For those of us who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, the slow move toward diversity and inclusion in business is starting to pick up the pace. LGBTQ+ rights took center stage for the first time at the World Economic Forum in 2017, and championing diversity is a top-of-mind topic for the majority of CEOs across the country. Most large companies today talk a good “diversity and inclusion” talk, yet by the end of 2017, only one of the Fortune 500 CEOs was openly gay and this number doubled when DowDuPont announced its CEO in March of this year.
The promise is palpable. However, in order to compound the momentum, LGBTQ+ professionals must seize the opportunity and come together to increase visibility and awareness of the true benefits of a diverse workforce.
But where does one begin, especially when there are few trailblazers in this space, and fewer still for LGBTQ+ professionals with intersectional gender, racial, and socioeconomic identities? Where do we seek inspiration in a void of leaders who look like us and are like us?
Based on insights collected from over a decade of navigating this exciting white space, I’ve compiled three actionable insights for spurring on momentum of diversity and inclusion in business, and for maximizing the value that being your LGBTQ+ self brings to the organization, just in time for Pride Month.
INSIGHT No. 1: DEVELOP YOUR OWN LEADERSHIP VOICE
In absence of a plethora of role models and inspiration in this space, LGBTQ+ leaders should go inward and develop their own powerful, authentic, unique voice. Seek to give expression to your experience — not only your professional experience but also your personal experiences facing cultural and historic challenges of acceptance and equality.
Take a measured, unique stance where it benefits the organization overall and give room for diversity to express itself. Demonstrate empathy, practice active listening, and ensure that diverse voices are represented appropriately in your decision-making. Your greatest mission is to cultivate the meritorious, underrepresented voices of those around you and to stress their importance in the workplace for the growth and success of the organization.
INSIGHT No. 2: LEARN, ADAPT AND GROW your business acumen CONTINUOUSLY
Whether it is understanding the impacts of machine learning and artificial intelligence, new performance management and organizational development concepts, or mastering design-thinking to drive organizational strategy, there is a limitless pool of information and learning around us that we can tap into. Never miss an opportunity to learn and grow.
Working on our knowledge base and the value we bring to our teams helps us grow our confidence and add credibility to the voice we’ve developed. Seek out areas where you can “make something out of nothing” and strive to drive results in those non-sexy yet high-value pockets within your organization. Utilize your training time and budget effectively and completely. If you're pressed for time, flexible, self-paced learning from sites like Lynda or Skillshare are great options.
INSIGHT No. 3: SEEK A MENTOR, BE A MENTOR
Finally, always strive to learn from the best. Be bold and ask for mentorship from leaders who demonstrate attributes you want to grow in yourself. Seek mentors who bring their authentic selves to work and who successfully mesh their personal self into their professional lives in their unique ways.
Then pay your mentorship forward. Find gratitude for your life’s experiences and opportunities and redirect that gratitude back into the futures of others. Each and every one of us has something to offer. Defining what “that” is for you is a great exercise in introspection.
If you are relatively young in your career, remember that high school and college students could gain from your perspectives. Engaging with organizations like StartOut is another way to give back.
By listening to, defining, and cultivating your leadership voice; keeping track of business acumen and developing it in your industry and organization through training and seeking work opportunities; and surrounding yourself with brilliant mentors, LGBTQ+ professionals can advance their careers while fueling the momentum of diversity and inclusion at large.