If you’ve noticed a lot more rainbow flags flying high lately, that’s because it’s Pride Month! Yes, June is all about celebrating the incredible impact that LGBTIQA+ individuals have had on our lives and society throughout history.
But it’s also about recognizing the contributions of our LGBT+ peers and coworkers, learning about LGBTIQA+ history, celebrating diversity, and considering the ways we can all contribute to creating a more inclusive society.
At Envato, we pride ourselves on our inclusive culture and welcoming environment, where anyone can bring their whole selves to work, but we are always striving to do better. One way we do that is through [email protected], a staff-lead group dedicated to advocating for and supporting a safe and inclusive workplace for LGBTIQA+ employees.
We chatted to Organisational Development Manager Bec Covington and [email protected] Chair Dana Scheider to find out how they're empowering and elevating the LGBTQIA+ community, both at Envato and across the Melbourne tech sector, and how everyone can contribute to creating a more welcoming and inclusive workplace.
BEC: [email protected] is our longest standing Inclusion & Diversity working group. Our mission is to improve visibility, understanding and safety for LGBTQIA+ people at Envato and in the larger tech community. Ultimately, we want to ensure we are providing a safe and inclusive workplace for our LGBTIQA+ employees. The group helps to improve our working practices, educate and run events to improve visibility and education around all things related to LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
DANA: I joined [email protected] because I was new to Melbourne and wanted to get to know the people around me better. I had always been interested in issues of structural oppression, including racism, sexism and others, and was keenly aware of the struggles many groups continue to face trying to gain equality in the workplace. So when I saw that it was a thing, I went to one of the meetings.
From there I got more involved and eventually became chair. Although I am bisexual, I’ve usually dated men and therefore have not felt like a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and consider myself more of an ally. But I’m starting to understand that that’s its own issue too. There’s always more to learn about these issues.
BEC: For Envato, we run regular events throughout the year which aim to provide visibility around different LBGTIQA+ related challenges and days of significance. We’ve been particularly focussed on gender diversity over the past couple of years, as well as broader events and initiatives aligned to things such as IDAHOBIT Day and Pride Month.
We’ve taken part in the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) submission each year for the past five years which helps us make informed decisions about where we should be focussing our attention, so we can continue to improve our inclusion efforts. A good example of this is through the submission we realised we had a gap in our gender diversity and inclusion practices.
Over the past year, we’ve put a lot of focus on introducing pronouns into everyday language and changing the gender-related wording systems such as our HR system to be inclusive of gender. In regards to supporting the local tech community, we run regular meet-ups for the tech community through the Out Techs: Melbourne meet-up group.
DANA: Real allyship means showing up for the struggle and not just the parade. The LGBTQIA+ struggle is not all rainbow flags and glitter. Sexuality and gender diverse people continue to be targeted for violence by individuals, organisations and even governments in many parts of the world.
Many forms of discrimination are still legal in many places, including in Australia and elsewhere in the developed world. Sexuality and gender diverse youth lack role models in popular media. And our human rights are a subject of ongoing debate the world over. Allies take action on these issues and engage in substantive work - including the work of finding out the best way to help - so that LGBTQIA+ people don’t have to do all of it ourselves.
BEC: The oppression of sexuality and gender diverse individuals around the world is structural throughout many human societies, and therefore not easily solved. That’s why the most important thing we can do is commit to ongoing improvement to our culture, our language and our company policies and processes.
With the help of the annual AWEI survey, [email protected] has identified a number of key initiatives that we’re pursuing in order to make Envato a more inclusive space. In particular, we’re developing and implementing clearer and more inclusive policies for transgender and gender diverse individuals, as well as providing education to help other Envato coworkers understand how LGBTQIA+ issues affect the people around them.
DANA: One of the most important things you can do is to do your own research on LGBTQIA+ issues and how to be supportive. I don’t mean to be flippant--this is something that hasn’t occurred to a lot of privileged people.
There’s a lot of information out there (check your sources though!) about the issues that face the LGBTQIA+ community. If you find yourself having questions about either the issues themselves or on how to be an effective ally--questions like “what does nonbinary mean?” or “what should I call X group?” – these are all questions you can and should research, not just ask the sexuality and gender diverse people around you. Keep in mind that educating allies is work for us that can be difficult, draining and often discouraging. Of course, it’s important to hear about LGBTQIA+ people’s experiences from them, but it’s important to be aware of what the impact can be and to respond respectfully and be receptive if someone tells you something you don’t want to hear.
Once you’ve got a good foundation of knowledge, the next step is to be willing to have difficult conversations with those around you, to help them understand the things you’ve learnt. Call out LGBTQIA-phobic jokes, comments and attitudes in the people you work or socialise with. Stop people from bullying or harassing sexuality and gender diverse people, including standing between them and their target if necessary.
BEC: For both business and moral reasons, inclusion and acceptance are critical. Research is clear that diverse teams, while they have more internal conflict, are more productive and produce better results than homogeneous teams. It’s also really important to understand that most people are lacking some form of privilege.
Inclusion and acceptance in the workplace, therefore, affect most people’s comfort and psychological or even physical safety in an environment where they spend a large amount of their time. This also means they affect most people’s ability to be productive members of their teams. Understanding that diversity and inclusion affect a majority of actual or potential employees--as well as authors, customers and other community members--really helps you understand the scope of the issue.
DANA: Someone once pointed out to me that, when people see others around them being authentically who they are, that they feel empowered to do the same. Our goal is to really make it clear that that’s something Envato values and will support.
One thing that’s plagued people with diverse sexualities and romantic orientations for decades is that society views our relationships as inherently sexualised. This is even more the case for gender diverse people. For instance, there’s a widespread misconception that trans and gender diverse people are living out a sexual fantasy rather than the reality that they are living authentically as the people they are.
All of this means that, for LGBTQIA+ people, bringing up the most innocuous details of their daily lives - things like their daily routines, the fact that they have a spouse or even their names – can be a minefield. Too many people still believe that diverse relationships and identities are somehow lewd or inappropriate for work.
[email protected] aims to make it very clear through both our words and actions that we do not see it that way at Envato, and that we will (kindly) hold those around us accountable for making our community as welcoming as it can be for everyone.
BEC: Forming a working group and collecting data about the experiences of sexuality and gender diverse employees is a great first step. Participating in the AWEI survey has also been very helpful for us in identifying areas for possible improvement. It’s not enough to express support through PR campaigns. All companies can and must make improvements to the work environment they provide to their sexuality and gender diverse employees. They also need to proactively identify what those improvements are instead of waiting for employees to raise issues, which many are reluctant to do.
DANA: Envato has a really positive community with a lot of support for all the different people who move through our world. That said, our organisation’s informal approach to policy means that a lot of expectations have remained implicit and informal. We need to codify certain things in our policy so there is no ambiguity around them.
We must make clear that people can wear whatever they want to work--and that that includes gender non-conforming clothing, hairstyles and accessories. Trans and non-binary people who are transitioning need to know how we’ll support them and how much leave they have available for their transitions. We’re working towards creating a more robust organisational structure for supporting vulnerable people.