In Episode 112, Nick Alm, Founder and Godx of Mossier, joins Melinda in an informative discussion about the key trends that drive LGBTQIA+ workplace equity and inclusion. They look into challenges around policies and procedures for transgender and nonbinary inclusion. They discuss how companies can take action to improve their DEI initiatives through normalizing pronoun use, integrating self-identification into recruitment efforts, incentivizing ERG and DEI leadership, and more. They also touch on ways for managers to rethink how they approach political discussions at work.
- Learn more about Nick’s work at Mossier
- Read HRC Foundation’s executive summary report on Corporate Equality Index 2022
- Read ACLU’s article, “Mapping Attacks on LGBTQ Rights in U.S. State Legislature”
- Read McKinsey’s article, “Effective employee resource groups are key to inclusion at work. Here’s how to get them right”
- Watch or listen to EP89: “Creating Psychologically Safe Workplaces For LGBTQIA+ Folks”
- Watch or listen to EP84: “The Radical Act Of Choosing Common Ground To Create Change With Nisha Anand”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “We need to look at those intersections, and we need to start to recognize that LGBTQ people are not a monolith…. We have a bisexual community that is still completely invisible to most companies, even though they represent 40-something percent of the total LGBTQ pie…. Intersectionality, nonbinary thinking, capacity-building, giving people the skills and strategies to think critically through these issues— as opposed to the need to look at a how-to guide or… a textbook— that’s the future for LGBTQ inclusion.”
- “The endgame of all of this is goal-setting and accountability. If there isn’t a mandate for the talent acquisition team that we want to increase the number of people coming into this organization who are LGBTQ by this percentage, and… a company to say…, ‘If we don’t hit that, then what do we need to change?’ If those conversations aren’t happening and that’s not in place, you’re really spinning your tires at that point. The end game is also, what I really would love to see moving forward…, companies sharing publicly this data.”
- “My recommendation moving forward— and what I’m seeing as a problem and an opportunity— is the normalization of pronoun use at organizations. I’m happy to report that from what I can see, there’s a lot of momentum around this…. Pronouns are the most efficient tool we have to open the conversation about gender identity and gender expression at work: ‘Why would somebody use they/them pronouns?’ ‘Well, they might identify as nonbinary.’ ‘Well, what is nonbinary?’ It opens up a whole bunch of other conversations.”
Founder and Godx of Mossier
Nick Alm (they/them) was born in St. Paul and grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota. While pursuing a degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Minnesota, they co-founded The Carlson School’s first undergraduate LGBTQ student organization, Compass. It was through Compass that they developed a deep passion for advancing conversations about Queer employment equity. Today, Nick is the founder and CEO of Mossier, a social enterprise with a mission of employment equity for everyone LGBTQ. Mossier helps organizations of all sizes attract Queer talent while simultaneously developing workplace cultures and practices that actively dismantle systems of homophobia, transphobia and white supremacy.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How to Be an Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
Hello, everyone. Today our guest is Nick Alm, Founder and CEO of Mossier, a social enterprise with a mission of employment equity for everyone LGBTQ. Today, we’ll be discussing how to design workplaces that celebrate and support LGBTQIA+ team members. We’ll focus on some key trends Mossier is finding as it works with organizations to drive LGBTQ inclusion and equity, and we’ll also discuss some future trends as well.
Welcome, Nick. Excited for you to be here.
NICK: Hello, Melinda. It’s so fabulous to be here, thank you for having me.
MELINDA: Yeah. So, Nick, let’s talk about your story first. Where did you grow up, and what was your path to the work that you do now?
NICK: Yeah. So I grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, the birthplace of Minnesota. That was where all the lumberjacks lived and did their thing way back in the 1800s, and the logging and all the things; not super-important to my story. But I was one of two openly queer kids in a class of about 700 people in Stillwater, Minnesota. Throughout this conversation today, I’m going to use the word queer. That’s my preference. I understand that folks from different generations might not feel so hot about that word, and we can talk about that. LGBTQ or LGBTQ+ is a really acceptable acronym also that I might use interchangeably.
One of two queer kids in Stillwater, Minnesota, I thought making it to college was going to be this liberatory celebratory experience. I wanted to be a music teacher. But I was the oldest in my family, I was newly out. I came out at 17. I was the first in my family to go to college. I had to do something notable, and something important. So I went to business school. Forget being a music teacher, because that’s too fluffy and isn’t going to pay the bills. So I go to business school, and let me put it this way, I was built for entrepreneurship, I learned that right away. But what I realized is that there was a very strong message that the more you could act White, the more you could act Straight, the more you could act like a man, the more you could essentially tone yourself down, the better chances you would have of making it to the top in the business world. That was really frustrating for me. Because again, I’m a gender non-conforming person, I’m wearing makeup and nail polish and all these things into my interviews, and these corporate recruiters from Fortune 500 companies, they really had no idea what to do with me.
