When Chad Efantis became the co–chair of Pride, Freddie Mac's LGBTQ employee resource group (ERG) last year, he initially thought that there was little room for improvement for a company that had a stellar reputation for supporting LGBTQ employees.
It wasn't until a Pride ERG event that Efantis and co–chair Sara Singmaster learned that there is always more work to be done. During the event, Singmaster snapped some photos of the gathering to post on the company's intranet site. She asked her fellow employees if they minded being included in the shared shots. Some of them declined. Others mentioned that they were not comfortable with their managers knowing that they were gay.
"These were clearly people who were out in their lives but not out at work," said Efantis, who immediately made the goal of helping his fellow employees feel more comfortable being their full selves at work a priority for the group. "We are trying to create an environment where people can be their authentic selves."
The problem Efantis and Singmaster discovered isn't unique to Freddie Mac. According to a 2014 study by HRC, 35% of LGBT employees feel compelled to lie about their personal lives while at work. HRC also found that the hiding of sexual orientation or gender identity at work "can isolate a person and erode valuable rapport with co–workers, managers and would–be mentors."
Beginning last year, the Pride ERG has attacked the issue on multiple fronts. Throughout the year, they advertised "Safe Space" cards, which allowed for allies to officially mark their workspace as welcoming to their LGBTQ colleagues. This month, at the urging of Pride ERG executive sponsor Anil Hinduja, the ERG refreshed the "Safe Space" cards to use more direct language. Instead of simply declaring a safe space, the cards now identify, in bold font, that the individual is an LGBTQ ally.
"Everyone has to feel comfortable to perform at their best," said Hinduja. "The best way for people to feel comfortable in their work environment is to have colleagues say, "It's safe.' That became our strategy, making Freddie Mac a safe place for the LGBTQ community."
Hinduja said that the message needs to start at the top and then filter throughout the company, which is why the "Safe Space" cards are so important.
"From a cultural point of view, you need the top, middle and lower levels to think alike," he said. "That's what you need — leadership led, but employee owned."
That approach seems to be working. According to Efantis, the Pride ERG saw a 25% jump in membership in 2016 and nearly 200 employees have taken an ally pledge on the group's intranet site.
This month, the group rallied around the importance of allies during their Pride Month celebration, encouraging employees to proudly display their cards and sign an ally pledge online. And while they'll always work to improve the inclusive culture at Freddie Mac, the ERG is also looking at new goals for the coming year, which include tackling LGBTQ–specific housing issues, from homelessness in LGBTQ teenagers to discrimination in elder care. Singmaster also has a personal goal — to make the Pride ERG...prouder.
"Freddie Mac is wonderfully diverse. For Pride, I want to see us celebrate that diversity a little bit more," said Singmaster, who, along with Efantis, accepted the company's eighth–consecutive perfect score award on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index earlier this year.
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