During Pride Month 2022, not only did I end up with keynote bookings in the double digits, but I also noticed that the energy was a bit different from last year. It appeared that people were finally willing to have nuanced conversations with employees who have multiple, diverse, intersectional identities. Considering that I even sensed this energy shift amongst “beginners,” it feels like we might be finally taking a few steps forward. In this article, I will discuss why I believe this and how your organization can maintain momentum. I’ll also reveal the most profound questions and answers that came up this year.
The Relationship Between Intersectionality and Pride Month
Pride Month is a great time to talk about intersectionality because it gives us an opportunity to fully step into our DEIB commitments by acknowledging that LGBTQ+ people are present in virtually every identity group. Every ethnicity, age group, gender, religion, etc. has LGBTQ+ folks, whether they are visible or not. In a nutshell, intersectionality is “a lens for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.” The term came about in the late ‘80s to describe the double-bind of racism and sexism that Black women face. People with more than one marginalized identity tend to face some exclusion in every group that they’re in, causing them to feel like they don’t completely belong in either environment—for instance, being one of the only Black member of an LGBTQ+ ERG or the only queer member of a Women’s ERG.
Most people have learned to treat intersectional identities as the exception to the rule. We focus on what we have in common and gravitate toward others who are most like ourselves. We make decisions that we believe will benefit the largest number of people. However, leaders are starting to recognize just how many people get left behind when they make decisions based on assumptions and generalizations. It’s the people with intersectional identities who get stuck with the consequences of these misinformed decisions.
I was thrilled to hear people asking questions about intersectionality during my Pride keynotes. I’ll share the most common questions that came up and how I answered them in the next section.
Most Memorable Keynote Questions + My Answers
Q: Regarding intersectionality, as a straight Black man, how I can be more supportive of others?
A: I love that this question came up in one of my larger keynotes. The employee was asking how to be more inclusive as a straight, cisgender, Black male. There are many ways you can do this but I focused on one – to always operate through a lens of intersectionality in everything that you do. This would include everything from employee resource groups you’re involved in to general community groups outside of work. As an example, I was recently in a board meeting for an organization that serves people of color. Most of the board is also made up of people of color as well. While we were discussing our next event, one of the board members asked how we can be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ folks going forward. It seemingly came out of nowhere but I think Pride Month was the inspiration and we proceeded to have a productive dialogue. Simply pointing out intersectional identities that may be left out goes a really long way.
Q: How should you approach Pride month if you have a large population in a country that doesn’t widely accept queer people?
A: During Pride Month, I spoke at several global companies. One was particularly concerned about how the keynote might be received as they had a large presence in India, a country that they described as “much different” from the US when it comes to LGBTQ+ acceptance. For clients like this, I usually suggest that we either focus on allyship or belonging. Allyship is a useful skill that I find people generally are interested in. Belonging is essential for all human beings, so focusing on why we all have a desire to belong and how this relates to Pride Month is usually well received. In all cases, I met the audiences where they were.
Q: How can an individual contributor create a culture of belonging without the support of their boss?
A: This question came up in almost every talk. As mentioned in Leading Below the Surface, I first ask everyone to acknowledge what choices they make every day at work. We make more decisions than we think! And, at the most basic level, all of us make daily decisions about how we want to show up. The three prongs of Below the Surface Leadership are empathy, psychological safety, and REAL leadership values (being Relatable, Equitable, Aware, and Loyal). These are the same behaviors that enable us to create cultures of belonging. How can you access more empathy in your day-to-day interactions? What are a couple of actions you can take to create more psychological safety on your teams? How can you be more relatable to people who are different from you? If you need more help on action items, sign up for our 30-day below the surface leadership challenge.
Q: How can an individual create psychological safety if it’s not driven by a manager?
A: Psychological safety is something that needs to constantly be re-created, and it might fluctuate depending on the situation. For instance, you may feel safe sharing something with one colleague, but not another. Or maybe you feel 100% safe speaking up on your team but an organizational change causes you to suddenly revert back to silence. Every individual can contribute to the psychological safety of their environment by actively calling people into conversations, sharing unsafe observations with the team, exploring what safety looks like to other team members, and practicing P2B (Person to Belonging) listening to discern who may not be feeling silenced.
If you’re looking for some specific ways to advocate for your LGBTQ+ coworkers, sign up for our Allyship Challenge today! For a deeper look at how to create a culture of belonging, order my book Leading Below the Surface.