One of my early inspirations, or one of the first moments I realized this is a big problem and a problem that I want to solve, is when I would just simply ask recruiters, “What is it like to be LGBTQ at your organization,” I thought that was a totally appropriate question. I wasn’t met with intense homophobia or transphobia. But what I was met with was a lot of deer in the headlights type of looks. A lot of shocked people who really, they’re like, “Wait, what did you just say?” You could tell, in their repertoire, they had never been coached on this. This was in, like, 2014. So I thought we were, for sure, there. But we weren’t.
So me and a few other folks, who were also frustrated with the overall culture and environment, we decided to start an LGBT organization; the first student group that had ever existed in the business school at the University of Minnesota. We had 150 people show up to the very first dinner that we threw. I’ll never forget it, because I just thought: “Oh, wow, there’s tons of people who want to have this conversation.” Nobody wanted to be the first to have the conversation. Nobody wanted to put themselves out there. Companies, after recognizing my leadership there, they asked me, “Nick, can you come in and do a training for our recruiting department? Could you help us rewrite our transgender inclusion guidelines?” The asks accumulated, and each one of those was like a little business light bulb. So five years ago, I started Mossier, my company, with a mission of enabling employment equity for everyone LGBTQ.
MELINDA: Well, thank you for sharing that. I’m sure that parts of your story resonate with a lot of our listeners, actually. So maybe you could then tell us a little bit about Mossier, what do you do? So that we can kind of talk about the trends you’re seeing, next.
NICK: Yeah. So there’s a personal aspect, and then there’s the business aspect. From a personal standpoint, I got into this work to heal myself and other people. In many ways, this work, starting Mossier, was about trying to convince people that who I am is okay, because there were certain people in my life who I could not convince that I was normal or okay. As far as the actual business goes, we do a variety of different things. We do an organizational assessment with companies. So we go under the hood, we look at policies, procedures, and a variety of compliance dealios, with regards to trans and non-binary inclusion. Recruiting. Self-identification, which if you’re not familiar with that, that’s how an organization asks you, either the candidate or the current employee, about your LGBTQ status. Employee Resource Groups, and culture, are the five areas.
So we go and we look at those, we create a roadmap for organizations, usually about a 12-month roadmap, and we say, “Here’s what needs to happen if you want to either hold your position as an employer of choice, or if you want to get on the map with the LGBTQ community.” We host monthly trainings and events, open to the public, for our member companies, so that folks can continue to build capacities. We’re a big advocate for moving from compliance to capacity-building in this space right now, which we can talk about. Then lastly, we have a recruiting platform. So if you’re listening and you are an LGBTQ person, this is completely a free service. We have a job board, we have a resume database, and then we do free career coaching with job seekers. Then we will match them with open roles at our member companies, and basically just help them get a leg up in the hiring process. Because we know that getting a job or getting hired is confusing, even if you don’t have overlapping identities that are marginalized. So that’s Mossier in a nutshell.
MELINDA: Awesome! So you create this roadmap for companies, and you’re starting to see some trends, I assume, as a result of that. So that’s what we’re going to spend most of our time on today, I think, is diving into what those trends are and where you’re finding, I guess the combination of trends and recommendations. Maybe we start with trans or non-binary inclusion. What are you seeing? Where are the challenges that companies have, and the challenges that trans and non-binary folks in particular have? Then the second piece is, then we can talk about opportunities for doing it better.
NICK: Yeah. So I would say up until now, when people think of trans inclusion in the workplace, the first initiative that would come to mind would be transgender inclusion guidelines, or gender transition guidelines or playbooks; they go by a few different names. Part of the reason is the Human Rights Campaign, very smartly, asked for that in their Corporate Equality Index. But here’s the deal. Usually, what has to happen at most companies is, for those guidelines to get created, a trans person or a non-binary person has to come forward and announce to everybody, “Hey, I am looking to transition. How do I do so? What are the medical benefits? Can I get any sort of leave? Are there medical providers in my geography where my office is, where I can get support?” These brave individuals have to shatter every rainbow ceiling there is, for companies to realize, “Oh, we should publish these.”
