Pride & Diversity in the Workplace: Supporting LGBTQI+ Employees

June 26, 2023

In this rapidly evolving world of gender fluidity and pan-sexual freedom, there is an argument to be made around whether the idea of ‘coming out at work’ is perhaps becoming obsolete. After all, shouldn’t authenticity be the norm, without any need for labels or disclosures?

But here’s the thing: while we can certainly celebrate the progress we’ve made; we can’t overlook the fact that not everyone feels completely comfortable being their true selves at work. That’s why finding a supportive environment where you can bring your whole self to the table is still a crucial step towards unlocking your full potential and thriving in your career.

WORK180 is dedicated to helping you do this, which is why we spoke to six LGBTQI+ employees with first-hand experience working for diverse and inclusive employers. 

Their individual stories and insights reveal ways in which companies can create a safe and supportive workplace for LGBTQI+ employees and show the positive impact that progressive workplace policies have had on their lives. 

From policies that protect and uplift LGBTQI+ employees to fostering a sense of belonging and understanding, these employers have earned their rainbow stripes when it comes to supporting this community.

Ernst & Young Australia | Cisco Meraki | Canva | Thales | QFES | Powerlink 

Ernst & Young Australia (EY)EY logo

Consulting & professional services | 5,001-10,000 employees

Alissa is a manager in the Real Estate Advisory and Project Management team at Ernst & Young, Australia.

She identifies as a bisexual/pansexual/queer woman.

Tell us about a time when you felt truly supported in your workplace?

I feel most supported by my workplace when we have great attendance by both LGBTQI+ individuals and allies at our events. After a panel event where panellists feel safe to share their experiences and the impact of their stories is felt by the entire room, I get a buzz from the supportive energy. There is a sense of everyone coming together to learn and consider what else can be done to further inclusion.

Earlier in the year, I was able to access Gender Affirmation Leave to care for my partner after he had “top” surgery. Knowing my workplace recognizes this as a form of leave required for trans and non-binary individuals, as well as their primary carers showed me that workplace inclusion policies have come a long way, and that inclusion isn’t something we only focus on at certain times of the year or for certain events.

What advice could employers take to make you and others feel safe to be open in the workplace?

I would encourage employers to approach this from multiple angles to truly make employees feel safe to be open. Inclusivity and ally training, communicating inclusive values during onboarding, having clear policies, and having an active pride network and events are all equally important for a wholistically inclusive environment. 

Seeing EY Australia publicly submit its support for the bill to ban conversion therapy practices set a great precedent for workplaces to get further involved in advocating for LGBTQI+ rights. It sent a clear message to the community that EY Australia is an open workplace.

Cisco Merakicisco meraki logo

I.T., digital & online media services | 1,001-5,000 employees

Theresa DeCola is a Cloud Product Manager at Cisco Meraki

“I identify as a bisexual cis woman.”

Tell us about a time when you felt truly supported in your workplace?

One of the values at Meraki is “Everybody in,” meaning everyone should be supported and included. One of my favorite things about Meraki is that this value is taken very seriously. People are mindful of pronouns and many folks put them in their employee profiles and email signatures. 

One thing that stood out to me when I joined Meraki was how careful folks are about gendered language. Most people will refer to their partner, rather than boyfriend or girlfriend, which made me feel a lot more comfortable sharing about my life. There are many people who are openly LGBTQI+ at Meraki, and this has been my first time working for a company where I felt I could be open with my peers and leaders about my identity.

What advice could employers take to make you and others feel safe to be open in the workplace?

Including pronouns in messaging applications and email signatures can go a long way to make people feel comfortable. If there is a culture where everyone, regardless of identity, is discussing pronouns, it fosters an environment where people feel comfortable and know that they will be referred to in the correct way at work. 

This can be an impactful way to help people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work. 

When folks are talking about life outside of work, being mindful of phrasing and word choice can make a huge difference for LGBTQI+ folks as well. Using language such as ‘partner’, rather than ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’, can help people feel comfortable sharing more about their life without having to out themselves. 

Additionally, not making assumptions about what gender someone’s partner is (e.g. asking a female co-worker if they are bringing a boyfriend to the holiday party) can go a long way to show people that they are welcome, regardless of how they identify or who they love.

Canvacanva logo

I.T., digital & online media services | 1,001-5,000 employees

Manon Pietra (she/her), is a DEI partner at Canva.

“I personally think we need to move on from needing to know people’s identity to ‘place’ them in the alphabet soup. I can appreciate that for some people, their identity is something they love to lead with, that’s not the case for me”

Tell us about a time when you felt truly supported in your workplace?

In 2022, thanks to Canva’s inclusive parental leave policy, I had the opportunity to spend several months in France (my home country) with my wife and our baby. 

Spending this amount of quality time as a family, surrounded by my parents whom I only see every few years, would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Canva’s support and recognition that parenting looks different for different people and that you don’t have to be the birth parent to want to spend time with your child.

Not only did the paid leave support us to take several months off together to see our baby roll, babble, and dribble… but the flexibility to decide when and how to take it, allowed us to design our family’s first year together in the way that best suited our circumstances.

What advice could employers take to make you and others feel safe to be open in the workplace?

Be intentional about celebrating certain events in the calendar to send employees a clear signal that your workplace is inclusive and celebrates the LGBTQI+ community. 

Being a sponsor of Sydney WorldPride and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Canva comes alive with rainbows and glitter every year which goes a very long way in creating a culture of celebration and inclusivity for our community!

Don’t underestimate the power of endorsing and celebrating these events at the most senior level! We know that engagement should be strong throughout the entire organization but something very special happens when leadership is visible and proud — as a member of the LGTBQI+ community or as an ally.

