How employers are showing ‘Pride’ in June, despite COVID-19

Framed by a digital rainbow banner and home-office settings, with partners and kids alongside them, 11 PwC employees recently collaborated on a video to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. Together, they define the future, using descriptors like “intersectional,” “being an ally,” “celebrating our differences,” “equal for everyone” and “bright.”

The video, which garnered more than 2,600 views in two weeks, is just one way the firm is striving to show its support for its LGBTQ employees—in a year when Pride parades, LGBTQ social events and in-person educational forums, which PwC typically supports and stages, are all sidelined.

Experience with social isolation is an unfortunate reality for many LGBTQ individuals, making employer outreach especially meaningful during the pandemic, says Michael Proppe, a principal at PwC who joined the organization in 2015.

Michael Proppe, PwC

“As the luxury of separating work from home becomes the days of a bygone era and in-person touchpoints are limited, organizations need to foster connections and community among LGBTQ+ professionals and their allies to continue to nurture inclusivity and avoid unnecessarily excluding people in an evolving and increasingly diverse talent landscape,” Proppe says.

This year, the organization quickly pivoted to virtually celebrate Pride Month. All of its social media channels are carrying LGBTQ-affirming messages, such as the #TheFutureIs video, coming-out stories from PwC employees and highlights of supportive benefits. The PwC U.S. National Shine Committee—a chapter of the PWC Shine Network for LGBTQ professionals, of which Proppe is a member—is organizing a Pride-themed trivia night, fundraising for cross-country bike tour AIDS/LifeCycle and streaming a Pride webcast.

The shift to virtual Pride celebrations is one many companies are seeing this year. Nearly 80% of the employers i4cp recently polled about Pride Month programming formally recognize the occasion each year, and 73% of them have created new virtual events this year for employees; more than half are increasing their participation in virtual events organized by external or community groups.

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Proppe notes such initiatives foster a sense of belonging among PwC employees, which ultimately can motivate higher performance, better job satisfaction and lower turnover.

“Employees want to stay, but they require the right environment and culture,” he says.

See also: What the SCOTUS ruling on LGBTQ rights means for employers

That culture is supported by benefits that are uniquely designed to be LGBTQ-inclusive: domestic-partner coverage, parental leave, gender-inclusive medical coverage, and assistance with adoption and surrogacy, among the offerings.

Proppe’s own experience reflects the impact of such benefits. He and his husband began searching for a surrogate in 2014 and learned about PwC’s parental and fertility benefits. PwC expanded its programs to include surrogacy after the couple was expecting—a process that ultimately took about four years and cost more than $200,000—but they were still allowed to take advantage of the benefits; they welcomed their daughter, Emma, in 2018 and are planning to continue to build their family.

“Employees want to stay, but they require the right environment and culture.”

“The visibility and inclusion of family building of all types at PwC made me feel confident that I could speak openly and receive support with my family journey at the firm,” he says.

Amplifying a supportive culture has also been a cornerstone of Comcast Corp.’s approach to Pride Month programming, says Mini Timmaraju, executive director of diversity and inclusion at Comcast.

The organization’s employee resource groups follow a “4c” model—career, culture, community and commerce—so its Pride celebrations typically target each of those areas, and this year all programming was moved online. Its ERG [email protected] hosted a three-part Pride Month Career Series with corporate learning leader and performance consultant Jayzen Patria.

To kick off its new virtual D&I Speaker Series, the group last week hosted ELLE.com writer and best-selling author R. Eric Thomas, to which more than 1,000 employees tuned in. Given the moment the country is in with regards to conversations around racial inequality, adds Timmaraju, she’s particularly proud that the LGBTQ group worked with ERG Black Employee Network (BEN) on a “really impactful” virtual panel, “Black Pride & Perspective.”

“This marked the second year of this initiative and we’re excited for it becoming a regular feature of our Pride content,” she says.

Mini Timmaraju, Comcast Corp.

The conversation explored the black and brown LGBTQ experience in Philadelphia, where Comcast is headquartered; highlighted local LGBTQ organizations of color; considered media representation; and discussed allyship.

Given the growing national consciousness around racial injustice, intersectionality is a common theme in many corporate Pride celebrations this year, according to the i4cp survey. The organization found that 60% of the employers it surveyed intended to acknowledge and express solidarity with social-justice movements like Black Lives Matter in their Pride programming; nearly 40% said they would deliberately focus on overlapping issues impacting LGBTQ people of color.

At Comcast, the LGBTQ ERG is one of several that have turned to virtual outlets for connection-building during the pandemic. Last month, the Asian Pacific Americans ERG shifted its in-person plans for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month to instead include activities like a virtual game night and yoga session. Its VetNet ERG, for veterans and military families, has staged panel discussions, a crisis seminar and holds weekly social sessions every Friday.

Earlier this week, BEN leader Jamar Johnson delivered remarks in Comcast’s D&I Speaker Series, with Chief Diversity Officer Karen Buchholz and professor and author Ibraham X. Kendi, which more than 5,000 people participated in.

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“Engaging with employees is absolutely critical, but especially so during the coronavirus pandemic and in times of protest and social upheaval,” Timmaraju says.

The leaders of the organization’s ERGs have been “critical” to efforts to move Pride Month and other cultural programming in the last few months to virtual settings, she adds.

The organization has eight ERGs, with 197 chapters across the country; more than 35,000 Comcast employees belong to the groups. Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts specifically called out the ERGs in his recent announcement unveiling the organization’s $100 million commitment to advance social justice and equality, pledging added financial support for the groups.

“We want to attract, hire and retain the best talent possible,” Timmaraju says. “These groups help us retain and nurture talent through mentorship. We have more than 400 mentor/mentee pairs, and 65% of those mentees have been promoted. So, we know this effort pays dividends when you put the work into it and see people succeed and advance in their careers. We’re just doing this more on virtual platforms right now, but that social distancing hasn’t diminished our resolve.”

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