Celebrating Pride: A brief Q&A from members of the SmartBear LGBTQIA+ Community

  June 22, 2023

With June being Pride Month, we asked members of the SmartBear LGBTQIA+ community some thought-provoking questions around topics such as inclusion, allyship, and more. You can find insights below from Tim Sroka, Lesly Nerette, Ally Drouin, Matt Runkle, Sophie Carr, Stephanie Manzelli, and Dermot Canniffe.

How can we foster an atmosphere of inclusion at work? Specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community?

Tim: Questions are always free. Ask folks who openly identify as a part of the community what they think inclusion means for them. Most importantly, when you do ask – ask with curiosity and empathy. Beyond this very direct and tactical approach, I encourage folks to adopt the mindset of a kindergartner. Ask yourself, “If I were 5 or 6 years old, what would I say, what would I ask, how would I approach people?” While this may seem silly to play out, it’s a powerful exercise to engage in as it helps us as adults – influenced by years of socialization – to clear the proverbial “baggage” that is ingrained behaviors, thoughts, ways of asking questions, etc. Clearing all that “baggage” helps us enter social interactions with a tabula rasa, making us rely on inherent curiosity to learn, listen, and build new habits that will support inclusive thinking, writing, communication, etc.

Lesly: Showing up as an ally and educating oneself as to what the LGBTQIA+ community embodies. We’re all so vastly different, so being sure to be accepting and aware of gender identity, sexual orientation, and alike would go a long way.

Sophie: Normalize having pronouns listed in bios, signatures etc. This is most effective when led by ELT. Obviously, it should not be enforced though.

Stephanie: Being a silent ally isn’t enough, as HR professionals, we should each be focusing on:

  • Not just implementing equality training, but prioritizing the understanding, empathy, and respect of the community to ensure we dispel any biases.
  • Not just creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ employees, but establishing a platform for networking, supporting, and advocating in the workplace.
  • Not just implementing equitable policies but ensuring that all policies are gender-neutral.
  • Not just ensuring there are benefits in place for employees but ensuring that there are coverages that include gender-affirming treatments, mental health support, and additional support services for counseling or assistance with legal issues.
  • Not just encouraging open dialogue in the workplace, but by truly supporting the local and global communities that your organization is part of.

But most importantly, it’s important that leaders lead by example. We should all actively demonstrate our commitment setting an example of acceptance, respect, and understanding. Leaders can encourage employees at all levels to embrace these values.

Dermot: I consider this an extension of how best to treat anyone – be respectful and involve people in conversations, particularly conversations that impact them. For people from the LGBTQIA+ community, this might include using preferred pronouns, inclusive language in general, and – most importantly – standing up on issues that impact our colleagues.

How has your LGBTQIA+ identity shaped your goals and strengths; what obstacles have been presented to you?  What advice would you have for anyone coming into a career in tech?

Tim: I grew up in a part of the U.S. where it’s still possible to be fired from a job for being gay. The strengths and behavioral tools I’ve honed all focus on being able to context switch – quickly and often so as to appear like the folks I’m interacting with. I found that if I acted, talked, and generally seemed like the folks who might discriminate against me, then I wouldn’t be discriminated against. Yup – that’s sad, and it took me years to understand that my ability to context switch helped me to manage multiple projects, programs, etc. in order to understand what’s going on quickly, and help folks at work focus and excel. It’s been fabulous to turn something that is a rather sad behavior into something that I can use as a professional skill. My advice to anyone in the community wanting to enter the tech sector: LGBTQIA+ folks have so many strengths; look at what you had to or have overcome and use it to your advantage.

Lesly: Acclimating to a corporate space/tech space has been interesting for me for sure. It’s so predominantly masculine and can oftentimes be one view, but bringing my personality and experiences to the floor have helped me become a successful (or, soon to be) salesman. My advice to any other queer individual is to bring yourself and everything else workwise will follow!

Ally: It has shaped my goals and strengths by not letting people’s opinions hold me back from what I feel is best for myself. Some advice is to be yourself and don’t let anything or anyone get in your way of going for things you know you can accomplish.

Matt: This is a great (and difficult!) question because there are so many direct and indirect impacts resulting from one’s identity. Discovering and accepting yourself as LGBTQIA+ can be a long and intensely personal process. Once I fully embraced myself as gay, it was liberating! I’m far more confident in myself and much more open with my loved ones. But the process of understanding who I am also helped build a strong ability to problem solve, a drive to get things done, and a curiosity to understand the “why” behind things.

Sophie: I’ve noticed that people treat me differently as a woman in a tech role than before when I presented as male. I am sometimes taken less seriously in my role until I’ve “proved” myself in some way.

Stephanie: Growing up in this community taught me that true bias is not always overt and that subtle commentary needs to be addressed AND educated. I also learned that change isn’t a light switch, belief structures are embedded in us from a very early age, and as much grace and education we can support others with, will push the inclusivity forward faster. I’ve personally seen members of the LGBTQIA+ community hide who they are to excel in their career – some ensuring their identity was hidden from their peers and leadership up until retirement. Watching this happen from an early age shaped my vigilance to support the community in the workplace.

