I was 26 when I came out as a gay man at work. Despite years of struggling with my identity, the moment itself was both unplanned and shockingly public. I was walking onstage to the music of Beyoncé to keynote our kickoff event. When I reached the mic, I made a joke about my love of the pop star, and as 500 of my colleagues appeased me with a quick laugh, something clicked.
"And if you didn't pick up on it already," I continued, "I'm gay." That was the first time I'd owned it in a professional setting.
Since then, I've given thought to why I felt so comfortable in that moment. As leaders take a hard look at diversity during Pride Month and in response to the ongoing dialogue on racial equality, here are my three tips for making your workplace more inclusive and your employees more comfortable expressing their identities.
1. Celebrate Your Goals and Achievements
Leadership at many places I've worked have been reticent to state a diversity goal until it's largely met, which is a bit self-defeating. How can you progress if your team doesn't know it's a goal? An inclusive workplace routinely celebrates and discusses diversity.
For me, a key part of this is having an environment where individuals' personal lives enhance the work they are doing. Xero is the first place I've worked where we talk about our personal lives throughout the workday -- during group lunches, over games of ping pong and even on Slack -- and I'm not sure why this isn't more common. In this environment, sharing with my colleagues that it was my wedding anniversary felt like the most normal thing in the world, because it is.
This will look different for every company. Sponsoring diversity-focused events, highlighting the unique qualities of a promoted leader or celebrating an inclusion milestone -- even if you're still far from your goal -- are all helpful stepping stones.
2. Eliminate "End Goal" Mentality
You've implemented a D&I policy, completed company-wide training, and met a diversity quota. Here, more than at any point, is where companies struggle. An "end goal" mentality can stand in the way of ongoing progress. Leaders must stay vigilant to prevent backslide via micro transgressions.
This isn't always easy to do or even spot. I still remember an episode from more than a decade ago, during my time at a large corporation, observing a senior leader making a gay joke at the expense of another colleague. As a young, ambitious executive, the comment convinced me that being myself would hinder my career aspirations.
In the end, being gay hasn't hurt my career, but I didn't shake that mentality until I got to my current company. I can't help but think about how similar comments are made daily at diverse, well-intentioned companies, holding back potentially excellent leaders.
3. Update Your Recruiting
Clients want their partners to "look the part," but the look has changed. Today, companies are expected to have a variety of ages, genders, sexualities, and ethnicities at the table. These diverse teams can tap the power of perspective to address problems faster and with more humanity than a uniform team ever could, so developing them is simply good business.
This extends well outside the B2B world. Recently I went searching for a cruiser bike and ended up at a local shop. I spoke to the sales associate about what I wanted, and he asked, "Do you want one for the wife as well?" I corrected him, and instead of pivoting the conversation to include my husband, the salesperson disengaged. This meant that as a customer I had to walk away.
If the shop had taken the time to hire a diverse staff, he'd have likely been corrected by a colleague, saving more than just me as a customer.
Addressing systemic bias and developing a culture of inclusion can seem daunting, but these tips are all based in an attainable mindset. Change won't happen overnight, but we can do our part to embrace differences and actively create a representative workforce.