When we actually do get around to writing those guidelines, though, what we end up with most of the time is a very rigid document, and I get it. Because human resources, there’s a lot of box-checking that we have to do; there’s legal and compliance things to worry about. But these guidelines, what they do is essentially, the insinuation is, they say, “This is the one way to transition and you must transition this way, and that only by transitioning this way, will you not be seen as inconveniencing the larger organization. If you fall outside of these guidelines, well, then you’re on your own.” Because in many cases, even after those guidelines are created, the folks in HR who need to be fielding questions about them, oftentimes, they have not been given that training and development on trends inclusion or the sensitivities around that. So that’s the big thing.
The other quick thing I’ll say that I’m seeing a lot, this is my recommendation moving forward and what I’m seeing as a problem and an opportunity, is the normalization of pronoun use at organizations. I’m happy to report that from what I can see, there’s a lot of momentum around this. I think in part because it’s a very tactical and simple step in many ways, to just add pronouns to your email signature or to your Zoom signature, add it to an employee directory. But what I’m seeing is, pronouns are the most efficient tool we have to open the conversation about gender identity and gender expression at work. Why would somebody use they/them pronouns? Well, they might identify as non-binary. Well, what is non-binary? It opens up a whole bunch of other conversations. A couple years ago, I might have come on this podcast and said something like, “I don’t know if it’s going to stick around. If the pronoun thing is really going to be more of a niche thing that only certain folks take seriously, or if it’s going to be this broadly, mass-adopted initiative.” It has shown, I’ve seen that this is something that is here to stay, not a superfluous DDI initiative at all. So those would be the two things I would pull out right away.
MELINDA: Yeah. Speaking of pronouns, I’m seeing that too. Definitely, more and more people are. It was, a couple of years ago, I think, more the activists, the advocates, the DEI folks, sometimes folks in HR who were really focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. But it was mostly the people doing it every day, and the trans folks that were out and felt safe to do so, or the non-binary folks that felt safe to do so. Now, definitely, I’m seeing a shift, which is great, and I think this shift will continue.
I want to share a little story. I do inclusive leadership coaching, and one of my coaching clients who’s an executive, he decided to discuss using pronouns regularly with the leadership team. He prepared a little talk, and he talked about why, and he asked everybody to put their pronouns in the Zoom signatures and in their emails. He thought it was just a simple thing that you could do as an ally. After a discussion, and he had to field some questions, the whole leadership team decided to adopt the practice and showed up at the next all-hands, all with their pronouns in their names in Zoom. Someone noted it in the call, and they talked a little bit about why. Then at the next all-hands, about 75% of the companies put their pronouns in their Zoom signature. Then the next all-hands, it was even greater. I mean, it doesn’t take much. That started with a conversation, and just a couple more conversations, and suddenly, it was adopted. The lead from the LGBTQIA+ ERG said afterwards, came back to that executive and told him how important that was to them, that it increased psychological safety and belonging. Just that act, a very simple act, can create quite a bit of change. It does.
As you mentioned, there’s more to it. There’s a conversation around why, there’s a conversation about that that sometimes is important to have, and you start to create that space for the conversation by simply taking that one step.
NICK: Makes my day to hear that! That’s such a great story.
MELINDA: Yeah. I also want to go back a little bit to the handbooks and the manuals around transitioning, too. One of the things that I have seen, that some companies take it to the next level. Yes, there’s that compliance, there’s the benefits, there’s that piece of it, and that can become prescriptive, as you said, if you’re not careful. The other piece of that, that you can mention in there, is the training and development. As a manager, how do I support? As a team, how do I shift the language that I might be using? How do I shift the way I’m thinking as well? That piece of it is really key to really fundamentally creating a safe space, and a place where somebody can actually feel they belong.
NICK: Yeah. I saw some guidelines that I really liked recently, and they included a lot of scenario planning, kind of if-then situations. Okay, so my trans colleague, someone has an issue with them using this bathroom. How do I have that conversation with both the trans person and the person who is not wanting them to use that bathroom? How do we correct somebody respectfully if they use the wrong pronoun or the wrong name? I think that’s the next big thing is like, in our culture, do we see ourselves as allies enough and are we comfortable with each other enough where I can say, “Oh, hey, Melinda actually, so and so uses she/her pronouns not he/him pronouns? Is Melinda going to crumble in that moment and is it going to blow up the whole meeting? Or is it going to be just a part of regular day-to-day business and say, “Okay, cool. Got it, thank you. My bad, I’ll fix that moving forward.” That’s really the next piece.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Then just another quick story. I was talking with an ERG lead who has a Pride ERG in a larger company, and they were telling me they were so excited, they saw that there was a new handbook created. They read it, and it was like, “Oh, this is really nicely done, there’s some great things in there you wouldn’t have expected.” Then she realized, wait a minute, there’s no plan to roll this out, there’s no accountability embedded in this. It’s not going to go anywhere. So you also need that rollout plan. You need that, how are you going to take the next step and actually work with managers and work with leaders to make that happen?
