June is Pride month, a month when many companies will spotlight their efforts around LGTBQIA+ representation within their organizations. While progress should always be celebrated, there is still work to be done. LGBTQIA+ representation and inclusion is complex, and equality in the workplace demands that companies take an intersectional approach to the application and evaluation of these policies and resources.
With this in mind, HACR is spotlighting the work and insights of Isabel Porras, Senior Director of Learning and Development at Out & Equal. Isabel holds a B.A. in Latin American Studies from Smith College and advanced to Ph.D. Candidacy (ABD) in Cultural Studies at the University of California, Davis. She currently works directly with individual employees, ERG leaders, and diversity and inclusion executives of Fortune 1000 companies to provide LGBTQIA+ cultural competency training and inclusion and belonging consultation. Read on to discover Isabel’s insights on how companies can create an environment of belonging for LGBTQIA+ Latinos.
Alida Minkel: Before we get into the status and best practices of intersectional LGBTQIA+ representation in the workplace, let’s talk about your work. Your current work at Out & Equal focuses on educating and training corporate leaders on workplace inclusion and belonging strategies. Before that, however, you were teaching undergrads at UC Davis, focusing on gender studies and cultural studies. What made you decide to pivot away from teaching in an academic setting to teaching in a corporate one?
Isabel Porras: I was always interested in applying the lessons about identity and power that I was learning in my graduate program outside of a university context. I have always loved learning and teaching (I was the little kid who usually wanted to “play school”), but there was a point when I felt like I was just scratching the surface. I wished I could follow my graduating students to see how they actually applied these theoretical frameworks and lessons in their careers. The other response, to be very frank, is that I did not want to enter the academic job market. I saw my colleagues applying in incredibly tough markets, for jobs that might pay less than minimum wage in some cases and require moving to locations where one might not have any community in others. I just couldn’t afford to do that financially or emotionally. So, I looked for work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion given that this was very much an interest of mine, and I see it as the practical application of much of my graduate school training.
AM: How do you think your experience in academia affects the approach you take to your current work?
IP: The critical frameworks I learned, particularly intersectionality, and the idea that we must consider identity in relationship to power, very much inform my work at Out & Equal. On a literal level, I’ve found myself returning to lectures from my Gender Studies or Queer Theory days and bringing those concepts to our workplace conversations on gender identity and expression. My experiences as a Latina in academia also very much inform my current work to support underrepresented LGBTQ+ people of color. I was able to take part in programs like the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, and that experience—of being able to learn from and network with other people of color in grad school—was immensely helpful to my career. As we build out networking and learning opportunities for our community, I look back to some of the programs that helped me for best practices.
AM: According to a 2018 GenForward study, Latinx millennials are the most likely millennial demographic in the United States to identify as non-straight. Data like this illustrates that the LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith, but the sum of so many things. We are also racially and ethnically diverse. What are some misconceptions about LGBTQIA+ Latinos?
IP: There are a few. I think one big one is that there aren’t that many of us, which as you just pointed out is not true! Another is that we “learned” this in the US, as if LGBTQ+ Latin Americans don’t exist. A third misconception I hear is that machismo and patriarchal behaviors are exclusive or somehow innate to the Latinx community. This is really problematic to me, as it assumes these behaviors are unique to Latinx people and often are weaponized to excuse the non-Latinx speaker from misogyny or other sexist behavior.
AM: What are some struggles that LGBTQIA+ Latinos face in the workplace? What sorts of issues arise at the intersection of “LGBTQIA+” and “Latino”?
IP: The Movement for Advancement Project (MAP) found that LGBT Latinxs are some of the most disadvantaged workers in the country. They also found that LGBT Latinxs are at a significant risk of poverty and of being unemployed. They are less likely to be out at work, and less likely to have health insurance. More recently, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has explored the economic impact of COVID-19 on Latinx LGBTQ+ people. With Latinx LGBTQ+ people employed in some of the industries most affected by the pandemic, HRC found that Latinx LGBTQ+ people were more likely to report having their hours reduced or losing their jobs. They were also more likely to take unpaid leave and were more likely to make changes in their household budget. These numbers were higher than when looking at the broader LGBTQ+ or Latinx populations, speaking to the ways these identities intersect in the workforce.
AM: What are some actions corporate leaders can take to ensure LGBTQIA+ Latinos and other LGBTQIA+ people of color are seen and heard at the decision-making tables of their organizations?
