Throughout the United States gay, lesbian and bisexual employees of hundreds of companies, not-for-profits and governments are coming together to form organizations to provide peer support, work toward obtaining equitable benefits, and help their employers create supportive workplace environments. Thousands more people are individually working with their companies toward these goals.
At the present time this movement is exploding, with more groups in formation now than in previous years combined!
Groups often begin as informal social networks. One or two people invite gays, lesbians and bisexuals they know at work to join them for monthly lunch get-togethers. The group begins to grow via word-of-mouth. Some groups choose to remain at this stage.
Most groups move on to the next stage, becoming more formal. New participants
are sought, an organization structure is created, business meetings are held,
and contacts with management are made. Some groups are able to become officially
recognized by their companies and to gain participation on diversity
Finding new participants can be a challenge. To expand beyond the word-of-mouth network, groups have had success placing classified ads and calendar items in the local gay newspapers. They'll advertise a meeting, picnic, or dinner at a restaurant (generally an off-site event to respect participants who aren't ready to be out at work). Depending on the "outness" of the group's organizers, the ads might list a home phone number, or a P.O. box or voicemail phone number.
Internal electronic mail and the Internet provide efficient communications and networking. Some groups have put up posters on company bulletin boards announcing events, with varying responses.
In the increasingly supportive business environment, most groups have successfully met with management, and talked to their company's human resources personnel, and workplace diversity committee or manager. Generally they have found support there. Placing an announcement about the group in the company newspaper or diversity newsletter is sometimes approved and can generate publicity and new members. Note that this can bring out negative responses; if so, point out to management that the presence of anti-gay feelings is evidence that these issues need to be addressed, not run away from.
Out at Work (Or Not) has literature with further suggestions on how to find new members and how to use the Internet for networking.
Communication within the group is generally achieved via company email or voicemail. Officially these systems are for approved business use only, but many companies will agree that creating an employee support group is a legitimate business use; in any event, companies don't usually monitor usage, though legally they can.
Networking with other groups, especially in your own industry, provides ideas, encouragement and resources. National and regional umbrella groups such as Out at Work (Or Not) can connect you with other groups, perhaps even with other people at your company who are also interested in working on these issues. The Internet is an especially effective way to network.
As an example, Out at Work (Or Not) has an extensive library of articles and studies about gay employee groups, diversity/sensitivity training, domestic partnership (including sample policies), etc.
If your industry is unionized, be sure to ask your union for support. In many cases they have been extremely strong allies!
Polls show that most Americans favor equal rights for gays when it is presented as a fairness issue. Point out to management that youre asking for gay employees to be able to work in an environment that is equally as comfortable and supportive as it is for other employees. Company benefits should be equally available for all employees.
We recommend approaching management in a way that matches your individual company's culture. Some companies pride themselves on being socially responsible. They might effectively be approached about the contribution they could make to improving society.
Many more companies are best approached with a business case--why will
becoming a supportive workplace for lesbigay employees improve their business
strength? Fortunately, much work has been done to answer that question. Some
Use language that your individual company values--frame your discussion in terms of total quality management, respect for the individual, best people/best practices, etc. Stress that your goal is to help the company be even more successful--that you are working with them for the same goals. Adversarial approaches are not recommended.
Seek buy-in from senior executives or others who are the influencers and decision-makers at your workplace. Developing non-gay allies is essential.
Groups often choose to work toward domestic partnership benefits and the inclusion of lesbigay concerns in diversity training programs. Having the company include lesbigay charities in their corporate giving, and endorsing workplace-related gay rights legislation are goals of some more advanced groups. Intervening in discrimination complaints is generally something that Human Resources needs to handle; employee groups don't often get involved with, but they may be called upon as a general resource.
Eventually you might face issues such as:
Networking with other groups facing similar issues can generate ideas and provide encouragement.