NICK: Oh my gosh, totally! I mean, as a new employee, am I getting this in onboarding, or when I get promoted? Like, when is this made available to me? So many clients, people will come to me and say, my company doesn’t have guidelines. I’m like, “No, your company does have guidelines, I’ve talked to the HR person.” But they just didn’t get the memo. I’m like, how do I know as a consultant, but you don’t know as the employee?
MELINDA: Absolutely, so there’s the communication as well. So we’ve talked about trans and non-binary inclusion, and some things that you can think about inside your team and inside your organization. What about ERGs, what are you seeing there?
NICK: Yeah. So the big thing I’m seeing is ERG burnout. It was funny. So we have our five areas that we score, and I believe, I want to check the data and make sure I’m not lying here. But Employee Resource Group, yes, out of all the five areas that we measure companies, our companies scored the highest in the Employee Resource Group section.
MELINDA: I was just going to say, maybe it makes sense because ERGs have been traditionally seen as the first step in diversity, equity, and inclusion, so a lot of them have been around a lot longer. Maybe that’s one piece.
NICK: Absolutely. It’s a tangible part that has been around since the 60s, or maybe even before that. What I see though, too, the reason companies have scored so high is because you have these LGBTQ folks who are putting everything on the line to run them well. They’re unpaid. Most of the companies that I see, they don’t have folks on their DEI team or folks in HR who are tasked with supporting Employee Resource Groups from an administrative standpoint. So they’re taking all that on themselves. I can tell you from experience, from starting an LGBT group, there’s being out at work, and then there’s running an employee resource group. There is having this spotlight shined on you, this expectation that you’re going to be a spokesperson for the entire community. This expectation, for so many folks at your company, you might be the first out employee that they’ve ever actually talked to. It breaks my heart to see how they take that so seriously, which is good, but they’re so hard on themselves, and they feel so pressured by that responsibility, in addition to their day jobs. So ERG leads, they make it a year, they maybe make it two, and then they go away, and they leave all that institutional knowledge. All of that information about how the ERG got to where it is, that leaves with them. So there’s this boom-and-bust cycle that I see with Employee Resource Groups. That was the biggest thing that emerged from our data and storytelling.
MELINDA: Yeah. So do you want to talk about some ways to address that?
NICK: Yeah, it’s a few different things. Number one, I think the timing of this is great. Because companies, as we enter this next year here, things are going to get very interesting from a hiring standpoint; companies, obviously they’re going to pull back a little. But I think a lot of companies, based on what I’m reading, they want to hang on to their employees. So the question of the next year, I think, is going to be around employee engagement and how you retain people, because companies just spend so much time and money hiring folks in this tough environment. They don’t want to let them go if the economy takes off again after this little dip that we’re going to hit.
So we need to do two things at the same time. We need to incentivize ERG membership. The ways you incentivize ERG membership, number one, your executives. Like your story, Melinda, executives and important people at the company, they need to be involved in the ERG as well. Involved as in like, attending the events, asking questions at the events, getting themselves involved. If ERGs aren’t seen as a place where people can go to advance their career and be seen, in addition to creating that community and psychological safety, you’re going to have a really hard time sustaining that ERG long-term.
The second thing is there’s about, I think, 5%. I don’t know if that’s Fortune 500 companies or Fortune 1000. But about 5% of companies that have Employee Resource Groups actually compensate their Employee Resource Group leaders.
MELINDA: Wow, it’s that low! Didn’t know that.
NICK: Right. The ones that are compensated, it ranges from, I’ve seen as much as $10,000 for an ERG lead, down to $1,000 or a few hundred dollars. I think it’s so important that either there is paid staff who are supporting ERGs, and or, preferably an and, those ERGs are compensated. Because what it does is, when you force people to do that much unpaid work, you send a message that, one, DEI is elective and nice-to-have and volunteer-based and woo-woo and fluffy. That’s the subtle message, I think. If that person is a person of color who’s running that ERG, then we are into a whole nother arena of just messy, ethical, requiring people of color to do unpaid labor and replicating that cycle again, that exists in this country, of expecting people of color to work for free. Again, we can maybe tolerate it for a year, but not much more than that. So those would be the big things, I would say, we need, that together could strengthen ERGs for the long-term.
