So, you got a new job. You’re about a month in. So far, so good. You like the role’s day-to-day. You consider your pay to be fair and you have some pretty decent benefits.
By month two, you’re dealing with misogyny, homophobia, racism, and/or bigotry. It’s driving you mad. You may even be getting frustrated with yourself and asking, “How did I not see this before signing on the dotted line?”
All Too Relatable
Many queer people relate to the above in some form or another. There have been times where this has even led to individuals losing their jobs because they’re gay or transgender; despite the 2020 Supreme Court ruling.
There is a lot of reconstruction of society yet to be had to end this systemic issue of LGBTQIA+ targeted hate and discrimination in the workplace.
However, there are some steps you can take as a professional in sales, marketing, or other roles, to help vet out potential employers and minimize the chances of these obstacles ever existing for you in the workplace.
Read This Disclaimer Before We Continue, Okay?
I’m not a hiring expert. Additionally, I do not claim to be an expert on all-things LGBTQIA+ related. I also acknowledge that my own life experiences, identity (in various contexts in and out of being part of the LGBTQIA+ community), and upbringing mold my perspective as does everyone else’s. The purpose of this article is to suggest strategies that I have benefited from given my personal and professional life experiences as well as my opinion(s) on how to navigate the above challenges. Do what you wish with this information: but keep it productive and constructive. Let’s get into it:
Consider The Company’s Firmographics
Listen, not all of us want to work for a large enterprise like Google, Amazon, or Facebook. Equally, there are many people that would dread the thought of working in a small business with less than 50 employees or a hyper-growth, early stage startup with a small team and limited funding.
There are massive differences in the day-to-day experiences at these types of companies that make significant impacts on your career paths. With that said, it should be clear that the definition of how an organization thinks about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their company’s culture and processes is going to vary. There is more than one “right way” for companies to go about doing this. Before you start applying: Ask yourself which “right way(s)” is most important to you and your comfort level joining a new environment.
I work at a Series A software technology startup named Reprise that happens to have less than 75 employees at the time of writing this article. If I asked Jeffrey Hall, a recruiter at Reprise, questions about DEI and culture at Reprise and expected the same answer I would expect from Google: I’m setting us both up for failure.
Is Reprise going to have an incredibly large DEI budget compared to companies like Google, JP Morgan Chase, Facebook, Amazon, etc? Not anytime soon. Maybe one day. But, not now, for sure.
If I were applying at a larger company (like Google): best believe I would expect to hear a potentially more “scripted” or “process-oriented” response with references to internal resources groups and similar initiatives in contrast to the response I would expect to hear from Reprise.
Quick Comparison: Small vs Big
At a small company, as a gay man, all it takes is one homophobic coworker or leader to create a massive problem for me. However, if the company is small enough, statistically there’s a good chance I can dodge bigotry all together. With the stakes being so high on either end of this (it could go amazingly well or completely awful) -- I have to care a lot about the experiences of current employees as well as the reputation of the company’s leaders. I’ll even make an effort to do more digging online and request additional interview steps with current employees, if any.
At a big company, as a gay man, statistically there’s going to be some bigotry, unfortunately. We’re not yet at a place in society where a company with 1,000+ employees can say with confidence that all of their employees are not homophobic. With that said, however, there should be a reasonable expectation that the majority of leadership (if not all) and of my coworkers would be allies of the LGBTQ+ community. So, one homophobe is potentially less of an impact due to the sheer size of the internal support that a big company can provide. With this in mind, at a big company, I expect to hear a lot about DEI processes, initiatives, and track records of successful initiatives, both internally and externally. Also, if it feels scripted: it’s probably because they get asked the question even more often: so, I’ll let that slide a little.
Interviewing with Smaller Companies Is Tricky
Let’s say you’re interested in working at a smaller company or an early stage tech startup. You’ve gone through the self-discovery motion mentioned in the disclaimer. What does this practice look or sound like in reality?
In my experience, being direct and vague will often provide the best test of the employer’s true authenticity and prioritization on anything DEI related. In every single interview, I would ask the same question, nearly verbatim.
“As an openly gay, polyamorous man with PTSD and a strong care for all things anti-racism, DEI is incredibly important to me in any employer-employee dynamic. Can you speak to me about DEI at your company?”
I have some friends that totally changed that first sentence; which is fine. They prefer to be a bit more discreet about their gender identity at first. Here’s a talk path a friend of mine uses to source similar information.
“I care greatly about all things anti-racism, LGBTQIA+ rights, and overall equality and equity. With that said, DEI is incredibly important to me in any employer-employee dynamic. Can you speak to me about DEI at your company?”
With smaller companies, I expect answers about the mission of the company as well as its history with DEI. I also expect candidness about their limitations with DEI: such as DEI-specific budget or concrete figures about the number of resources they have. (i.e. groups, dollars, initiatives, events, action items, previously, ongoing, and planned) I also hope to hear these things in the form of a story and not a script.
Big Companies: What To Do & Expect
Reader. You’re not me. So there’s a good chance that you want to work at a larger company, for whatever reason.
You’re in luck! Big companies have budgets for DEI Initiatives that enable them to make a lot of this information readily available online. Check and see if they have a person that specializes in DEI via their company website or LinkedIn page. Additionally, I recommend you ask a similar question above while being prepared to hear a more “scripted” answer with plenty of numbers to back it up.
I Repeat: There’s More Than One Way
It goes without saying that there are plenty of caveats left uncovered here: being part of multiple marginalized identity groups, industry, education, abilities, skills, talents, passions, self-awareness, life experiences, goals, and even the obvious need to pay the bills.
I encourage readers to leverage peer-to-peer communities like RevGenius. There are various DEI-related resource groups (such as RevGenius’s #pride channel in Slack) where you can network and pick-the-brains of other LGBTQIA+ professionals about their experiences vetting employers. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and leverage the experiences of people who have been in your shoes.
Additionally, I recommend you follow folks like Madison Butler and myself, Evan Patterson, on LinkedIn for more conversations and resources surrounding being LGTQIA+ in the workplace.