What are some ways you show or can show your allyship to the LGBTQ community?

Tim: Allyship is simple – just be a human who cares for other humans. At the same time, I think it’s important to understand some “do not’s” as an ally:

  • Say, “Yassssss, kweeeen” this month or really at any time.
  • Tell your LGTBQIA+ friend, coworker, etc. that you know another person in the community and that they should go on a date with them or be their best friends.
  • Assume gendered works roles (I get this all the time when folks ask if my partner is a nurse when they find out he’s in the medical field – nope, he’s a PA).
  • Assume we all watch and or are raving fans of Drag Race (drag is fun, but it’s not all we’re into); this goes for a lot more too, including fashion, fine art, dancing, etc.
  • Think I have no family or define my family as a nuclear one.

Lesly: A few ways you can be an ally is by respecting pronouns and other queer terminology, treating the LGBTQ community like regular people because we are, educating yourself, and speaking up for the community when necessary/needed.

Ally: Just don't be homophobic! (Lol, just kidding) You can show your allyship by educating yourself and just making sure you are kind and treat all your peers the same no matter if they are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community or not.

Matt: Simply being there as a good friend and colleague is the best allyship. Treating your LGBTQIA+ peers as you would any other helps to normalize “being out” and reduces prejudice. Great allies also speak up, both in public and private settings, to curb homophobia and transphobia (e.g., off-color jokes, social media posts).

Sophie: I try to make myself open and available to anyone that genuinely wants to understand aspects of the queer community, particularly the trans experience.

Stephanie: Everything above!! But more than that, I provide career and personal coaching to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. I support same sex couples in the adoption process and advocate for equality. I believe it’s important for people to see someone in my position, with my upbringing, thriving. I also ensure that my children understand families come in all shapes and sizes, and that we don’t get to have an opinion on what that looks like.

Dermot: Showing up – be vocal about being an LGBTQ ally, but words alone are not enough. Show up, be present, and push for equal rights when needed.

Are there any resources, nonprofits, etc. in particular that you recommend people check out this Pride Month?

Tim: My favorite: The Trevor Project - https://www.thetrevorproject.org/. Being a child, teen, and young adult is complicated, convoluted, and often isolating in today’s hyperconnected world where vitriol is ever-present; this is the case even more so because these populations are actively trying to define who they are and where they want to go. Trevor Project does a fabulous job at providing support to folks in these age groups who are seeking the love, guidance, and support they may not be getting as LGBTQIA+ members.

Matt: I really love the work done by the Trevor Project to help LGBTQ youth. It’s a lifeline for many. Also, given the huge increase in discriminatory legislation popping up around the country, Lambda Legal is another great organization.

Sophie: Stonewall Community Foundation has a lot of resources and training, and is an established charity.

Stephanie: 2023 Pride is a very visible month, and it’s easy to forget the road that was paved by those before us. An organization that I support in all ways that I am able, is SAGE. This group does so many incredible things, but the places that resonate most with me are their fierce advocacy for LQBTQ+ elders and people living with HIV. They create a platform for and promote allyship, activism, and policy change.

Dermot: Here in Ireland, BeLonG To Youth Services is a charity organization that supports LGBTQ youth between 14 and 23 years. In the UK, Mermaids is a charity that supports trans youth.

Lastly, how will you be celebrating Pride Month? How can we keep up awareness all year long?

Tim: Pride is a state of mind – not just a month. I celebrate 24/7-365, year-round, and I’ll do so until I can’t. Be it creating an employee resource group to support LGBTQIA+ employees or just remembering to not default to cis-gender, heteronormative phrases, terms, etc. at work, keeping up awareness simply boils down to caring for each other like you want to be cared for.

Lesly: I’m celebrating Pride Month with all of my queer friends! Branching out into the community and connecting with other queer individuals has been the best part of this month and year for me. However, to keep awareness of the LGBTQ community year long, we just have to keep showing up as we do to live in our truth! For allies, just your support is enough! June isn’t the only time to love on the community­čśŐ.

Sophie: For me, Pride Month is less about celebrating and more about recognizing the activists that fought for the rights of the LGBT community, remembering those that didn’t live to see the rights and visibility we are lucky enough to enjoy now, and importantly, to make it clear that our fight is nowhere near over. LGBTQIA+ rights are currently under attack and the Transgender community are at the forefront of the current attacks. The first Pride was the Stonewall riot. We all need to remember that we had to fight tooth and nail for every concession to gain even the most basic rights, and not to get complacent. As for year-round awareness, spreading awareness of the fact that queer people are still being discriminated against, attacked, and killed. People not in the community are often under the assumption that the fight LGBT rights is over, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Stephanie: Pride revolves around establishing an environment that allows for the creation of a supportive culture, nurturing allyship, and fostering inclusion. It recognizes that when individuals can bring their authentic selves to their social groups and to work without experiencing shame, the possibilities for professional achievements and collaboration within their organization become boundless.

A big thank you to all who participated in this Q&A and provided insights into the ways we can support the LGBTQIA+ community each day. Although we dedicate the month of June to Pride, we want to keep the dialogue going throughout the year.