MELINDA: Yeah. One other thing comes to mind, that some companies may not compensate separately for ERGs, but they do allot, like, 20% of their time is dedicated to ERGs. But the key part of this is that it has to be real. That 20% needs to be taken off of their daily workload, that could be another way to address it. If you really can’t compensate, that’s another way to address it. But it has to be real, you have to really do that and work with the managers to reduce that workload.
That same trend that you’re seeing there around burnout also happens with DEI leaders as well, there’s the burnout. It’s a little bit longer of a cycle. Because it’s somebody’s full-time job perhaps, they stick around longer. But there is a burnout cycle that happens also in DEI leads as well. Because the work can be really toxic from time to time. If you’re there for somebody who’s coming out, and if you’re really open to that, that is emotional labor as well. It’s cognitive labor of creating the strategy around it, and so on. So there’s a real need to address that. Offering the opportunity for mental health services and all of that is really important too, as well as just taking your time off. Sometimes, when we’re really passionate about our work, and it’s an extra add-on to our daily work, we don’t take the time off; we use the time off to further the ERG work. So we really need to take that time off to regenerate.
NICK: Yeah. Just the one thing I’ll say quickly for leaders is, just the acknowledgement of what, Melinda, you just said, is just telling your DEI leader, “Hey, thank you for your service. I recognize that because of the identities that you possess, this is a different kind of work.” That involves that emotional piece and that spiritual piece for a lot of people. The reason we do this work is a deeper, bigger purpose to it. It’s just saying, I see that. I think that’s not compensation. But just being seen in that way could go so long, so I’ll just throw that in there. If you’re a leader, that’s one quick way to do.
MELINDA: That’s a really great point. One thing I would just want to let our listeners or watchers know is, we talked about ERGs specifically for LGBTQIA+ folks in Episode 89 as well. So if this is something you’re interested in, go have a listen or watch too, creating psychologically safe workplaces for LGBTQIA+ folks. So maybe we jump into recruiting. I know that is something that a lot of companies have focused on. You focus on ERGs, then you focus on recruiting, and then eventually, we get to culture in most organizations. So let’s talk about recruiting next. Obviously, it’s important for a lot of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. What are you finding?
NICK: So, Melinda, I am totally shocked that we’ve gone all this time and there’s no data that I can cite here, but I know it’s in the single digits percentage wise, in terms of the companies that actually track the number of LGBTQ applicants that are coming to their job openings. Part of this reason is the self-identification conversation. I’m kind of blending two here. But the self-identification conversation has largely focused on current employees, internal HR system. Of the 1,200 companies that take the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, I think about 46% of those companies have an internal self-identification method. So we’re not even halfway there on current employees. But I always tell, when people pay me to come in and help them attract more LGBT folks to the organization, how are we actually going to measure that? You’re spending all this money on career fairs, student group partnerships, sponsorships. Is that providing any sort of real lift in the number of employees, and where in the process, from interviewing to onboarding, are folks not making it?
Because I talk to candidates all the time, an LGBT person of color, for example, who does really great in the phone screen. But when a video call or an in-person call comes up at around two or around three, and someone realizes that they’re not White, the tone changes. I think it changes drastically, for example, if you’re trans and you’re going to the process, and then questions get asked down the line about why your name on your resume doesn’t match your legal name that you inputted into the applicant tracker system. Because many companies aren’t asking for both legal name and chosen name. I say chosen name, it’s not a preferred name. I don’t use the term preferred pronouns either. It’s just chosen name and pronouns.
So recruiting is not set up to take this conversation seriously. A lot of companies are just spending money in order to feel good that they are maybe getting some LGBT eyeballs on their positions. So we need to have self-identification in recruiting. Goldman Sachs wrote a Fortune article, if you Google. They’ve done it, and there’s a great case study online. I’m telling my clients that if the Equality Act were to pass, which has passed the house now, I believe twice. If we could get that done, companies over 100 employees are going to be required to ask sexual orientation and gender identity, and report that to the federal government. So I’m like, it’s coming, so you might as well get it done! But a lot of legal departments, they’re like, “If we don’t need to collect it, we don’t want to have an extra set of data that could be used in some very obscure situation, that could discriminate, and have to come back from it.” So that’s a big thing I see companies struggling with right now.
