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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-12-13



Pride 365 event emphasizes year-round support for LGBTQ+ employees
by Lu Calzada

This article shared 11718 times since Thu Mar 7, 2024
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Queer employees are queer all year-round. The need for employers to accordingly support and uplift them year-round was the core message at Howard Brown Health and Citywide Pride's Pride 365 "Out of Office to Out in Office" event March 6. Business leaders, queer employees and their allies gathered at offices of the real estate investment firm Heitman that day, to learn both how to better support employees through resource groups and share experiences of their own.

Keynote speaker Mony Ruiz-Velasco, deputy director of Equality Illinois, first offered anecdotes from her life as a queer cis woman from Mexico and her experiences in the workplace. The main panel discussion featured employees involved in LGBTQ+ resource groups at the companies of Heitman, Grainger and Zurich as they shared tips, tricks and overall experiences in the groups.

One of the main takeaways from the event was the importance of enlisting support from higher-ups within a company—something each of the panelists reported personal positive experiences with. Caitlin Sutherland, a Zurich employee who also works with Citywide Pride, said that support is key for making sure employees feel comfortable attending events and feeling supported company-wide.

"I took it upon myself to do some social media marketing, like in Slack," she said of her resource group's beginnings. "We worked to get exec buy-in, because you need it. It's from the top down."

When it comes to recruiting for employee resource groups, Kelly O'Brien from Grainger said his company includes the option to opt in for information in their company's onboarding process. Others, such as Linda Humphrey from Heitman, said her group uses fun activities such as raffles for prizes from LGBTQ+ businesses to attract members.

Overall, the consensus was it's important to take the pressure off employees—especially new ones—to reach out and find resource groups by readily having that information easily accessible in a public Slack channel or new hire process. New execs can help by actively promoting events. This also reaches employees who may not be publicly out, but want to know about workplace opportunities for community.

Once members are involved, O'Brien said his group continues to check in regularly to make sure the group is providing what they need.

"We do a survey every year," he said. "'Hey, ERG members, what do you want out of this?' And some of that has been community engagement and visibility."

That has in turn led outside partnerships for each of the companies' LGBTQ resource groups. Some experiences put forth by panelists include inviting speakers in, providing happy hours followed by fashion shows or doing volunteer work with local groups like Howard Brown Health. O'Brien said that, through further education, his group has also been on the forefront of creating policy change at his company, making sure benefits accurately reflect the diverse life experiences LGBTQ folks have.

Each company representative, and also some audience members, spoke on how their group is supported within their company—DEI officers or other related positions help with budgeting or simply providing safe spaces for people to talk about societal issues, for example.

If employers or allies are feeling overwhelmed early on, Sutherland said it's important for them not to worry, since these initiatives start small. If five people show up to a meeting or event, the group is still serving an important purpose to those five employees.

Humphrey also stressed the importance of finding smaller actions that can make a difference in the workplace—in her case, that meant handing out LGBTQ-related stickers, which employees said helped make them feel safe when they saw another employee wearing them.

"There's relatively small and easy things you can do that have a big impact on your employees," she said. "There's little ways you can get started right away."

This article shared 11718 times since Thu Mar 7, 2024
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