Diversity & Inclusion at Solstice: Leveraging vulnerability, empathy, and courage to honor LGBTQ+ Pride History

Diversity and Inclusion have always been at the center of my life, so it made perfect sense for me to be a part of the Diversity Committee at Solstice when I joined the firm. I was mostly just excited and passionate about getting involved and making an impact on the culture at Solstice. I had no idea that two years later I would step into the role of Diversity Committee Lead. Upon taking this new responsibility, a fire in my belly was lit and it’s been my mission to ensure that the voices of employees from diverse backgrounds are heard in order to create a comfortable working environment – where individuals can bring their authentic selves to work.

Focused on Origins & Enhancing LGBTQ+'s History

One of my first passion projects was honoring LGBTQ+ Pride Month. A lot of times I notice that the history of the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for human rights is lost due to a greater focus being placed on celebrations rather than history. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Pride festivities as much as the next person, but the nucleus of LGBTQ+ Pride is the continuous fight for human rights. This year, it was even more important to highlight LGBTQ+ human rights given that it was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots were a series of violent demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community against a police raid that began on the morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn. This riot sparked the beginning of the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for human rights and is known to many — as the first LGBTQ+ Pride.

Copy of Diversity Committee - Pride Cafe 2

At Solstice, we kicked off Pride Month with a happy hour. Solstice employees were able to learn about the history of Pride while bonding with each other over rainbow-themed food and beverages. The office space was filled with Solsties wearing Solstice-branded Pride pins and rainbow beads. There was an emphasis placed on the importance of being an Ally, someone who stands with and supports the LGBTQ+ community. A rainbow Ally Pledge Wall was displayed that day and remained visible throughout the month of June. By the end of Pride Month, more than 100 Solsties had signed their promise to stand with and support the LGBTQ+ community as Allies.

Sharing Experiences to Empower Inclusion 

The Diversity Committee coordinated two Lunch & Learns throughout Pride Month. These were opportunities for Solsties to gather together for food, a break from work, and gain some insight into the LGBTQ+ experience. 

The first Lunch & Learn was a moderated panel discussion with five panelists: someone who shared their experience of being an openly gay male, an individual who shared their journey of transitioning and living as a transgender woman, two of our senior leaders who spoke about being Allies, and myself who shared intricate details of coming out to family and then again in corporate America. We covered a range of topics, including living and working as one’s true self, how to celebrate one’s many identities, and even discussed how to resolve microaggressions inside and outside of the workplace. This panel, which was live-streamed across global Solstice offices and at our client sites, created an emotional connection amongst peers, bringing many to tears. It took a tremendous amount of courage for myself and others on the panel to open up about our personal lives in the workplace.

Copy of Diversity Committee - Ally Wall 2

Personally, when I was first asked to share my coming out story, I was scared and sobbed to a friend. I was soon reassured that sharing those dark, raw, moments of my experience as being an openly gay Black man would help someone else and would also create a space of empathy in the workplace. When I weighed the pros and cons, I knew that I had to share my story. As a result, others living in fear now know they have a support system to lean on and we have made the work environment even more inclusive by creating a safe space for others to bring their authentic selves to Solstice every day.

The second Lunch & Learn highlighted the importance of proper pronoun usage as it relates to respecting another’s identity. This conversation not only highlighted a few best practices (like listing one’s preferred pronoun next to your personal name in Slack!) but also introduced to many Solsties the use of ‘Mx’ (a gender-neutral honorific for those who don't wish to be identified by gender). An important key takeaway from this Lunch & Learn was acknowledging the fact that yes, mistakes will happen. When this occurs, a great solution is to apologize and move on.

The End... Is Just The Beginning 

We concluded the month much like we started — with a happy hour together. But this one was set up like a block party across our Chicago office celebrating one year in our new space and honoring the end of June's events. As the month came to a close, one question kept popping into my head, "Pride month is over, now what?". This question would ultimately lead to a Call to Action created by our Diversity Committee that highlighted three key pillars:

1) Refer LGBTQ+ individuals: If your network is not big enough, there is a great opportunity to expand it. 

2) Sign the Pledge Wall as a promise to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. 

3) Take action to support the community by donating time and resources to non-profit organizations that eliminate disparities experienced by folks who identify as LGBTQ+.

Even though LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2019 is over, the Diversity Committee has made an everlasting impact that will be remembered for years to come.