Looks aren’t everything… how does your workplace feel?

The Institute for Management Development (IMD) Business School Dean David Bach interviewed me about “how to build an inclusive workplace?” for their HR series in light of pride month.

Original interview here


Equity, Inclusion & Diversity is a space in a constant state of evolution, says co-founder of Workplace Pride, the international platform for LGBTQ+ inclusion at work. Networks and resources are places to focus.

David Bach: What does an inclusive workplace look like?

Marion Mulder: Looks aren’t everything – it’s more a feeling that is not always easy to identify using a checklist. In an inclusive workplace you feel at home and appreciate each other’s differences rather than see them as a nuisance.  Companies that have truly inclusive workplaces often pride themselves on their tolerance and diversity, and have it engrained in their corporate culture. In other words, an inclusive workplace feels like home. What is easier to describe, however, is a workplace that isn’t inclusive – where you feel left out or unsafe. Bullying and micro-aggressions are not always visible, for example, but if you take a closer look, they are often hiding just beneath the surface.  

Bach: Together with David Pollard, you co-founded Workplace Pride in 2006. How did this come about?

Workplace Pride was inspired by leadership from employee networks. We started as a grassroots organization and have become a thought leader, with 75 members around the world including the Dutch national government and many NGOs. Our members include, of course, private sector organizations like Royal Dutch Shell, ABN AMRO, and other Fortune 500 players. We need a range of member organizations from the private and public sectors to see and hear the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ conversation – at Workplace Pride, people and organizations that don’t agree on many other topics do agree on our goals and are able to join forces. Although we are Europe-based, we look at all localities around the world, wherever our membership has offices. 

Bach: How does Workplace Pride help organizations become more inclusive? 

Mulder: Joining Workplace Pride allows a certain visible commitment to our ten-point plan called the Declaration of Amsterdam. Among the points are the monetary dedication toward LGBTQ+ rights, and importantly, the presence of an employee network, as well as dedicated LGBTQ+ policies. We develop many training programs and have a global benchmark survey for all the countries we represent. This gives good insight on where a company stands: it provides a report with evidence and can serve as input for other companies. If you are here and want to be there, this is how you do it. Does your organization have the right policies and practices in place? Workplace Pride has the tools and infrastructure to help guide you. We hold many conferences, now fully virtual, and webinars hosted by member organizations. We also recently launched the Meet the 24 LGBTIQ women to know list. 

Bach: Today, major Fortune 500’s are active participants in Workplace Pride; what does the typical new member look like?

Mulder: There is no typical new member, every organization is different. In general, EI&D has become such a normal thing that people talk about compared to 10 years ago – back then you really had to convince organizations or senior leadership it was needed. I have seen a societal shift where impact is important, especially with millennial consumers. The majority of companies has realized that just being in the game for the profit only is no longer possible. Some do it reluctantly, but in the end it all leads us to a better place. Others are still in the early stages, but they know EI&D important to them and want to showcase it.  

Corporate activism is starting to pick up. Some want to do more – change more laws, be more active and a better global citizen. In seven or more countries in the world there is a death penalty for being who you are (that is for LGBTQ+ people), and there are other countries where they are actually turning back the clock on human rights. So, although legal situation and marriage family laws are becoming more equitable in many countries, we mustn’t forget that the situation is worsening overall, and we need to intervene where possible through activism or silent advocacy. 

Bach: The business case for inclusion has been made many times over, but can you explain why doing this is helpful as you engage with an organization?

Mulder: It depends on who you need to convince! More hierarchical and traditional companies need to see the numbers; research backs up the fact that this works. It also depends how privileged the leadership is, and whether they believe that taking good care of your people is the right thing to do. This can be hard work because we are all so different and we all have our own biases. When you’re in your own bubble it’s hard to see what’s going on outside. But in the end, the business case is that a diverse team is a smart team that brings various strengths to the table.  

Bach: You are working with leading organizations and are privy to unique insights: what in your view, sets an LGBTQ+-friendly organization apart from one that really gets this issue and one that does not?

Mulder: Its part of their DNA. They believe in it – and you believe that they believe in it. By taking action and putting all the necessary things in place they show that they truly believe in EI&D and are in it for the long haul. This could include doing an employee survey, as well as the other research on the most effective approaches. It might also include collaboration with academic institutions, non-profits, and civil society organizations. 

Bach: Speaking of academic institutions, what can you tell me about Workplace Pride’s new chair at Leiden University?

Mulder: Our Research Chair at Leiden University (Professor Jojanneke van der Toorn) is partially funded by one of our corporate members and facilitates further research on many different LGBTQ+ workplace topics. There isn’t all that much research into LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace, so this Chair and partnership can help bring academia, businesses and civil society organizations together with real data and facts.  

Bach: If you were to give some advice to the leaders who read this interview, what would you say they could do, or avoid doing as individuals, to create an inclusive and caring environment for LGBTQ+ people?

Mulder: Start talking with your people and you’ll hear where your organization needs work. Not just the “yes” men or women but speak with everyone – especially those who might have a conflicting opinion that you don’t want to hear. Speak to other business leaders about what they are doing and how they are getting the message across, as it’s helpful to hear in your own language from your own peers across industries. We at Workplace Pride are there to help you. My sense is that once you talk to others, you’re amazed to realize how diverse your staff is and how much need there was in the organization to have an open conversation about inclusivity. If people are sincere and it isn’t just lip service, then yes, progress can be made naturally, and quickly. Put resources behind it, whether that is funding or people. Walk the talk!