LGBTQ+ Employees Share Stories, Insights

19 July, 2022

Members of Pride at Bohler Discuss the Company’s Inclusive Culture


Editor’s Note: The following story excludes names to protect participants’ privacy.

When employees feel comfortable being their true selves in the workplace and know that they will be accepted without judgment, they are less stressed and better able to focus on their work – which ultimately improves productivity and strengthens the business. Bohler understands this. It’s one reason the company’s leadership championed its recent LGBTQ+ Pride at Bohler panel event.

Held in June to align with Pride Month, the virtual event was the latest in Bohler’s Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity Speaker Series. The series offers employees the opportunity to learn from diversity and inclusion experts and highlights the company’s five employee resource groups (ERG), each of which is dedicated to a specific community. They include the Asian Professional Network, Black Professional Network, Latinx Professional Network, Pride at Bohler, and Women’s Professional Network. Employees directly lead the ERGs with strong support from Bohler’s senior leadership, including President and CEO Adam Volanth, PE.

During the hour-long Pride at Bohler event, five employees and one of those employee’s spouse courageously shared their experiences and insights about being LGBTQ+ in the workplace. Bohler’s Chief Legal Officer Jane Leopold-Leventhal, Esq., and Chief People Officer Rob Fodge sponsored and moderated the virtual event. The panelists discussed everything from why they decided to come out at work to how grateful they are for the Pride at Bohler group. “I have tons of gratitude for Bohler for helping us and supporting us through building this ERG,” one panelist said.

Sharing Experiences

When the panelists discussed their specific experiences, one described how for three and a half years, she introduced the woman that she is dating as just a friend at Bohler events because she was afraid that her colleagues would treat her differently if they knew she was in a relationship with a woman. But due in part to the inclusive environment that Bohler has developed, the panelist said, she recently overcame her fears and openly introduced her partner to colleagues at a work event.

“It was really inspiration from my partner and my friends, who were all out and proud and succeeding,” the panelist said of her decision to come out at work. “I think that’s why it was so important for me to help start this ERG: to create a safe space for people like me to have the inspiration and feel empowered and supported in The Bohler Way.”

Another panelist recalled his experience at his last place of employment. He said that after he came out as a gay man there, his colleagues harassed him, going so far as to stick nails in his tires and put political stickers on his car and in his office to intimidate him. “These are experiences that I’ve had, feeling comfortable to be out and then having that sort of backfire,” the panelist said. That panelist’s husband, who works as a director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for a national nonprofit organization, chimed in and said, “It was literally a nightmare where he was before. I was worried sick every single night.”

All of the panelists expressed gratitude for the inclusive environment that Bohler fosters. They said that they can be open about who they are without fear at Bohler, and they appreciate leaderships’ support of Pride at Bohler. “This group has opened doors,” one panelist said, noting that Pride at Bohler includes more members than the five who participated on the panel. “It has allowed us to build friendships with everybody here. This is a safe space.”

Answering Questions

In addition to sharing their specific stories, the panelist spoke generally about LGBTQ+ topics, including the importance of using people’s preferred pronouns, which Bohler endorses. “They’re important because you want to validate people,” one panelist said. “You never want to misgender anybody, and you never want to call a transgender person by their birth name instead of their chosen name. In order for folks to feel comfortable and safe and validated in who they are, pronouns are super important.”

The panelists encouraged anyone who is unsure which pronouns someone prefers to ask the person. “If you don’t know, nine times out of 10, you’re not going to offend someone by asking, ‘What are your pronouns?’ or, ‘How do you identify?’”  one panelist explained. “It’s a conversation; that’s it.” Another panelist agreed and said that one way to approach the conversation is to say, “My pronouns are he/him. What are yours?”

The audience, which included hundreds of employees and leaders from across Bohler’s 29 offices, appreciated the panelists’ insights. Many audience members expressed their admiration for the panelists and many asked questions, most of which focused on how employees outside of the community can support their colleagues who identify as LGBTQ+.

In response, one panelist explained that one thing allies can do is shut down anyone who makes inappropriate comments or “jokes” about the LGBTQ+ community. “If anyone else is in the room, especially a straight, cisgender [a person who identifies as the gender they were assigned a birth] white guy, your power is incredible,” the panelist said. “You can just say, ‘Hey, man, that’s not cool.’ And that would significantly change things.”

Strengthening Alliances

The panelists stressed that when the work environment is inclusive and supportive, like at Bohler, they can do their jobs better because they don’t have to constantly shield their identities. “Coming out and sharing your identify matters because it takes energy to hide who you are and to always be mincing your words,” one of the panelists explained. “It takes energy…to come up with a lie.”

The other panelists agreed, and one noted that the business case for creating an inclusive and accepting workplace is strong. “A happy employee, an employee who’s well-adjusted is more productive,” one panelist said. “The studies show it all over the place; diversity and inclusion enable companies to significantly succeed.”

With that in mind, the panelists offered ideas for how Bohler could continue to cultivate inclusivity throughout the firm. These included partnering with LGBTQ+ science, engineering, and math chapters at the university level to attract and hire more people from the community as well as selecting clients who align with Bohler’s inclusive team-of-teams culture and working with more LGBTQ+-owned businesses to illustrate the company’s commitment to inclusion, equity, and diversity.

“If the community feels that we are a safe space, they will want to join us and that’s always better,” one panelist said. “Our job so specifically impacts the communities that we work in that I think it is especially important for us to always be thinking about what we are doing, how we are affecting those communities, and how they feel about us. It’s a way to get new business and good business that will positively impact the community.”

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