8 Lessons I Have Learned as a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant
STORY INLINE POST
In November 2013, a friend asked me to do something I was not sure I was ready for: speak at a corporate event at his workplace. The place was Dow’s Mexico City office. The occasion was the launch of GLAD, the local chapter of the company's employee resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ) and ally employees, of which he was a leader. And the task was to share an overview of the state of human rights for LGBTQ people in Mexico and the world in 30 minutes.
Activists tend to speak a lot. We’re intense. We’re passionate. How do you sum up everything people must hear about the achievements, challenges and discrimination a community faces in only half an hour?
By that time, I had been involved in LGBTQ rights advocacy for six years: I came out as gay at 19, joined the LGBTQ student group at Universidad de las Américas Puebla, and began writing a column on the LGBTQ movement for the school newspaper. I interned at a government agency and a nonprofit organization in New York and started to collaborate as a blogger (a word that now sounds almost ancient) and analyst for mainstream media whenever they covered LGBTQ stories.
I felt pretty confident about my knowledge of what I was going to talk about. But this was a new setting with an unfamiliar audience for me. And the diversity and inclusion narrative that so many brands take part of today did not have so much traction in Mexico yet.
The event at Dow was a success. Since then, I have collaborated with 59 Mexican and international companies as an adviser or speaker on diversity and LGBTQ+ inclusion; Human Rights Campaign certified 242 businesses in Mexico in 2021 for their workplace inclusion practices; and the Pride Connection Mexico network has 175 member organizations. Here are eight lessons I want to share from working to engage the private sector as an LGBTQ+ champion in Latin America:
1. Employees are leading the transformation. I have heard so many LGBTQ+ people point out how opportunistic it seems that so many brands are “suddenly” supporting our community publicly, participating in Pride Marches or putting out rainbow-themed products in June (Pride Month). From what I can tell, those public displays of support come after a long trajectory of promoting diversity and inclusion within the company, and that is the result of LGBTQ+ employees raising their hands and volunteering (usually on top of their actual roles) to lead the transformation of their workplace. And by leading those efforts, employees are effectively becoming activists. However, I do think there is an opportunity for brands to communicate this side of the story externally.
2. You can always be more inclusive. Perhaps the words “diversity,” “inclusion,” “equality” or “nondiscrimination” have not even been mentioned in your company. Or maybe you work for an organization that has decades of pioneering work on diversity and inclusion. No matter the stage you are at, there is always a next step to be more inclusive: support a nonprofit organization, invite your suppliers to become inclusive businesses, measure the impact of your diversity policy, start a mentorship program or adopt a more intersectional approach to inclusion.
3. Nothing about us without us. I have witnessed enough cases of good intentions that go wrong to tell you that, whether you’re reviewing an internal policy or developing a marketing strategy, if you have a specific community at the center of that action (women, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, older adults … you name it) they have to participate in the process. Avoid the mistake of not asking them what they want, what they need, what worries them, what they care about, and what excites them.
4. Discrimination has not disappeared in companies that have fought against it for decades. You can talk about diversity and inclusion during your onboarding process. You can have employee resource groups for various communities. You can offer unconscious bias trainings every year. Unfortunately, none of this guarantees the end of discrimination at a company. It does often guarantee that, when discrimination happens, people will know that they can speak up and there will be consequences, and the company will be better prepared to act on it.
5. We are way behind on trans inclusion. Maybe you haven’t heard but Mexico is one of the most violent countries for trans people, particularly trans women. This is linked to the structural exclusion that affects this community. If you want to be an LGBTQ+ inclusive organization, you need to think of actions to specifically address the inclusion of trans workers.
6. Allies. The role of allies is key to achieve inclusion. If you’re a straight person in a leadership position, ask LGBTQ+ people to take part in discussions about diversity and inclusion. If you’re not a person living with a disability, share information about people who do. Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about privilege and the lack thereof. Do your part to let the unheard voices be heard louder. And don’t only speak up in favor of members of a minority when they are there to witness it. Do it when they’re not in the room, too.
7. Inclusion is a trend, but it goes beyond that. CNN anchor Richard Quest articulated it well: "my work is better since coming out." It has a positive impact on people who belong to communities that have been historically marginalized. As sad as it may be, a job is sometimes the first place where an LGBTQ+ person feels seen, respected, valued for who they are. Inclusion helps people perform better, motivates them to stay at a job and build a career at the company that treats them well. It fosters self-confidence, innovation, and creativity. There is a business case for it.
8. And companies who resist that trend are already years behind. So, catch up.
Torre Molina is an international LGBTQ+ activist, speaker and consultant for private companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and media. He co-founded Colmena 41, co-created the Mafia Gay podcast, and collaborates with media such as The Washington Post opinion section. He lives in Mexico City.