IP: LGBTQ+ Latinx people need to be involved in the decision-making process, and leaders must focus on expanding their talent pipeline at all levels. How? Consider partnering with organizations that focus on LGBTQ+ Latinx people or people of color, particularly for recruitment efforts. Consider your recruiters and talent acquisition teams—are they culturally competent in the needs of Latinx and LGBTQ+ people? If you recruit from Hispanic-serving institutions or have an LGBTQ-focused recruiting program, do these groups engage the other? Are your on-campus Latinx recruiters speaking to LGBTQ+ inclusion? Are your LGBTQ+ recruiters speaking to racial and ethnic equity? Beyond recruitment, what are you doing to retain your LGBTQ+ Latinx workforce? Are there pulse surveys or other ways to assess feedback? Are your promotions equitable? The key is to consider a holistic approach, not just focusing on bringing people in at the senior level, but supporting folks at all stages in their careers.
AM: What role can Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) play in helping to create an environment of belonging and inclusion for LGBTQIA+ Latinos?
IP: ERGs have a major role to play in supporting LGBTQ+ Latinx colleagues, from ensuring these communities are represented at the ERG leadership and membership levels, to building programming that speaks to the unique needs of our community, to taking on an active role in supporting recruitment and talent acquisition efforts. LGBTQ+ ERGs must explore whether their membership and leadership reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of their workforce, while Latinx ERGs must ensure they are not assuming a completely heterosexual or cisgender membership. Beyond creating space for community and engagement, ERGs also offer excellent leadership and development opportunities. If you’re unsure of where to start, reach out to other ERGs and consider building programming or creating discussion space for LGBTQ+ Latinx people to share what they need in the workplace.
AM: Throughout Pride Month, we tend to see an uptick in organizations promoting and raising awareness of their philanthropic efforts in areas affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. How can companies be more intentional with their philanthropic efforts to make sure such initiatives are actually helping the people for which they are intended?
IP: We’ve been very proud to partner with a number of companies that have led inclusion efforts internally and externally. One thing I was very surprised to learn, when I moved from academia to corporate inclusion work, is just how progressive many corporations have been. In many cases, they’ve been more inclusive and supportive than governments, and we’ve actually seen how business pushback against LGBTQ+ exclusion has also shifted government response. One way to see whether companies are being intentional is to look beyond that particular Pride-related philanthropic effort. For example, have they engaged in public advocacy? Do they have an equality index score from an organization like Human Rights Campaign or Stonewall? Do they partner with LGBTQ+ community organizations? It’s heartening to see more corporations embrace Pride celebrations, but we need folks to stand with our community year-round!
AM: For budding LGBTQIA+ leaders who feel they are struggling to be their full selves in the workplace, how do you suggest going about developing the courage and tools necessary to live authentically in precarious spaces?
IP: Living authentically, much like the process of coming out, is not something that just happens once. Part of it is about developing the courage and tools necessary, but the other part is about recognizing where the individual really needs systemic support. Depending on where you are and who you work for, you want to ensure that your company has LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections or policies. Perhaps your company has spoken up in support of the LGBTQ+ community or has otherwise explicitly expressed support. Straight leaders reading this, consider your role in supporting LGBTQ+ colleagues. You may be thinking, “I don’t think I have any LGBTQ+ colleagues,” but this is most likely not the case. In your leadership role, what message do you share? What is your tone about LGBTQ+ issues? Are you creating a space where colleagues can feel comfortable speaking to who they are? At times we place this burden on the LGBTQ+ person, when really that burden is on the organization and other people, to check their biases and be inclusive and welcoming.
AM: What are some resources for those looking to learn more about LGBTQIA+ representation in the workplace?
IP: Of course, I am going to shamelessly plug Out & Equal and the many resources that we’ve developed for folks looking to learn more. Please visit our website to access our global reports, guides, and webinars. We also recently released a report, along with the IBM Institute for Business Value, on LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion. The report provides new information on workplace discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community and deep insights from the community about the challenges we face at work and in society. These findings are paired with tangible actions that employers can take to address continued barriers to full inclusion. Beyond our work, I of course encourage folks to explore partner organizations. For example, Human Rights Campaign has developed excellent research highlighting the needs and experience of the LGBTQ+ workforce. The National Center for Transgender Equality also publishes research and reports on the experiences of trans and nonbinary workers.
AM: When you think about the future of LGBTQ+ leadership, what do you hope for?
IP: I hope for a future in which this conversation is out of date because LGBTQ+ leaders face no barriers! In other words, a world where LGBTQ+ people are fully represented at all levels of the workforce. One where “LGBTQ+ leader” includes women, trans and nonbinary leaders, and people of color. A world where the intersectionality of our experiences is celebrated in the workplace, rather than dismissed. I think about workplaces that recognize the value in people being their true selves, and that recognize and celebrate the specific competencies and skill sets that LGBTQ+ people bring to work and to leadership.
Isabel Porras has committed her life to teaching others about the power of inclusion and the value of diversity in the workplace. HACR thanks Isabel for her contributions to LGBTQIA+ equality and intersectional feminism and for taking the time to share her knowledge with us.