DEI and the Human Workforce: The Queer/Straight Equation

As published in The Des Moines Business Record on 8/20/2021

Bursting through is the storytelling movement for the Queer/Straight relationship. It is also a for-profit business founded by a queer man who had a very successful 27 year corporate career. That queer man, me, had firsthand experience of well intentioned (but overtasked) HR and Diversity Teams trying to create emotionally safe work environments for everybody. I know HR knows that an emotionally safe work environment creates a more productive and profitable company and I know it’s time the rest of the company got onboard.  

Today’s company cultures, driven by millennial leadership, require DEI to be taken very seriously and treated as integral parts of those cultures. Why? Because, companies must be forces for good to be relevant in business today and that good must start within the business itself to be real, to be lived and to create emotionally safe environments for the entire workforce. DEI is no longer a box to be checked off. I believe that only companies that truly embrace DEI will succeed and create a roadmap for future success. Our times demand that DEI is authentic! 

My community, like many others, needs to be heard, valued and respected to feel safe at work:

• 53% of LGBTQ+ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while.

• 46% of LGBTQ+ workers said they were closeted at work. 50% on non-LGBTQ workers report that there are no employees at their company who are open about being LGBTQ.

• 1-in-5 LGBTQ workers report having been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress in a more feminine or masculine manner.

• 31% of LGBTQ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work .

• The top reason LGBTQ workers don’t report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people to a supervisor or human resources? They don’t think anything would be done about it — and they don’t want to hurt their relationships with coworkers.

How do we achieve true emotional safety for an entire company workforce? Well, first it has to be a company value, not a box to be checked off. Then the question becomes how do you put that value into action. 

My deep belief and lived experience is that the best way is through the path of least resistance. As a species we humans are storytellers. We love to share our stories and we remember stories.  When we are heard we are more likely to listen to others.  Stories are our power!

Storytelling is not only important to connect us and develop stronger teams but it is also a key component of any business.  When I was an executive, a big part of my job was developing and presenting ideas. I presented often. Essentially a presentation is storytelling to get approval for an idea and a budget.  

Storytelling brings people with you on your journey. They become invested and want to be a part of the adventure and help get you to your desired outcome.  Most of us want to help others and want to see others succeed and it’s even better when their success can be our success as well.

The most recognizable example of the power of storytelling in business is TED TALKS. The talks show us the importance of communication.  It is also important how we communicate and communication is not the same in all aspects of the professional structure.  We are multi- dimensional and our communication needs to be as well.

Ted Talks teach us because  “TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.”  In other words Ted Talks believe in diversity AND storytelling.

Psychology Today has this to say in “The Psychological Power of Storytelling.”

  • Stories provide order. Humans seek certainty and narrative structure is familiar, predictable, and comforting. Within the context of the story arc, we can withstand intense emotions because we know that resolution follows the conflict. We can experience it with a safety net.
  • Stories are how we are wired. Stores take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioral responses.
  • Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. By engaging our imagination, we become participants in the narrative. We can step out of our own shoes, see differently, and increase our empathy for others. Through imagination, we tap into creativity that is the foundation of innovation, self-discovery, and change.

It’s my deeply held belief that the most natural, powerful and effective way to foster workplace compassion, empathy and understanding is through the superpower of storytelling. This understanding leads to an environment where employees show up without fear of being their true selves, which in turn increases retention, engagement, productivity and innovation which all contribute to increased revenue.  Empathy is one of today’s most powerful team building tools. 

Businesses today have more complexities to manage than ever before.  Many of those complexities  are completely out of your control, like tariffs, supply chain shortages and pandemics, but there are things that are in your power to control.  

You can control your workplace culture. You can ensure you provide a physically and emotionally safe workplace for ALL employees. You have the power to control how your company treats the people within and influence how they treat one another.  You can lead on this topic or you can follow but you cannot ignore it or you won’t have a company left to run.  DEI is a reality of a successful business. The path of least resistance to authentic DEI is storytelling.

Story Sharing + Understanding & Empathy= Emotionally Safe Workplaces