The Power of Inclusion in Business and at Work

Nan and I became friends years ago, at the beginning of my HR career.  One of my roles at my new plant site was writing and editing the weekly employee newsletter; Nan was in charge of the Print Shop as part of the Marketing Team.  I stopped in during my first week on the job to introduce myself. Nan remembered me from college, and reminded me that we had overlapped tenures during our coursework in the Women’s Studies program at our alma mater.  We chatted for several minutes about people we knew and our experiences with them.  I liked Nan immediately.  A fellow New Yorker, she was and is one of the smartest and most creative people I know.  As a poet and writer herself, Nan is also down to earth and refreshingly WYSIWYG.

In the middle of our conversation, Nan got suddenly solemn and lowered her voice to a whisper, even though there was no one around.  “You know, I’m a lesbian.” I was surprised at the change of the subject, and the sharing.  “No, I didn’t.  But thanks for letting me know.” Nan was now concerned.  “I just figured you knew since some of our mutual college friends are gay.  I hope that’s okay, especially since you work in Human Resources.”

I was confused, thinking of my best friend John, who had come out to me years before.  “Why wouldn’t it be?  Nan’s eyes welled up.  “Because it’s not safe to be openly gay at work.”  I swallowed the lump in my throat, stricken by Nan’s anguish of not being able to be herself at work.  “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me.”

Not only was our work relationship safe for Nan and me, it was the beginning of a decades-long friendship marked by great colleagueship, fun and the best spaghetti-and-meatballs lunches you can ever imagine. Nan and I worked together on great projects, including but not limited to the first Take Our Children to Work events at our plant, with complimentary but required hardhats and safety training. Our friendship has also been a space where we can contribute to each other’s vocational / career development and success.

Fast-forwarding to 2013, I’m grateful to have witnessed progress in business and the greater society towards inclusion of my friends and colleagues in the LGBT community. Progress, not perfection for sure, but progress nonetheless.

Such as finally finding the calendar white space to accept my friend and colleague Curran’s invitation to attend the Pride Center Business Alliance LGBT Professionals’ Mixer.  Nearly 70 people jammed the restaurant that night, networking up a storm.  While I was a minority attendee, unlike Nan all those years ago, I felt overwhelmingly welcome, and safe.  Or Nan, inviting us all on social media this week to stop by her house for a celebratory toast with her wife Lauren, as they had married at the San Francisco City Hall just before DOMA was enacted in California.

In honor of the Fourth of July holiday this week:  what steps can you personally take to leverage the power of inclusion – supporting the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of all, in business and at work?


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