VIEW: How LGBTQIA+ conversations have drastically changed in the workplace

The below is a guest post from Eric Hosey, Semrush Head of Human Resources.

One of the biggest reasons I went into Human Resources was to be able to play a role in improving discussions around diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Every single person in this world has the right to feel respected and valued for who they are. It’s only when we open our eyes to see our similarities in one another that we have the opportunity to love not just ourselves but those around us as well. 

I came out in the mid 90s which was not the most supportive time for the LGBTQIA+ community. Luckily I had a tremendously supportive family that encouraged me to be who I am. When I first entered the workforce in 2007, I was an openly gay man. However, I felt I had to go back “into the closet” in order to be accepted at work. 

I would frequently get asked the question “tell me about your girlfriend” or “you must be popular with the ladies.” Each time I had to answer, I remember feeling extra pressure to answer in a way that wouldn’t give me away. 

This dishonesty affected my mental health as I would also feel disgust and ashamed of myself for not having the bravery to proudly say, “I am a gay.” However, it wasn’t until there was an increase in positivity towards the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole that I felt safe “coming out” at work.

Having this experience early in my career drove me to work harder so I could make the workplace better for others like me. I felt that the harder I worked, the more I would be able to influence the organisations I was working with by building a positive perception of what it meant to have a LGBTQIA+ employee. 

Technology has proven to make a significant influence on the LGBTQIA+ community for the better, as it has enabled many of us to communicate safely and without fear of judgement. We suddenly had access to easily connect with a whole world of people who had similar experiences and feelings to our own.

Tech powerhouses like Google and Amazon have helped immensely in leading the rainbow flag at work as they go beyond supporting their own LGBTQIA+ employees, but also donate generously to LGBTQIA+ causes and speak in advancement of LGBTQIA+ legal rights.

But diversity isn’t only ethnicity, gender, sexuality or disability – it’s much more. Diversity includes the diversity of thoughts, personal experience, geographical location and many more items that make up an individual. 

In my role at Semrush, I am responsible for the tech company’s Global HR Operations. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion should always be an organisation driven objective. This means having leaders with which they can identify with and learn from. As organisations begin to build programs around diverse hiring, they also need to ensure that they are building the structure around which they will be able to help everyone succeed. 

Technology enables everyone to access information more readily, and encourages self education. Semrush’s own research into Australian data trends has shown in the past two years, searches for “what is homophobia” have increased by 161 per cent. Interestingly, searches for “pronouns in the workplace” have surged 400 per cent in the past three years. 

This could be an indication that people are actively trying to educate themselves on how to be more inclusive. Other increases in searches show that Aussies are seeking to understand different terminology, with spikes in searches for newer terms such as non-binary, cis and pansexual. 

D&I increases a company’s capability and growth. And for me, diversity forms one of the fundamental pillars for a company to operate. 

For employers who are struggling to bridge the diversity gap, here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Executive support for any D&I program is extremely critical. If it is not spoken at a top level as an important cultural aspect for the company, programs that surround D&I will typically not be sustainable. Having an executive sponsor outside of the HR realm often helps bridge any gap. 
  2. Next, begin to understand what is important to your employees. Whether this is done through surveys or town halls it is critical to have an understanding of where your employees feel the main points of engagement are for them so you can begin to tailor your program around their drivers. 
  3. Think of D&I as a journey not a destination. If you try to rush the program there can be burn out in those supporting the effort as well as from the employees having too much pushed towards them too fast. 
  4. Create meaningful objectives that drive not just an increase in diversity but unique perspectives within the company. Through these objectives you can track the success of your program and identify areas that are critical for adjustment in order to be successful.
  5. For global companies like ours create a global strategy but recognise the need for local approaches. Each area of the world is on their own unique path with D&I and trying to force fit one program in all areas just won’t work. You must take into consideration what is meaningful and supportive of each region and design programs that support their journey. 

About the expert

Eric has more than 14 years of experience in human resources having worked across industries including, technology, health, building and manufacturing. He holds an MBA in Human Resource Management.

Image description: Headshot of Eric smiling at the camera in front of a grey background. He’s wearing a white, collared shirt under a black blazer, and has short brown hair.