MELINDA: Yeah. Of course, in different parts of the world, you can’t ask those questions too, and It’s really important not to ask those questions in some parts of the world too. So global companies are also reckoning with that, what do we do differently in the US and some other parts of the world than another’s? That is an important consideration. Because in some areas of the world, you’ve documented that is unsafe too. You mentioned along the way, some areas where people can improve on their reporting on self-identification, and also on identifying their chosen name. Are there other things that you can suggest?
NICK: Yeah. If you’re just getting started, I would keep it really simple. All you really need is a question that your applicant or your job seeker fills out that says, “Do you identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community? Yes. No. Prefer not to say.” I would just leave it at that right up front. Eventually, we’d love to see a question that says, what is your gender identity? Providing man, woman, non-binary, transgender, etc. Gender queer is the other really big one that I’m seeing. Then sexual orientation being lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual. I’m seeing more and more, queer is a term for both gender identity and sexual orientation, I see that’s used more. But keep it simple in the beginning. Your goal, initially, is just get something statistically significant, to begin to tell some kind of story.
Then from there, really, the endgame of all of this is goal-setting and accountability. If there isn’t a mandate for the talent acquisition team, that we want to increase the number of people coming into this organization who are LGBTQ by this percentage, and here’s what’s going to happen if it doesn’t work out. It’s not meant to sound threatening. But companies who say this the if-then. If we don’t hit that, then what do we need to change? If those conversations aren’t happening and that’s not in place, you’re really spinning your tires at that point. So the endgame is accountability.
The end game is also what I really would love to see moving forward, I don’t know if this is going to happen in the near future, but companies sharing publicly this data. Google and a lot of tech companies. Google, I think started in 2014, you can go and they’ve got an amazing dashboard with all their DEI metrics. No LGBTQ metrics at all, though. So I’d love to see that shared publicly, and to produce friendly competition among all these companies to see who can get to the 7.1% of the total US population that identify as the LGBTQ, and the 20% of Generation Z that is identifying as queer. Most companies haven’t cracked 2% yet, from what I’ve seen.
MELINDA: Yeah. Part of that is creating the psychologically safe space for people to come out and identify, even when it’s anonymous.
NICK: Yeah. The other big recommendation for recruiting, this is something much smaller that you can do today, I’m shocked by how many companies don’t have an LGBTQ-specific page on your website, talking about your Employee Resource Group, talking about your benefits. My rule is, as a queer job seeker, if I can’t find that information on your website in under three clicks, I’m way less likely to self-identify, I’m way less likely to be out in the hiring process, period. That is so easy to fix. If you can get video testimonials from current LGBTQ employees, that’s gold standard. I would love to see more of that.
MELINDA: Awesome. The words and the photographs that really show that it’s true.
NICK: I know. Not a little icon, or a little stick figure.
MELINDA: Yeah. I know we’ve touched on culture in different pieces here, too. Is there anything in addition that we didn’t touch on around culture that you’re finding, that we should talk about?
NICK: Yeah. I want to make sure I call out, the next year is going to be really challenging when it comes to the political environment. We’re going to get a landmark Supreme Court case decision in June, coming out of Colorado, focused on whether or not I as a business owner could refuse service to somebody who is LGBTQ? It’s not a religious freedom argument, it’s a free speech argument that’s being made. You should definitely read about that. It’s not looking good for pro-equity and pro-equality folks. So we have that on the horizon. We’re going to have a crowded GOP nomination field, with a group of people who are going to make a competition out of who can be the biggest bully, specifically to trans people.
I hate to get political. But the reality is, a culture that can’t survive discussions about politics at work is not going to be a future-looking company. Me as a Gen Z queer job seeker, that’s probably the barometer that I’m going to look at now when I’m going to ask for a job is, has this company spoken out publicly about any of the, 124 this year, introduced pieces of anti-LGBT legislation? This is ACLU data. We had 280 something last year, we’re already at 124. Companies that don’t speak out about it, don’t take a stance on it, don’t create the space within their organization to have a discussion about how it’s impacting employees, that is going to be table stakes now.
For Millennials, getting 100 on the Corporate Equality Index of the Human Rights Campaign, that was the gold standard. For Gen Z, when I talk to them, getting 100 is box number one, and they want to be a part of a culture where they can show up and say, “You know what, XYZ, the fact that my state is banning gender-affirming care for trans people is impacting my mental health, it’s impacting my decision to want to work in this office or state or with this company. If we’re opening up a new office in one of these states, I should feel comfortable enough to challenge that or ask why or ask if there was a consideration that was made to how that political environment will impact employees.”
