For most business owners, upgrading computer systems is a no-brainer. But when it comes to keeping abreast of the latest social developments, many businesses aren’t as game.
“The increase in queer acceptance and gender diversity is a change in the workplace, just like the new version of Microsoft Outlook…or whatever,” Electronic Arts producer Kelly Worrall told the Georgia Straight by phone. Worrall is one of three keynote speakers talking about how businesses can benefit from LGBT inclusion at Qmunity’s 8th annual International Day Against Homophobia Breakfast on Thursday (May 17) at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. (The two other speakers will be BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair and Telus Communications vice-president of risk-management and chief internal auditor Kasey D. Reese.) “You have to make that investment, otherwise you’re going to be left behind,” she said.
And the times, well they certainly are a-changin’.
Some of North America’s strongest bastions of homophobia have begun to open up. Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage on May 9. The U.S. military’s policy on homosexuals, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, was repealed in 2011. Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and his son Patrick Burke helped to recently launch the You Can Play campaign, aimed at promoting respect for and inclusion of queer athletes. Even video games, like Mass Effect 3, have begun to integrate optional gay storylines or characters.
Yet Worrall, who works in the male-dominated field of sports video games, was apprehensive about coming out as a trans woman at EA last year. Luckily for her, things went “phenomenally well”. She worked with her human resources department for a year before transitioning from male to female.
"HR set the tone," she explained. "They said, 'Here's the deal. Kelly's not going to be harassed. Our harassment policies are what they are and harassment of Kelly can lead to punishment up to and including termination….' That gave me sort of a place where I could go in knowing that I was going to be okay."
Although there were some awkward but well-intended questions and stares, she said she felt very “blessed” overall; she is well-aware that many trans people are not fortunate to have the same experience.
“What really surprised me was how supportive my teammates were and how supportive complete strangers at the office were as I came through that process,” she said.
Worrall helped found the EA Diversity and Inclusion Guild, which is designed to help bring in and retain the best talent in spite of gender identity or sexual preference.
When it comes to why other businesses should consider doing the same, Worrall said that EA CEO John Riccitiello summarized it best. “He said ‘The way that the people who play our games looks is changing. But the way that we look is still the same. So we need to start bringing people so we can better reflect our audience, otherwise we’re not going to be in touch with them.’ “
Numerous LGBT–inclusive Canadian businesses such as Telus (which opened queer-friendly Caya stores in the West End), TD Bank, and Vancity (which is copresenting the breakfast) have diversity policies or committees, participate in the Pride parade, or even actively pursue the “pink dollar” by depicting queer couples in advertisements.
While Worrall acknowledged that some customers may be homophobic, "the percentage of people that'll be turned off by pro-queer advertising is dwindling fast," she said.
Some recent examples include failed campaigns by the American-based Christian activist group One Million Moms. The group tried to get JC Penney to drop out-lesbian celebrity Ellen Degeneres as its spokesperson and also pressured Toys R Us to remove the gay wedding Life With Archie issue. The efforts backfired. JC Penney and its shoppers stood firmly behind Degeneres and the Archie issue sold out.
Qmunity's new executive director Dara Parker told the Straight by phone that being inclusive is simply good business sense. "It's beyond the feel-good story of doing the right thing, but the queer community is also a commercial market that businesses should be conscious of when they are advertising and developing markets…."
Both Worrall and Parker gave numerous suggestions for how businesses can become inclusive by establishing internal committees, creating nongendered washrooms, offering additional gender options on forms, developing policies for things ranging from pronoun use to locker rooms, and more.
Companies that need help in doing so can always consult Qmunity, B.C.’s queer resource centre.
“We want organizations to know that if they do have something that arises, either a conflict or an issue or simply if they want to be proactive about creating inclusive work spaces…this is training that we can provide,” Parker said. “I think a lot of businesses are interested in being queer-friendly but don’t necessarily know what that means or what that looks like. So we have trained facilitators that can come in and do a one-hour workshop in your workplace that can give you some tips and tools and sometimes help defuse a situation if a conflict has unfortunately arisen in the workplace.”
Worrall chalks up diversity workplace practices (which includes considering multicultural staff, employees with disabilities, and more) as a wise business strategy.
“When you’re a company, you want as many different points of view as you can get when you’re coming up with a product line, when you’re coming up with an advertising campaign….If you just hire the same person…you’re gonna get one opinion. Diversity is the key to being an adaptive company.”