Review your policies and processes regularly. In which areas could you make your benefits or the way you communicate more inclusive? If you don’t know where to start, look for an external partner to guide your efforts.


Defense & emergency | 1,001-5,000 employeesthales logo

“My name is Billie. I am trans-feminine, identify as non-binary and use rolling pronouns, he/they/she. 

I began transitioning in May 2022 and started to come out around December 2022 / January 2023.”

Tell us about a time when you felt truly supported in your workplace?

I have two examples to choose from.

One day, a cis-female colleague enquired to me in private if she could ask me an ‘office etiquette’ question. I really didn’t see that one coming since I had never shared my identity with her.

She reported being uncomfortable in a meeting (which I wasn’t attending) where people referred to me as he/him and wondered if she should have corrected them.

I told her that I was using rolling pronouns and that it didn’t matter. But it was a very sweet attention from her to think about it and ask me what to do. It also proved that my identity was known (to some), understood, and respected.

For the other example, I will quote verbatim pieces of a chat I had with Sienna. There is no better example of what a genuine ally is, and it also proves that our workplace is safe.

After noticing the rolling pronouns in my signature, she asked “Can I ask, how do you like the combination to be used?”, to which I suggested she could use she/her only “since 99% of people will stick to he/him”, and I added, “Of course, we can expect a few people to react to that but it can be a great opportunity to educate them, and I authorize you to out me as much as you need to in that process”. 

She answered:  

“Y’know what, part of being an ally is taking some of that heat off you so if you’re happy with me referring to you as she so people get used to it, I’m all for it! I can only imagine how exhausting explaining yourself gets so if I can prevent even one person from needing that from you, I’m down. 

“Thanks for the permission to out you (haha) I will admit that was the one thing I was hesitant about because the last thing I would want is to put you in an unsafe situation. 

“It’s kind of nice that our workplace is safe enough for that.”

What advice could employers take to make you and others feel safe to be open in the workplace?

Having LGBTQI+ Employee Resource Groups. Promote those groups, the content they produce, and the events they organize to make them well known.

Organize events around LGBTQI+ topics such as “Purple Day”, “Midsumma festival”, and “IDAHOBIT day” with help from well-trained partners such as Pride in Diversity. This not only helps educate people but also helps to identify allies (they typically take a part in organizing the event, or at least attend actively). 

This is how I identified some of our allies who were amongst the first few people to whom I came out to.

Queensland Fire and Emergency ServicesQFES logo


Defence & emergency | 10,000+

Paula Douglas (she/her) is a Station Officer at Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

“As an identity I am a lesbian but do not use the label for myself personally.

Tell us about a time when you felt truly supported in your workplace?

I am fortunate I’ve mostly felt included and supported by my colleagues and work environment. And while there are times I’ve felt challenged and excluded, the positives far outweigh the negative experiences I’ve had. And I have been able to lean on the support of my colleagues through these occasions. 

However, one memory stands out to me when one work colleague had a personal conversation with my partner about women in the fire service. Through this conversation the gentleman explained how he never liked the idea of women firefighters, but my partner and I changed his mind about that amongst other things like two gay couples being married and having children. And for this reason, he said once upon a time he would have voted NO to gay marriage, but at the time that it counted he voted YES and that he is now our biggest supporter.

What advice could employers take to make you and others feel safe to be open in the workplace?

I think just accept each human as they are and accept their individuality as a strength. I think in this day and age everyone just wants to be accepted for what they bring and not be defined as a label. No one wants their lives valued any differently because they are a different sex, a different race, a different religion, a different conform to what they think society should be or their sexual orientation. 

Everyone brings something different, and those differences are what make us amazing, and we are the society of humanity. It’s not just equality we seek, it’s equity. Real, genuine equity.

Janhavi Kale (she/her), is the Team Leader Telecommunication Systems Design, Delivery & Technical Solutions at Powerlink

“I am a Woman of Color and identify as Queer/Bi.”

Tell us about a time when you felt truly supported in your workplace?

As Co-founder and Chair of Pride in Power (Powerlink’s LGBTQI+ employee resource group), the most rewarding part of this journey has been knowing the impact our work has had on someone’s personal journey or experience at work, including my own.

When I started the group, I was not completely out myself. I was still navigating the challenges of reconciling my cultural and sexual identity and what that meant for me. I was terrified of being visible in the workplace and the impact that would have on my professional journey. It felt isolating enough to be a woman in STEMM, let alone a South Asian woman and queer. I struggled to find representation and visibility in the business and was passionate to bring about this change.

Pride in Power was formed to build an LGBTQI+ inclusive workplace so that every single person felt empowered, embraced, and safe to bring their whole self to work. So that no one ever had to question whether their sexual or gender identity was going to be a barrier for them in navigating their career or building their network. So that no one had to expend energy trying to hide and mask themselves or who they loved.

While there is still a long way to go, the employee resource groups, our leadership, and the business is committed to driving this change. 

What advice could employers take to make you and others feel safe to be open in the workplace?

Some steps Powerlink has taken and is on the journey of taking to make the LGBTQI+ community feel safe in the workplace include:

  • Visibility – visible signs of support, sharing voices/stories of lived experiences + allies. Creating a visible community of support.
  • Creating safe spaces for employees to learn, grow, and build a cohort of active allies. This way the burden doesn’t fall only on the ones with lived experience.
  • Driving systemic changes such as the development of inclusive policies.
  • Having an informed/aware leadership cohort (across all levels) that foster an LGBTQI+ inclusive culture and model inclusive behavior. This includes standing up to behavior that is not in alignment with that.
  • Celebrating LGBTQI+ days of significance as an organization.
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not Ernst & Young. This article provides general information, does not constitute advice, and should not be relied on as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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