The importance of being proud
Every year, June comes around and the rainbow is everywhere. Logos, t-shirts, posters, social media, TV, clothes stores, you name it. There are many variations of the Rainbow Flag, with the most popular being the six-color version designed by Gilbert Baker in the 70s and a plethora of others representing different sexual and gender identities.…
Pride in the Workplace – Pedro
My first internship was at a multinational telecommunications company here in Lisbon (too little did I know about how important this internship would be later, but we’ll get to that). This is a company that, like many others, does a lot of things during Pride month, like handing out rainbow-colored merch, social media posts, etc.
I never felt that the company culture there was discriminatory or close-minded; however, I worked closely with a colleague who would often explain to me why he thought gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed, why transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to transition, or why he didn’t think children should learn about the LGBTQIA+ community. Mind you, he didn’t know I was gay, we would just be talking about something and these topics would come up. He also told me he thought a guy who worked on the same floor as we had only gotten far in his career because he was gay, and the company wanted to “use him” as a token of progressiveness.
My internship ended and I left the company. I never told anyone I was gay.
My second internship was at an established, large Portuguese company. This company doesn’t tout its progressive culture to the seven winds, so I wasn’t expecting much. When I got there, almost every day some of my colleagues would make jokes about women, comment on women’s bodies, joke about gay people, etc. They would also often tell me that the new generations didn’t know how to take jokes and that if some gay guy entered the team, they would probably get in trouble. As a young worker desperate to start my career, I stayed silent and never said anything.
My internship ended and I left the company. I never told anyone I was gay.
My first real job was at a consulting firm. Again, this company changes its logo for Pride month, and… that’s it. On my very first day there, one of my new colleagues made a transphobic joke.
After 6 months, I quit the company. I never told anyone I was gay.
Finally, I came to MB.io. To be honest, I didn’t know much about MB.io’s stance on Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community, but from my previous experiences, I knew I should probably stay quiet and silently nod if someone started talking about romantic partners, give an awkward laugh if someone made a homophobic joke and, all in all, just stay quietly on my corner and do my job.
However, one of the first people I met here was Inês. She had worked at the same telecom company I had been an intern at. There, she befriended one of my closest friends and eventually referred her to MB.io, and then my friend referred me. See, I told you the internship would be important.
Inês was not only incredibly nice and welcoming, but she was also openly lesbian. I still remember feeling my heart skip a beat when she casually mentioned having a girlfriend. It was a true “ah!” moment that made me realize it was okay for me to be openly gay at my job. I could finally participate in conversations about romantic partners without having to hide the fact that I have a boyfriend. I could finally befriend people at my workplace without the fear of hearing a homophobic or transphobic joke. I could finally talk to my colleagues without having to debate my right to marry the person I love.
The difference was astounding. I remember getting nervous afterward about casually mentioning I had a boyfriend, wondering if the others wouldn’t be as welcoming as Inês. But every time I said it to someone else, no one made any comments on it. They just kept talking to me without a problem. It was like a weight had been taken off my shoulders, and I could finally breathe again.
Pride in the Workplace – inês
As Pedro, my first work experience was not the most welcoming one. I worked for a consulting company where I casually heard homophobic and racist jokes every day. Where the thought of being out of the closet at work was never ever something I considered. If you are not part of the community, it might be hard for you to understand how hurtful it can be to hear people talking about their weekend plans with their romantic partners, or about dates, whatever, and just quietly keep your mouth shut and hope no one asks you directly.
I left that company after 9 months and no one there knew I was gay.
My second job was at the telecommunications company where Pedro also did his internship. The difference from my previous job was huge. This was a company that actually commemorated Pride every year, and I never heard any specifically homophobic comment. It was a fairly open and progressive culture. However, I didn’t know anyone there that was openly LGBTQIA+. I’m sure there were plenty, in such a large company, statistically, there had to be. But not in my work circle.
I made some close friends there, so in the final months of working there I did come out to those friends and was not actively hiding my sexuality from anyone at work, but I wasn’t fully comfortable, since I was still, to my knowledge, “the only gay in the village”.
Fast forward to MB.io – during the recruitment process I met many people that gave me the impression of an open, innovative and progressive company culture, and I had decided that in my next job I would be fully out, as a matter of principle and honestly because I felt comfortable enough in my career to know that if I encountered homophobia or an environment that didn’t align with my principles I could just leave and find a job elsewhere.
MB.io has a rite of passage for new joiners. In your first week, you need to select three objects that represent yourself and present them to the entire company, so that everyone can learn a bit more about the person, beyond a name and work title. I felt this was a great initiative, and it also made my life much easier, because I simply mentioned my girlfriend during my presentation and immediately came out to 150+ people. I didn’t know at the time if MB.io was truly an accepting and open workplace, but since then I can say that I’ve met more openly LGBTQIA+ here, than in almost any other place in my life. For me, this really shows the positive environment that exists in MB.io, where all these people feel comfortable enough to be themselves openly, and so that when a new joiner, like Pedro, was at the time, joins the company, they can see themselves represented in their colleagues, and be emboldened to be their true selves openly at work.
pride at Mb.io
These are the true markers of open and welcoming company culture. Not rainbow logos, vapid LinkedIn posts, empty statements. It’s the people that make the culture, not these facades. And, most importantly, it’s the people who aren’t afraid to be who they are, who are willing to step up and set an example, and who are brave enough to forge the path for others. Without Inês, I probably would have never “come out” at work. It’s because of her and so many others who were brave enough to show their colors that we are now writing this article.
So, if you are not a part of the community and struggle to understand why June is so colorful, we hope you understand a bit better now. At MB.io, we organized meetups in each of our office locations for people to get together and attend the Pride parades. We also prepared internal pages with songs, books, movies, TV shows, and short videos with LGBTQIA+ themes, as well as external resources for those looking to donate to organizations or just get information about the topic. We are also preparing internal trainings to better educate people and a joint donation between employees and organizations.
Thankfully, we are now at a place where we can write this article and have it published for all to see. A few years ago, we would’ve never even dreamt about it, and all it took was one person and a company culture that is truly open and welcome to all. So, if you are reading this and you’re wondering how you can truly celebrate Pride in your company, know that, beyond whatever initiative you might be planning, it’s the people who make a difference.
More articles about Diversity Diaries will be released soon. Keep an eye out to find out more!