So many companies are still in the “we can’t talk about politics at work” mindset, and there’s a lot of good reasons for that, and I understand that. But we’re going to reach a fever pitch this year, I’m predicting, that is going to be impossible to ignore. So it’s kind of an “ignore it at your own peril” situation right now, there’s no way to get around it. Businesses, there are surveys saying that US citizens trust the business more than government, more than so many other institutions. So it’s like, now that we’ve gutted the Human Rights apparatus of the government, businesses are expected to fill that void. So are we going to pick up that mantle, or are we going to lob the ball back over the net, so to speak? So a big opportunity if your company wants to differentiate yourself on that.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. There’s lots of different ways that you can work on. I know every company culture is different. So if you’ve banned political discussions, bringing them back is something that you have to do strategically, carefully, and with training, with coaching, perhaps with some outside help, to really help create those safe spaces for those conversations. As the we go into the presidential election too, there’s going to be a lot of politics on people’s minds, and whether we ban those conversations or not, it works its way into the workplace.
NICK: That is totally the point I would made. It’s like, you either do it and have some control over it, or you allow this to potentially go sideways, or have people duke it out on social media. You would much rather as a company, from a risk management standpoint, I think, get out ahead of it, create a safe space. You don’t need to have all 10,000 people on one call for the first discussion. It can just be a few small listening sessions to get it going and start. Start small, but you’ve got to do it.
MELINDA: Yeah. Are there other trends you’re thinking about? Or what are you thinking about in terms of the future and the next stage of companies really working to address LGBTQI+ inclusion and equity?
NICK: Yeah, some other things I would say. I think we’re getting to an interesting point in DEI in general, where the box-checking days are kind of over. Because so many companies have checked all the boxes, as it relates to having the right policies, having the right benefits, etc. The next phase is going to be much more time-consuming and much more expensive. I’ll use the pronoun thing, for example, and we kind of touched on it already. It’s one thing to get an employee directory set up where everybody can self-identify their pronouns. It’s a completely different situation where you have everybody on a team meeting, and when they start the call, they say, “Hi, I’m Nick, and my pronouns are they/them.” Getting everybody to that point is going to require much more education, much more capacity-building.
Transgender and non-binary issues in general, I think we’re at a point where everyone’s just going along with it because it feels like this is what we’re supposed to say, and you’ve got a lot of people who are reading off a script when it comes to these issues. But many people are still visibly uncomfortable, talking to trans and non-binary people. Recruiters in these interviews, visibly uncomfortable. I can read the energy right off of you if it’s obvious that you haven’t interacted with LGBTQ people much. That doesn’t make you a bad person. But that is the next thing we have to think about is, how do we give folks more exposure? How do we get folks to a point where they have enough working knowledge to start to solve these issues on their own, without me, the consultant, coming in to say, do this and not that. I would love to start more of those conversations. In my trainings, people always want binary answers to everything. Like, “Nick, how do I deal with this person who doesn’t want me to use the bathroom? Tell me the right answer.” I’m like, folks, non-binary thinking is the future. I can’t tell you that there’s one way to do any of this.
I’m a big believer in non-binary thinking. I’m a big believer in breaking down this us-versus-them mentality. I’m a big believer in breaking down this zero-sum game mentality that exists in DEI right now, and in LGBTQ inclusion, especially. Because we’ve got gay White men who have got one experience, and we’ve got Black lesbian women who have a completely different experience. We need to look at those intersections, and we need to start to recognize that LGBTQ people are not a monolith. The experience, again, like I said, could vary drastically. We have a bisexual community that is still completely invisible to most companies, even though they represent 40 some percent of the total LGBTQ pie. So intersectionality, non-binary thinking, capacity-building. Giving people the skills and strategies to think critically through these issues, as opposed to the need to look at a how-to guide or look at a textbook. That’s the future for LGBTQ inclusion.
