LGBTQ+ Life in the Professional Space

This piece was written by Desirae Cox, a Senior Project Director at Echo Market Research. She leads our Community and Panel Solutions.

“Imagine carrying the uncertainty you felt in 2020 throughout most of your life…

Unfortunately, this is a feeling all too common amongst many members of the LGBTQ+ community, which make up 5.6% of the US population according to a Gallup Poll from earlier this year. As we move into Pride month, it’s crucial to keep the narrative open about the continuous progression needed in the Professional space.

As a younger millennial, I feel incredibly privileged as a non-heterosexual in the professional world when I look back and study the hurdles of those before me. The Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling was released when I was a mere 21 years old. At the time I had been working in Food Service as I searched for my footing being a fresh college graduate. It was easy to not speak about my personal life and preferences in these roles, and even if there were those around who did not “agree”, there was an incredibly low level of risk associated in my mind with a manager that did not “approve” of my lifestyle in a food service position.

I quickly landed my first professional role in Market Research in the coming year, and something strange occurred to me – I remember thinking to myself, “Is it safe to come out?”.  Despite working in an incredibly progressive environment, 22-year-old me felt anxious as this was finally the type of position and company I had been striving for since I began my higher education at the young age of 15.

The thing about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is that you’re perpetually coming out for the duration of your life.

Even though most of my friends and family knew and accepted me – this was yet again a new circumstance that presented new challenges and risks.

This may seem strange to those that are heteronormative, you may be thinking, “Well, who just walks around advertising their sexuality in the workplace?”, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s about the small questions. It is about deciding if you’re able to place a picture of you and your partner on your desk. It is about deciding whether it’s safe to accept that friend request on social media from your colleagues that you so desperately want to build a relationship with. It is about figuring out if it’s safe to bring your same-sex partner to that work party or event. You’re in an ocean of uncertainty in a brand-new work environment, and even if at the highest level your leadership preaches the importance of equality, that doesn’t save you from the microaggressions or retaliation at the lower-level management or amidst your equal peers.

Nevertheless, we’re in an increasingly progressive social era and I’m fortunate enough to have landed with an organization, Echo-MR, where my diversity is not only accepted, but celebrated. The month of June carries a special place in the heart of the LGBTQ+ community, as it’s often a showcase month for big and local brands to voice their support – which is reassuring and encouraging for people like myself.

However, the passing of cases such as Obergefell V. Hodges certainly doesn’t signal the end in the fight for equality, just as slapping a rainbow logo on a product doesn’t guarantee that working for that organization will be a safe haven from harassment. We know this all too well.

One of the things I treasure very much about working with Echo Market Research is that it’s very clear that diversity and support for people in my community feel welcomed and protected 365 days a year – not just exclusively in the month of June. (Anybody that’s exchanged emails with an Echo team member will notice that we include our pronouns in our signature, a move that was highly encouraged by our leadership in January, for example.)

We’re all capable of taking steps in the workplace to reassure our LGTQ+ peers, be it at the top or on a personal level.

As an ally you may wonder, “What can I do?”

My friendly advice is that on a personal level — refer to your significant other as your “partner” rather than husband or wife in the workplace.

Many closeted LGBTQ+ members feel that referring to their same-sex significant other as their “partner” is a dead giveaway of their sexuality– and it is. Normalizing this term and acclimating it to most of the population will help make your LGBTQ+ colleagues feel less isolated. Using progressive terminology will also indicate to your LGBTQ+ peers that you are, in fact, an ally and somebody that supports them without having to blatantly state that.

For those of you who may have a bit more influence on your company policy – there are still very few Federal protections in place to safeguard employment for non-heteronormative sexual orientation/identity. State protections also vary. I urge those of you with influence to stress that in lieu of the lack of Federal or State Protections, your organizational policy strives to make up for those lack of legal protections. Offer to sponsor Pride events, stands, or PTO volunteer time for your employees to get everyone involved in a Pride event as we return to normal.

Personally speaking, if I saw several teammates volunteer for a Pride initiative, I’d know certainly that I was working for the right employer.”

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