The LGBTQ+ community makes up a rich and diverse portion of the talent pool. On Episode 5 of the Beyond Labels miniseries we were joined by Sophia Carlton, who is a distinguished fraud and risk management executive, award winning author, and passionate LGBTQ+ advocate. She talked us through her experiences in the workplace as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and shared her advice for engaging wider teams in LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion. Read on to find out how you can foster inclusion in the workplace.
You’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and you lead initiatives at work to support that, could you tell us more about that?
Employee Resource Groups are where I found community when I first started my career. They really helped me find people who shared my values, who I could connect with, and who were speaking the same language. It gave me this sense of deeper purpose and meaning in my work. I started supporting ERGs at my first firm and rose the ranks from local leadership to national leadership to national strategy by supporting ELT conversations and thinking about equality across the country for LGBTQ+ employees.
That was an amazing action to be involved in at Accenture. I’m currently the lead of our local chapter here in the DC area. I’m also our national programming lead. In those roles I shine a light on the different identities within the LGBTQ+ community. There’s a lot of identities within that, including some more niche groups, and I want to highlight the wonderful people within them. We want to increase understanding, compassion and empathy by bringing their stories to life. When you know someone who identifies a particular identity, it makes it so much more real, and you can connect a lot better. That’s really the goal of what I do; empower folks in the community, improve visibility and show people that we all have a lot more in common than they might think.
How do you bring other people along on the inclusion journey, and what’s your advice for people who want to learn like I do?
There are two concepts that come to mind; assuming positive intent and creating a safe space for failure. I think sometimes allies of whatever community think that you always have to get it right. However, even if you’re in a community, you may not always get it right. For example, I identify as bisexual, but that doesn’t mean that I understand every other identity in the LGBTQ+ community perfectly. I approach it with positive intent, I do my own learning and I get engaged instead of expecting others to teach me. I ask questions where I’m unsure. And if I slip up, I apologise and learn from it.
We expect the same from allies. You’re allowed to fail. You’re allowed to try again. You’re allowed to learn. I always try to assume positive intent from allies too. If someone slips up, and they really didn’t intend to, it’s just a lesson to be learned. It’s not something to be punitive about, and we’re not going to revoke your allyship for making a mistake. That’s where I get a lot of questions from allies in my role in the ERG. My advice is that if you don’t know what to do, ask. A question that a lot of my trans colleagues get is ‘What if I mess up pronouns?’ Just correct yourself and move on. Don’t make it a big ordeal, because then the person you’ve misgendered will have to start consoling you about something that’s probably been uncomfortable or upsetting for them. Just take little steps and be okay with learning.
What advice would you give to an employer that’s trying to build a more diverse and inclusive team?
It’s about enabling psychological safety, and creating those spaces where we can be ourselves. Your focus should be on identifying the ways each of us are a value add and figuring out where we can contribute. Ask yourselves ‘How can we all come together to create a really fantastic team?”. We actually hear the term equality a lot, but we need to consider equity too. When we think about equality, it sets the foundation for an equal playing field, but equity levels out the playing field and makes it accessible to everyone. That’s where all of the differences that we have are understood and accounted for, and where we’re set up for success individually.
To learn more from Sophia, tune into Episode 5 of the Beyond Labels miniseries on The Disruptive Mindset Podcast here.