A Deeper Layer of Diversity: Exploring Multicultural LGBT Identity at Work

iStock_000006712763XSmallBy Nicki Gilmour and Michelle Clark

Being out at work has shown to be good for business, good for team performance and good for the individual’s own sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, leaders are starting to recognize the power of creating open and honest work environments.

At The Glass Hammer, we try to always take the conversation further and this week as part of our Pride series, we explore what it means to be female and multicultural and LGBT working in financial or professional services or in the Fortune 500.

Compounded identities around gender, ethnicity, and LGBT and their effect on career advancement is most evident when we look at LGBT CEOs –a quick analysis suggests that white LGBT men, like white straight men are more likely to run Fortune 500 firms, while LGBT women are seen in charge of more entrepreneurial firms.

Last year our research arm, Evolved Employer, specifically focused on LGBT women in the workplace polling LGBT women who attended our Managing Identities at work career events in both the US and the UK. Our findings suggested that gender trumps LGBT status when it comes to how women feel about career advancement opportunities, how they network, and how they feel they are perceived at work. We will explore this topic more in our Multicultural women at work series scheduled to be released later this year.

How do you “Manage your brand” as a Multicultural LGBT woman at work?

HRC reports that how LGBT people come out is very important to helping others on their journey around having gay colleagues and also encourages some testing of the waters. This advice can certainly extend to women who are multicultural and LGBT at work also. We believe that you can leverage being different to build stronger relationships with your colleagues. We found a lot of inspirational stories of women who embrace their otherness, and in doing so, help to shatter barriers and biases that exist in the workplace.

Colleen Sovory, L&D Manager, PwC – who is African American and LGBT – believes that that feeling comfortable in your own skin at work is important and like any career advancement strategy it is all about how you present yourself.

“When you work in a professional environment, your personal brand and how people perceive you are both very important.” She continues, “Whatever parts of yourself that you decide to have visible in a professional setting, you always should consider how it will impact yourself, your team, and your company.”

She goes on to endorse the benefits of being out, and how leadership and good workplace practices matter for her. “The expectation that leadership sets is that everyone is valued for everything they bring to the table. I’ve always been out at work, and I have always received great support as PwC’s LGBT-friendly policies along the way.”

Working for the right company really matters. After a quick analysis on two indexes – Working Mother’s Best Companies for Multicultural Women 2013 and HRC’s Best Places to Work 2013 – we found the most overlap in the banking and financial services industries, as well as consulting. According to these lists, multicultural and LGBT women are more likely to find policies that support diversity in the workplace.

Establishing a Culture of Acceptance

As we know from previous discussions about all kinds of diversity and difference at work, the onus cannot just fall on the non-dominant group be it women, people of color or LGBT folks to solely create a permanent shift in a company’s culture. The precedent for inclusion and equality at work must be set at the top so that it can manifest itself throughout the entire company. Systemic transformational change happens when leaders set the tone and create a roadmap of cultural norms so that the person in the non-dominant group has the system working along with them as they take brave steps to spread awareness of how their realities may differ to those of others.

Our next piece of research, planned for release January 2014, will explore what it means to be Multicultural at work, and will feature a section on being female, multicultural and LGBT. Contact for more information on how to sponsor this research or to learn more about the training we provide for LGBT networks and for straight allies.