During Pride Month, our LGBTQ+ employee resource group at Progress started a thoughtful dialogue around acceptance and understanding.
In many countries around the world, the start of June marks the beginning of LGBTQ+ Pride, a month-long observance with roots dating back to 1960s New York City. What began as a riot evolved into an annual remembrance and call for political action.
However, Pride Month is not just about reflecting on the past—it’s about promoting awareness and understanding to create a better present and future.
At Progress, members of Plus—one of our employee resource groups (ERGs) created to represent the voices of LGBTQ+ people and allies—decided to use Pride Month as an opportunity to listen and learn internally.
“We see this as a start,” said Mariyan Vasev, Talent Development Manager at Progress and one of the leaders of the Plus ERG.
“For us, it's important that LGBTQ+ visibility goes beyond Pride Month. We're also keen on starting conversations, and conversations are not just a one-time thing. We want to continue collecting perspectives and normalizing conversations that maybe make you feel a little bit awkward, because that’s how we learn.”
Created last year, Plus functions as a space to talk about and inform inclusion and diversity efforts.
“We were officially founded last November in celebration of International LGBTQ+ Stem Day, which acknowledges that our community has had members in the STEM community for a long time. So, this is our first robust, organized Pride Month,” said Vasev.
To kick off Pride Month, Plus posed a simple question to Progress employees, Vasev explained.
“We asked, ‘Do you have any questions about the LGBTQ+ community, Plus as an ERG at Progress, or Pride Month?’ We wanted to start those conversations.”
“We also had a Plus-only meeting where we talked about trans inclusion, as well as some of the unique challenges the trans community faces,” Vasev said.
The goal of Plus is to amplify the voices and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies in places around the world, Vasev noted.
“From the start, Plus has worked to communicate that there isn't a singular queer experience across the globe—it's very different. There are some unique, local perspectives that we’re trying to collect, be it members of the community or non-members of the community,” he said.
“Sexuality is only one part of a person's identity; it’s not their whole identity. But it offers so many unique challenges, stories and perspectives that otherwise are not brought up, so I think Pride Month presents a wonderful opportunity to start those conversations in a strategic way.”
While starting the conversation is a critical part of raising awareness, maintaining an ongoing dialogue will be even more important, said Jeremy Segal, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at Progress and executive sponsor of the Plus ERG.
“It's been a phenomenal forum for creating awareness and letting people share their stories. I'm so happy that this is the ERG that I'm a part of, because it's a special group and we are getting more and more people involved,” he said.
“It's about greater awareness, greater sensitivity, and greater openness. If we can create a forum where people are comfortable talking about their experiences in this community, I think we will be successful.”
Of course, Plus wouldn’t exist without its members—and their willingness to share and listen will play a key role in the enduring success of this ERG’s mission.
“Being a part of this ERG has been bigger than I could have ever imagined,” said Jennifer Ortiz, Vice President of Marketing at Progress and executive sponsor of the Plus ERG. “The sheer honesty, transparency and support that happens within this ERG reminds you that, at the end of the day, we all want the best for each other.”
She continued, “It says a lot about the people who work here. Progress opened the space for it, but the people who work at Progress are the ones who are truly driving it. I think what it says about Progress is something that I've always known: Progress is a door-opener and an opportunity-giver. But it's up to the individual to take that opportunity. And our group of fabulous people have really done that with the ERGs. They're leading the way here.”
As June comes to a close, it’s vital to remember the main purpose of Pride Month, and the reason why it began in the first place: so that everyone is free to be who they are in any setting or situation.
“Pride Month reminds us that inclusion allows people to bring all aspects of themselves to the workplace without fear of being judged or excluded,” said Shirley Knowles, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Progress. “At Progress, we actively work towards creating an environment where individuals can feel comfortable being themselves, no matter who they are or whom they love.”
“In the words of Harvey Milk, ‘All people, regardless of their orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential,’” Knowles added.
For leaders of Plus, active work will be the most crucial piece going forward.
“It's about having those conversations and making sure that it's not something that fizzles out,” said Vasev. “As a company, we have to make sure we’re inclusive not only in words, but also in practice.”
Jessica Kent is a writer and editor based in Boston. As a content specialist, she has the opportunity to write about the exciting things happening at Progress, as well as the amazing people behind it all. When she’s not working, you can find her reading, going for a run or attempting to learn the guitar.
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