Lesbigay employee resource groups often begin as informal social networks. One or two people invite gays, lesbians and bisexuals they know at work to join them for monthly lunch get-togethers. The group begins to grow via word-of-mouth. But most groups look for means to find additional participants. Be sure to respect your participants' differing levels of outness--be clear that your group respects confidentiality and personal choice. And don't forget to encourage supportive non-gay co-workers to join the group!
In the increasingly supportive business environment, most groups have successfully met with management, and talked to their company's human resource personnel, and workplace diversity committee or manager. You might then be allowed to place an announcement about the group in the company newspaper or diversity newsletter. Note that this can bring out negative responses; if this happens, point out to management that the presence of anti-gay feelings is evidence that these issues need to be addressed, not run away from.
Depending on the physical set-up, consider putting posters in the lunchroom, coffee rooms, or other locations. These, too, might generate negative responses. The company might agree to set up a voice mailbox for the group so you don't have to use an individual's phone number.
Online resources like company electronic bulletins boards, email, and web pages work well, if available/approved for your use. Some companies have a set up for classified ads/announcements.
If you can join the diversity council and actively work with representatives of other employee groups and management, referrals might be sent to you. Contact the Employee Assistance Program, and all Human Resource people if there's a good way to do that (their departmental email distributions, perhaps), so that these professionals know you're there and can refer people to you.
If other employee groups sometimes have displays or presentations (e.g., during Black History Month) that's a good way to spread the word and raise visibility. Pride Week in June or Gay History Month in October would be good times for that. If information about other employee groups is given to new hires, make sure information about your group is included too.
Note: Communication within employee groups is generally achieved via company email or voicemail. Officially these systems are for approved business use only, but many companies will agree that creating an employee support group is a legitimate business use; in any event, companies don't usually monitor usage, though legally they can.
Try to have a non-electronic alternative for communicating with people who don't have email. This is especially important in industries such as manufacturing, where large numbers of employees don't have computers.
It can be helpful to publicize your group outside the company. Your lesbigay co-workers or their friends might see this publicity. This may be your only means of publicizing the group if the company's normal means of communications are closed to you.
Groups have had success placing press releases, classified ads, calendar items, and community directory listings in local gay newspapers. They'll advertise the groups existence and perhaps a meeting, picnic, or dinner at a restaurant (generally an off-site event to respect participants who aren't ready to be out at work). Depending on the "outness" of the groups organizers, the ads might list a home phone number, or a P.O. box or voicemail phone number.
Lesbigay publications Clout! Business Report and Victory! Magazine do regular features about employee groups, and occasionally the mainstream media does too. Out at Work (Or Not) is often the group the media calls first and we put them in touch with people at companies, so if youre interested in this, let us know so we can pass on your name when opportunities arise.
Place announcements at on-line locations such as workplace bulletin boards on America Online, or create a web site.
Trade journals or union newspapers that cover your industry might run information.
Consider marching in the Pride Parade or having a table at a Pride event. Some companies will allow their employees groups to represent the company at events like this; other groups must present themselves as an unofficial group of employees, and not use the company logo.
Note: You might choose to run these external publicity opportunities like these past your management contacts for approval. If your relationship with them is good enough and the company is open to publicity, they may let you officially speak to the press. On the other hand, groups that have reason to believe they might be denied permission sometimes use the "better to ask forgiveness than permission" strategy. Large companies probably subscribe to a clippings service that looks for press mentions of the company, but gay newspapers probably are not included--the company will probably never know if a group is mentioned in a community newspaper.
Networking with other groups, especially in your own industry, provides
ideas, encouragement and resources. National and regional umbrella groups
such as Out at Work (Or Not) can connect you with other groups, perhaps even
with other people at your company who are also interested in working on these
(Last update: 27 April 1996)
Out at Work (Or Not) provides networking, resources and support for gay/lesbian/ bisexual employee groups, employees and the general business community. For further information, please contact us at email@example.com.
Copyright 1996 Out at Work (Or Not). May be reproduced with attribution.
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