Dr. Steve Yacovelli is a leadership consultant who has worked with nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies, and large state universities. As owner of TopDog Learning Group, he is a member of The Pride Chamber, the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce of Orlando, Florida and a certified member of the NGLCC’s LGBTBE.
In Yacovelli’s new book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to Be the King Or Queen of Their Jungle, he lays out six leadership traits that can increase LGBTQ business leaders’ effectiveness, as well as strategies for dealing with LGBTQ bias in the workplace. In this excerpt from Chapter 9, Yacovelli lets you know how to tell when a business can be made more LGBTQ-inclusive, and when it’s smarter to cut your losses.
Hey LGBTQ+ Leader: Should You Even TRY to Change the Org Culture?
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
As an LGBTQ+ Leader, you have the skill and the passion to help facilitate change. But should you? That’s a wonderful and really thought-provoking question. And my first reaction: focus on that during your mindfulness exercises (covered in the following chapter). Seriously; if your organizational culture is really uninclusive to our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, that’s a lot of work in addition to your day job. Ask yourself: do you want to fight or fly from the challenge?
I — Steve — will absolutely not answer that one for you; that’s a very personal decision, weighing a lot of variables, ideas, and considerations. But I will share an idea to help you think through the situation as best as you can. This is in two parts: (1) understand what you have in relationship to an inclusive organizational culture; then (2) determine how/if you want to change it.
Part 1: How Inclusive Is Your Org Culture?
As a consultant, I have the opportunity to glimpse into many corporate cultures (I’m sort of like an organizational anthropologist — think Jane Goodall, but in cubicles instead of the jungle, and more smartly dressed, and maybe a little less butch). I’ve seen businesses with corporate values like, “We Promote Work/Life Balance!” yet expected employees to work 60+ hours a week. I’ve seen organizations say, “We celebrate diversity!” yet all senior leaders were middle-aged white dudes. And I’ve seen businesses say, “We want to make the world a better place!” and they do a lot of philanthropic efforts and promote employees’ volunteerism to truly make the world a better place.
For me, I like to look at a corporate culture and see how inclusive it is to all people, but especially to our LGBTQ+ Community. In my experience there are 5 Top Indicators of an Inclusive Business Culture to explore when seeing if an organization is inclusive and therefore embraces LGBTQ+ people being authentic and true to themselves at work:
- Leadership … What does the leadership look like? What do they do (and not just say) to promote inclusivity? Is their language truly inclusive or is it more heterosexist? What’s the demographic makeup of the leadership team and does it fairly represent the rest of the org?
- Corporate Policies … Does the organization include policies referring to same-sex couples (married or otherwise)? Does it include health care specific for trans employees? What’s the company’s Nondiscrimination Policy: does it include sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression?
- The “Real” Corporate Values at Play … Using the criteria above, what are the organization’s real values, the ones on display every day? Are they the ones listed on the organization’s website, or are they really different? Is there obvious alignment in what the organization says it does and what it promotes to the outside world?
- Inclusion Support (HR, D&I, ERGs) … Is there a Head of Diversity & Inclusion in the organization? What do they do? Is it their full-time gig? Does diversity to them really mean, “Let’s celebrate _____ month!” or does it go deeper? Does the organization have an Employee Resource Group (ERG) dedicated to LGBTQ+ employees and their allies?
- External Efforts … Does the organization market or communicate directly to the LGBTQ+ Community? When same-sex marriage became legal, what did your organization do to support or hinder its progress? When certain groups threaten the rights of LGBTQ+ people outside of the workplace (like at the state or federal level), does the organization (and its leadership) stand up or remain silent?
Through looking at the data of the above, you can get a really good sense as to how inclusive your organizational culture is. Now on to Part 2…
Part 2: Do You Fight or Flee for LGBTQ+ Inclusivity?
- Define … Define what are YOUR personal values (see Chapter 4 on authenticity). Identify your top five-ish values.
- Discover … Discover the true Corporate Values (step #3, above). … Do your own Nancy Drew-ing on what your organizational culture is really like.
- Aligned? … Ask yourself, “How’s the alignment?” between your personal values and those of the organization. Are your values reflected in the real values of the business?
- Is this OK? … Comparing the two data sets, can you live with this level of alignment?
- What’s Next? … Now comes the big decision: fight or flight. If you aren’t as aligned as you’d like, make some choices. You can try and foster change within the organization and lobby for more inclusivity; or you can pack up your toys and find an employer who embraces the beautiful difference that is you. (And yes, it’s a job, but life’s too short to work at a place that won’t embrace your authentic self.) If you choose to facilitate change, use the strategies shared in this chapter to help. Also consider joining (or starting!) the Employee Resource Group (ERG) or other employee organization to be sure your LGBTQ+ voice is heard.
At the heart of Pride Leadership, by Dr. Steve Yacovelli, which has been praised by workplace leaders and opens with an enthusiastic foreword by Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims, is Yacovelli’s firm conviction that our life experience as LGBTQ+ people is a unique advantage, the shiny X-factor, that can make us all great leaders.
Top Photo via ACLU.org