By Krista Henry (she/her)
Future-ready talent, like co-op students, want to be open about their sexuality in the workplace. As the most diverse generation to hit the workforce, today’s co-op students need a safe environment that prioritizes gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Each June, Pride Month recognizes the experiences of two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or questioning (2SLGBTQ+) individuals and communities. Yet in Canada, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community are twice as likely as straight employees to experience inappropriate behaviours at work. For workers that also identify as Indigenous, Black or racialized, these behaviours are amplified.
As more Canadians return to the office, after two years of remote and hybrid work during the pandemic, employers need to prioritize 2SLGBTQ+ support to offer safe and inclusive workspaces. Lumentum, a multinational organization with offices in Ottawa, is an example of an employer hiring future-ready talent and embracing differences. Lumentum hires co-op students in research and development, process engineering and business analysts among others.
David Markin (he/him), manager algorithms and analytics, is a diversity, inclusion and belonging (DEI) lead at Lumentum. “Three years ago, we formed a diversity, inclusion and belonging council to build a more inclusive culture,” says Markin. “We have initiatives aimed at increasing gender diversity, women in leadership and hiring more early-career hires like new graduates. We want everyone to be their unique self at work.”
Recently, Markin supported two team members at Lumentum who transitioned to live as their true gender—one of whom was a Waterloo co-op alumnus. Realizing that there was not enough support for managers and team members to assist others in the process of transitioning, Markin worked with colleagues to champion creating a gender transition document to provide guidance. The document outlines terminology used in the 2SLGBTQ+ community, as well as dos and don’ts when communicating about gender identities.
Pride at work
Mia Beaudoin-Dion (she/her), a senior software engineer, transitioned while at Lumentum. Today, she is a champion of PRIDE events and DEI at the organization.
“We’re really trying to help people learn, but in a fun way. The genderbread person is an example of one communication we did,” she says. “We are not giving crash courses, but sharing through emails, conversations and stories. I shared my story just to make people aware that 2SLGBTQ+ people exist and are part of this company.”
Lumentum actively uses gender pronouns in email signatures, is implementing a gender-neutral bathroom, and shares information with employees about how to be a 2SLGBTQ+ ally. Part of being an ally, according to Beaudoin-Dion, is recognizing that we all have implicit prejudices.
“It is important to seek out information and not take anything for granted,” she says.
This is a continuous process and we do not have to do it all right now. Be ready to make mistakes and move on. I have seen people cling on to mistakes and try to justify them as much as possible,
we need to learn and say sorry. It is really a mind shift that takes a lot of humility.
- MIA BEAUDOIN-DION (SHE/HER), SENIOR SOFTWARE ENGINEER AT LUMENTUM
2SLGBTQ+ students' realities in the workplace
For co-op students, some of whom are entering the workplace for the first time, navigating gender identity, expression and sexual orientation can be a difficult situation. At the University of Waterloo, career advisors often discuss some of these issues with students while providing strategies to support them in their career.
Some students identifying as 2SLGBTQ+ people have fears of discrimination during the job search and of sharing their gender pronouns with potential employers. Students are also concerned about the possibility of being misgendered at work or have questions about what to wear in an interview to feel like their authentic selves. Students often worry about the ideal timing to share their 2SLGBTQ+ identity and whether it will hinder their application.
Like other organizations, the University has a lot of work to do in supporting 2SLGBQT+ students. Currently, career advisors are working towards incorporating trauma-informed care and a person-centered approach to their advising. The career advising team offers the following tips to employers:
Provide a welcoming environment:
Everything from recruitment practices, onboarding and dress codes to the language you use, gender-neutral washroom access and benefits packages, can make a difference in creating a welcoming environment for 2SLGBTQ+ employees. For example, an onboarding form that only has a tick-box option for male or female can make nonbinary students feel like they don’t belong.
Create awareness and training opportunities:
Educate teams and join member organizations like Pride at Work Canada to learn more and to make connections. The University’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism office recommends
the Gender Unicorn as a helpful resource.
While there are many laws in Canada that support inclusivity for the 2SLGTBQ+ community, there is still work to be done. Beaudoin-Dion encourages students to start a conversation with their employers as a step towards inclusivity.
Beaudoin-Dion encourages students to start a conversation with their employers. “Something that stopped me from being my own self was fear and anxiety. We hear so much in the news about what is happening in the United States for example, that are very scary for the 2SLGBTQ+ community,” she says. “We are lucky to live in a place where most people are aware, you can share, and say, ‘this is me’ and expect your employer to do the best they can. Start the conversation.”
For resources at Waterloo, please visit Pride at Waterloo and Campus Wellness Gender Affirmative Care.