Your Queer Career: Work Advice from ‘The Gay Leadership Dude’ – “Starting an ERG for You and Me”

In his latest column, Dr. Steve Yacovelli, (aka “The Gay Leadership Dude”) shares his expertise on submitted workplace questions from members of the LGBTQ+ Community. Have a question? See below!

Dear “Gay Leadership Dude”: It seems my work has been in a constant state of change for the past few years. But one of the good changes is how we’ve focused more on embracing diversity and inclusion, despite what our dear “Governor” has to say. What is your advice on how to not just champion that kind of change, but determine if our efforts are making a difference? ~ Changemaker Charles

Hey Charles, thanks for writing and for wanting to be a champion of (good) change! You’re correct: the work-world is changing all around us, from forced remote working situations to new technologies to new ways of working with our teams, we are in a wave of changes within our world that doesn’t have an end in sight. But all this “new normal” workplace changes aside (boy I really don’t like that term anymore), let’s focus on those changes you want to create, especially as they relate to our workplace culture and being inclusive, Florida GOP be dammed!

For many of us, being our authentic selves and “fitting in” isn’t necessarily a breeze in our workplace. The most recent HRC study found that 46% of LGBTQ+ employees say they’re closeted at work, down just 4% over the past 10 years. Of LGBTQ+ employees, 53% said they’ve heard jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while and 31% of LGBTQ+ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work. One in five LGBTQ+ employees report having been told (or had co-workers imply) they should dress in a more masculine or feminine way. And why don’t LGBTQ+ employees report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ+ people to a supervisor or human resources? The top reason is that they (we) don’t think anything would be done about it — and they (we) don’t want to hurt existing relationships with co-workers (Turner, 2018).

As a consultant, I have the opportunity to glimpse into many corporate cultures (I’m sort of like an organizational anthropologist — think Jane Goodall, but in cubicles instead of the jungle and more smartly dressed, and truth be told probably a little less brave!). I’ve seen businesses with corporate values like, “We Promote Work/Life Balance!” yet expected employees to work 60+ hours a week. I’ve seen organizations say, “We celebrate diversity!” yet all senior leaders were middle-aged white dudes. And I’ve seen businesses say, “We want to make the world a better place!” and they do a lot of philanthropic efforts and promote employees’ volunteerism to truly make the world a better place.

I like to look at a corporate culture and see how inclusive it is to all people, but especially to our LGBTQ+ Community. In my experience there are five top indicators of an inclusive workplace culture to explore when seeing if an organization is inclusive and therefor embraces LGBTQ+ people being authentic and true to themselves at work.

  1. Leadership. What does the leadership look like? What do leaders do (and not just say) to promote inclusivity? Is their language truly inclusive or is it more heterosexist? What’s the demographic makeup of the leadership team and does it fairly represent the rest of the org? While it can often take some time, leadership should be more diverse than in the past.
  2. Corporate Policies. Does the organization include policies referring to same-sex couples (married or otherwise)? Does it include health care specific for trans employees? What’s the organization’s Nondiscrimination Policy? Does it include sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression? Workplace policies are an easy way to foster inclusivity, so see how inclusive or exclusive your various policies are.
  3. The Real Corporate Values at Play. Using the criteria above, what are the organization’s real values, the ones on display every day? Are they the ones listed on the organization’s website, or are they really different? Is there obvious alignment in what the organization says it does and what it promotes to the outside world? Workplace values are like the agreement on how all employees are to conduct business—regardless of role. Stated versus “lived” workplace values can tell you a lot about the real workplace culture.
  4. Inclusion Support (HR, D&I, ERGs). Is there a Head of Diversity & Inclusion in the organization? What do they do? Is it their full-time gig or do they share that title with another more operationally focused one? Is the D&I function buried within the HR Department, or are they closer to the C-Suite and strategic initiatives within the business? Does diversity to them really mean, “Let’s celebrate ___ month!” or does it go deeper? Does the organization have an Employee Resource Group (ERG dedicated to LGBTQ+ employees and their allies? These are simple yet very telling indicators of how important D&I efforts are to the business.
  5. External Efforts. Does the organization market or communicate directly to the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups? When same-sex marriage became legal, what did your organization do to support or hinder its progress? When certain groups threaten the rights of LGBTQ+ people outside of the workplace (like at the state or federal level), does the organization (and its leadership) stand up or remain silent? As of this writing I’m sitting in Orlando, Florida at a time when our Governor and State Legislature are literally attacking our LGBTQ+ Community, especially our trans siblings. I’m blown away (and sad) at the silence of so many big companies with significant presence in Florida that have NOT said anything in defense of our Community, and it speaks volumes about their true interest in championing inclusivity.

Your goal, as you strive to be an even better LGBTQ+ leader, Changemaker Charles, is to be a champion of change and inclusivity within your workplace. If — after going through the five top indicators — your organization is inclusive then awesome-sauce! Now find ways you can support and spread that inclusivity. On the other hand, realize that your workplace maybe isn’t so inclusive? Pick one of the areas above where you can exercise your influence and be that champion of change within your business. And you may think, “Hey I’m only one person!” You are correct. But the biggest of fires starts with just one tiny spark.

SOURCES: Turner, A. (2018, June 25). “HRC REPORT: Startling Data Reveals Half of LGBTQ Employees in the U.S. Remain Closeted at Work.” Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved on 07/18/23 from:

HAVE A QUESTION FOR “THE GAY LEADERSHIP DUDE”? Submit at Please note the advice shared is for informational use only; it is not intended to replace or substitute any mental, financial, medical, legal or other professional advice. Full disclosure can be found at the website listed above.

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