Steven: do you adopt the ‘when in Rome’ approach, or an embassy model in terms of how you go follow the rules or acceptance level (or not) of the country you’re operating in?
A third option – the advocacy model, which uses company profile to increase visibility of LGBTQI issues – is arguably what all organisations should aim for, he said.
International travel, and the global nature of many technology businesses in particular, has been instrumental in accelerating the process of spreading company status quos across borders, said Gabrielle.
This was something Dr Black suggested could be taken a step further with mentoring programmes and knowledge sharing that extends across different country offices.
Tech flying the flag
Gabrielle heaped praise on the tech industry for its pragmatic approach to encouraging greater diversity and visibility. Indeed, workplace diversity has been held up by a number of studies in recent years as a beneficial factor in improving business performance and driving innovation.
This was something Oracle’s Stewart Monk echoed: if you can make a case for affecting the bottom line, he said, you’re more likely to get leadership backing and be able to progress quickly towards a more positive, diverse workforce.
In fact, he went on, there’s a danger to companies who don’t embrace diversity. Talented applicants who value diversity, or perhaps want to work for a company with an established LGBTQI community, can be lost to competitors that do a better job of advertising their diversity policies.
Equally, employees who don’t feel their managers or senior advisers can respond knowledgably to queries about LGBTQI issues may make the move to working somewhere they feel more comfortable.
Ultimately, Yahoo’s Mick said, it’s important to make a distinction between diversity and inclusion – it shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise, and instead needs to be a strategy that allows people to be themselves and feel included.
Coming together in a digital world
Technology can, and should, be part of making this a success.
As Mike Kolanski, Compensation Analyst for Fujitsu America, put it on the night: “technology is a gift we’re given – we must use it do good and be responsible individuals in getting the word [about LGBTQI issues] out.”
It’s no easy feat, and all of our panellists agreed that often the most important steps to take are the small ones that start the process.
But it’s not impossible, and an increasingly digitised world is making it easier to bring people together to make it happen.
“If you want to go fast,” said Sarah Kaiser, “go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
* We are using the acronym LGBTQI here to represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex communities.
Image via Flickr
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