Nancy Di Dia shares how her experience as a Lesbian Executive informs her leadership style and Christina Hyppolite shares how Nancy's perspective has helped her thrive.
Nancy's Allyship story...
In the 1990’s being LGBTQIA+ in the workplace was a challenge. We argued whether it should be GLBT or G&L. Queer or I were not part of the acronym, however we were a big part of the workplace—secretly. You knew the other LGBT colleagues in the workspace, and you were either part of an ERG, socialized with these colleagues outside of work, but kept that part of you private. So much so, you almost never referenced your significant other. We were using pronouns before it was cool to do so. Fast forward to current day workplaces, More than 20% of Fortune 500 companies offer some type of gender affirming care. In our workplaces, intersectionality should always be integrated in any type of DEIB work, especially if organizations are keen to support their LGBTQIA+ workforces. Intersectionality brings forth the many demographic identities that define an individual.
The challenge of being an LGBTQIA+ executive involves many considerations with respect to how you lead. Identity and expression are both very personal and can change for individuals over time, based on their comfort with their workplace culture and the space organizations create for inclusiveness and belonging. I chose to share my identity and expression as part of my authenticity and candor. Having experienced discrimination, jokes, comments, and curiosity about my “lifestyle” rather than my orientation, led me to stand strong in the face of vulnerable times and societal challenges. I realized the impact for LGBTQ patients, their challenges in the healthcare spaces, the lack of understanding of our needs, our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and the ultimate disparities this ignorance has caused in our society.
Consequently, I chose to leverage my orientation to foster the expression of diverse perspectives.For example, why would a same sex couple need to show a civil union certificate when heterosexual couples who lived together could claim dependent care? Being able to provide diverse perspectives and shine a light with a different level of insight can better help organizations attract, retain, and develop talent as well as serving diverse communities.
When people choose to join organizations, one of the validating factors is to look up and see if there is anyone that may be relatable or reflect a diverse style to which you may aspire. This is key for underrepresented groups primarily from a race, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and abilities perspective too. Being comfortable being you—is not only palpable to others but sets a platform for others to feel safe and secure in being their authentic selves too.
Workplaces that can prioritize equity, inclusion, belonging and of course, diversity by having LGBTQIA+ executives in leadership may bring different insights and consideration to various decision-making processes. This also signals to clients, providers, and potential talent that your organization truly values Diversity & Inclusion.
My identity as a Lesbian executive has provided me with deeper insights on the many other groups who experience exclusion, marginalization and microaggressions in the workplace as well. There is a heightened sensitivity which has provided me with the capacity to be bold, courageous and an amplified collective voice for the excluded.
Being present and open in the workplace is a platform for others to choose to be out with their identity. Adjusting the workplace, benefits, and culture to ensure full inclusion is an ongoing effort and requires explanation so the classic cisgender leaders can understand the underservice of an employee segment. When one lives with privilege and is not exposed to diversity of others beyond race and gender, unintentional exclusion may occur. This is why our leadership is crucial to ensuring equity across all employee segments, especially LGBTQIA+ and those with disabilities, who are neurodivergent, or have long-term health conditions. Finally, the burden of being in the closet in a workplace or society carries heavy weight to the heart and soul which impacts mental well-being and overall health. Our leadership is not only key to advancing cultures of inclusion, but impacting the markets and talents we continue to want to attract and retain.
Christina's Allyship story...
Growing up as a first-generation Haitian-American has many challenges. However, one thing I have always been certain of is the resilience of my ancestors’ bloodline, which has fueled me throughout my career as a diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner. I strive to channel that same reverence and strength throughout both my personal and professional life. I attended a Historically Black College in North Carolina, and that experience alone equipped and empowered me to not only take up space as a person, but also to embody the leader I desired to be by advocating for myself and others. The HBCU environment is designed to assist us in creating a healthy and supportive environment; as a result, they lead with inclusion, culture and belonging at the forefront. It is crucial to note that this specific design is intentional and unique to how these institutions function and are structured.
This particular structure has fueled my passion for DE&I and my thoughtfulness in how I approach allyship, support other underrepresented groups, and define this culture in traditional corporate spaces. After all, the truth is that workplace culture is not often designed with Black and/or marginalized identities in mind, which is regularly exhausting, mentally draining and harmful. When this experience is combined with multiple identities—such as being both Black and introverted in the workplace— it can sometimes leave you feeling misunderstood. This is why it’s important to position yourself with leaders and allies who “get it” (i.e., understand and empathize), and who make the time to create space for you, so that you too can take up space.
We’ve all had our share of micro-managers throughout our careers, which is never a fun experience. I dealt with this a lot in previous roles, but never realized how harmful it was until I was able to join a healthy and supportive work environment. As a leader, Nancy took the time to understand my working style, my communication style, and what was important to me as a person. She also took a dedicated interest in understanding what my professional goals were, where I saw myself in the organization and the field, and inquired about professional development areas that I wanted to invest in. From there, she explained that, together, with her help, I could achieve these goals. When these types of conversations regarding personhood and ideals take place and meaningful action is applied, it creates a psychologically safe environment. This allows for people to see and be seen—and to feel as though they can continue to be their authentic selves.
Nancy creates space. She disrupts the status quo, both when people are watching and when they are not. Furthermore, she also understands the impact of refusing to be complicit. I have witnessed her work tirelessly to uplift, empower, and advocate to create equitable spaces for Black people unapologetically. More importantly, I have seen her not care who it makes uncomfortable in the process. To me, these types of behaviors are at the core of allyship.
When these behaviors are modeled and on display for other leaders to see, it will permeate the culture to create one wherein other leaders strive to follow and embody these behaviors.
Nancy recognized through her experience and journey as a lesbian woman in corporate America—although similar in some cases, but ultimately very different from mine—that she had the power to facilitate transformation and influence change for other people that are often underrepresented and mistreated in corporate environments. She recognized the importance of this influence and dedication not only in the team she led, but also throughout the organization. She shows up as her true, authentic self, and openly and publicly makes mistakes. She then welcomes the opportunity to learn from them, which is an important part of an inclusive and supportive culture. Doing this important “work” can be heavy at times, but it is so important to feel supported, have the ability to take pause, and know when to prioritize your mental health and not feel guilty about it. Witnessing Nancy take charge as a leader and thus experiencing her support has enabled, challenged, and empowered me to be great in my work as a DE&I practitioner—which is a true gift that I will forever be grateful for.
If you would like to book Nancy as a Speaker for a webinar or panel discussion, please get in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the 'My Ally and Me' story-telling series:
At We Create Space we always aim to lift and amplify the voices of our global queer collective of change-makers. However with this story-telling series we wanted to give LGBTQ+ leaders the opportunity to bring an ally into the conversation and explain how their valued support has shaped their personal and professional journey.
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