By: Christie Zeb

Inclusive workplaces are good for people, organizations and economies.

To recognize 2SLGBTQIA+ communities this Pride month, the Work-Learn Institute (WxL) hosted a Future Ready Workforce Series event. The webinar focused on building inclusive workplaces for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

David Drewery (he/him), associate director of WxL, hosted the event and was joined by speakers from Ciena and the YMCA:

  • Beck Mallozzi (she/they) 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion and diversity worker, Immigrant Services, YMCA of Three Rivers
  • Andy Winter (she/her), global director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Ciena
  • Brittany Koa (she/her), external communications associate, Ciena
  • Robin Sheng (she/her), software test engineer, Ciena
Future-ready workforce series speakers during the event on June 5

Future-ready workforce series speakers: Brittany Koa (top left), David Drewery (top middle), Beck Mallozzi (top right), Andy Winter (bottom left) and Robin Sheng (bottom right)

The presentation and discussion stemmed from insights shared by LGBTQ students in WxL research about creating inclusive workplaces. In that research, students shared that they could not be their authentic selves at work. Instead, they masked aspects of their identity during recruitment and in the workplace.

Students told us that organizational cultures continue to stigmatize LGBTQ+ identities. Which negatively impacts their sense of belonging, their work engagement, their learning outcomes, their relationships with various employers and their career paths.

David Drewery, associate director of WxL

The panelists agreed that insights from this research indicate more needs to be done to ensure workplaces are inclusive and employers need to be intentional about fostering inclusion.

Here are five key insights shared by the panelists:

1) Build communities

Organizations of all sizes can give LGBTQ+ workers a sense of belonging and create a safe space by setting up a range of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Ciena is a networking systems software company and co-op employer. The company’s ERGs have improved employee retention and created a more inclusive environment.

Nine people connected by a web

“If you have individuals with similar interests and desires, you can create that space within your company. It does not require massive budgets or tons of people. You just start on a small scale and build,” said Andy Winter.

Ciena’s ERGs cover a range of interests and communities including, Pride at Ciena, Asian at Ciena and Next at Ciena ─ which is built for interns, co-op students and new graduates.

“It's very nice because being new in your career, it's so nice to have people in the same place as you and you can talk about how you have no idea what you're doing. It's just awesome,” said Koa, who started her career at Ciena as a co-op student.

2) Be authentic

In the WxL research on creating inclusive workplaces, LGBTQ+ co-op students revealed that interpersonal dynamics were at the heart of what made for an inclusive workplace.

The panelists highlighted the importance of being authentic. They explained that authenticity in this case included showing up for LGBTQ workers and being a part of the conversation. Making inclusion a lived experience can help create a safe space for people to be themselves in the workplace.

Two hands shaking with arrows around them

“I would never feel comfortable in a job where I have to not talk about myself because I don't feel comfortable,” said Mallozzi. “That's a huge part of what will make me want to stay at a job: Can I talk to my co-workers about myself?”

3) Create structures to connect during recruitment

Potential employees, especially students, are looking for companies with great cultures when considering employment options. Like all employees, those who identify as LGBTQ+ will research and ask questions to ensure they find a great fit, one where they’ll feel included.

magnifying glass looking at two employers with a data chart

For employers recruiting new staff, creating a structure of transparency and connecting with interviewees is important. The cultural ambassador program is one strategy Ciena uses to connect with potential employees.

The program allows potential candidates to meet with full-time employees as part of their recruitment process. Beyond meeting with the hiring committee, candidates can book short meetings with employees in the group they might join to get their perspectives.

“They are employees within Ciena who can give you the tea, give you the real deal about what it's like to work at this company. And particularly, what it's like to work at this company if you're in a certain group,” said Winter.

4) Listen to employees

Building an inclusive workplace begins with knowing and listening to employees. What do they want? What are they talking about? What will make them feel included?

Ciena gets ideas for some of its ERGs from employee feedback and conversations.

“I think leaning on the thoughts and the ideas of employees who come into our organization and understanding their experience helps us think ‘we can do something about that’ or ‘we can put something in place’,” said Winter.

Person pointing to an ear

5) Make it an ongoing conversation

Inclusion is not a one-off event – like hoisting the Pride flag during Pride month and returning to business once the month is over.

“At the YMCA, we have JAID, which stands for justice, access, inclusion, diversity and equity. Their whole job is to talk about how to become more inclusive and supportive for every group within the organization,” said Mallozi.

Three chat bubbles stacked on top of eachother

JAID at the YMCA of Three Rivers sends monthly internal newsletters highlighting events and updates across different groups. The JAID also hold workshops and training for leaders. Making inclusion an ongoing conversation is a step in the right direction for organizations trying to build inclusion.