MELINDA: Yeah, all of those are super important. Thank you for that. I’m thinking about more exposure, and a lot of the leadership workshops that I lead, even when I come in and do a keynote at a company, I’m often the first person that’s talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion in a company, which blows my mind. I don’t know if it’s 2023. Glad we’re doing it, and a lot of the folks that I’m working with have never had exposure. Like you said, we grow up, and I guess in my coaching clients too, they’ve grown up in White, middle to upper-class suburbs, and gone to schools that were mostly people exactly like them. They just haven’t had that exposure, and they don’t know what they don’t know either. So that work is really important. So breaking down the fear of knowing and of learning is a piece of it, and creating that space for people to learn. I think a lot of it can be through ERGs, where you open up some of your events to allies, and not even to allies; some people are just at the observer stage, they’re not ready to take action yet. So open it up to the whole company, and have those conversations where people really get a chance to learn somebody’s unique experiences in a way that they never would have otherwise had that exposure.
Then the empathy building conversations, too. I see how quickly people can change when they just are in a room with somebody from an identity that they’ve never really talked with before, and they start to have a conversation about identity, and what they care about or what they don’t care about, and all of that stuff. So quickly, you can build a relationship with somebody that you would never have in another situation. That too, those kinds of impromptu conversations, those conversations to really get to know each other one-on-one can be really powerful, too.
NICK: Yeah. I just went down a rabbit hole on rotational programmes for internships, moving interns around. Or really just entry-level employees or any group of employees, moving them around to different managers and giving managers access and exposure. Oftentimes, those entry-level people are the most diverse. We’re all diverse, but you know what I mean by that. Racially diverse, etc. I mean, looking for those opportunities, just small ways to increase exposure. Exposure really is, I think, the most powerful tool to just breaking down that us-versus-them and that internalized unconscious fear or bias.
MELINDA: I have my two questions left, they’re both quick ones. Well, the second one is quick, the first one may not be. This show and this work we do is about giving people things to think about ways to take action. So I wanted to ask you, what action would you like somebody to take after listening or watching this episode with us?
NICK: Yeah, great question. If I were you, I would look at what is your state legislature doing right now, positive or negative? I’m in Minnesota, where we have a Democratic-controlled House, Senate, and Governor. We’re going to hopefully be doing some great things around banning conversion therapy, and some other things, expanding access to trans-affirming healthcare. Look at what your state is doing, become familiar with that conversation become. It’s the best barometer you have for the undercurrent of how people feel in your locality about LGBTQ people. Those are the attitudes and things that are going to be seeping into your workplace. Those are the things that your LGBTQ employees are certainly watching. So even if you can be that manager or that person who says to an LGBTQ call, “Hey, I hope you’re doing all right, I’m really frustrated by what’s happening.” Bringing it up before they even have to talk about it, seeing them in that moment. Those are small things you can do right now, that can have an impact. We’ve got to be alert, because there are people who are homophobic and transphobic. I don’t just say conservative people, because it’s liberal people too, who are finding all these kinds of creative ways to erase specifically trans people from public life. I mean, that is really the campaign that’s happening. So stay alert and stay woke about that.
MELINDA: Awesome. So last question, because we’re running out of time, is, where can people learn more about your work?
NICK: Yes. So my company’s name is Mossier.com. You can go there, and on the right side, you can sign up. Again, all of our job seeker resources and opportunities are completely free. We have individual memberships. We have public events that we do, those will be starting up again this year. Those public events range from: we’ve done trans-inclusive health care benefits, we’ve done a self-identification talk, we did a burnout session for ERG leaders. Every month, we try to keep folks on the cutting-edge of the conversation. Our blog is really helpful too. So we’ve got free resources there on pronouns. If you’re an LGBTQ person and you want to know what kind of questions you can ask in an interview, we’ve got a guide for that, among other things. It’s totally available. Then the Subscribe button is towards the bottom of the website, we send out monthly best practices and tips. We’d love to see you at a Mossier engagement here in the near-future.
MELINDA: Awesome. We will put that link in our show notes at ally.cc, and we’ll also include a couple of other episodes if you want to go deeper. I mentioned Episode 89, also Episode 84 on the radical act of choosing common ground to create change. I think for those folks who are looking to create those internal conversations, that might be a good one to look at too, finding common ground when we can feel so polarized right now.
Thank you, Nick, so much for this conversation.
NICK: Thanks, Melinda, for having me. Super fun!
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you all for listening and watching. See you next week, everyone.
We’ll share resources and a transcript from this discussion at ally.cc. And please make sure to subscribe to our channel and rate this show, it makes a difference for us. Thank you for being part of our community.
Remember, the more we take action, the more we grow as humans and as leaders, and the more we transform our communities. So what action will you take today? Let us know your actions by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or reaching out on social media.
Leading With Empathy & AllyShip is a show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. You can learn more about us at change catalyst.co. So let’s keep building allyship across our communities and around the world.
Thank you for listening.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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