Creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ employees in the workplace

Insight from Co-op Solution’s Rachel Stern

Photo of Co-op Solution’s Rachel Stern, technical writer, with quote saying, "Feeling more acceptance at work led me to highlight diverse employee stories and promote acceptance across the company through my work with the DEI Council. I was able to build deeper relationships because of those common values and see more perspectives than I had previously."

46% of LGBTQIA+ people are still closeted at work, often out of fear of discrimination.

When we sit down with Rachel Stern, technical writer at Co-op Solutions, she speaks openly about her experience in the workplace. “I didn’t feel accepted as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community right away,” she shares. “It has been a journey to find acceptance and security in my identity and role within the organization.”

With support from allies and LGBTQIA+ colleagues, Rachel is now one of the first to advocate for impactful changes that foster authentic LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and she raises awareness through her work leading a Pride Alliance employee resource group (ERG) at Co-op.

We asked Rachel to share more about her journey toward finding and building safe spaces at work, along with her top tips for others looking to contribute to a more inclusive workplace for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Navigating identity in the corporate world

Rachel’s path with Co-op started in 2016 as an instructional design intern within the Training department.

“My biggest draw was the opportunity to work in a new industry and sharpen my instructive writing skills. I also appreciated that the organization valued employees, family, and community involvement. It was made clear to me that my health and well-being came first, and I had a team to support me when I needed it,” Rachel shares.

Despite recognizing this support network, Rachel was only just discovering her identity as she entered the corporate world — and found it challenging to lean into the safety net.

“I was newly in my first LGBTQIA+ relationship and had not come out to anyone outside of my closest friends. Coming out professionally seemed terrifying, especially when I was unaware of anyone else at the company who was LGBTQIA+,” she shares.

Co-founding Co-op’s Pride Alliance ERG

In 2021, Rachel joined the DE&I Council at Co-op, which was a stepping stone to feeling comfortable opening up at work. “I learned there were other LGBTQIA+ folks out there, and that as a representative on the DE&I Council, I had an opportunity to be the representation I did not feel I had originally,” Rachel shares.

The DE&I Council is where Rachel first learned about ERGs, and once she did, she immediately became interested in creating an LGBTQIA+ group at Co-op. Then, in June 2021 (Pride Month!), Rachel and a coworker discussed founding and co-leading the ERG together.

Once formed, Rachel and her coworker established three primary goals for the Pride Alliance:

  1. Provide a place of social support for others in the LGBTQIA+ community
  2. Promote awareness in the wider organization
  3. Encourage ally involvement

Today, the Pride Alliance has over 80 members and has become a thriving community both online and off. The ERG hosts educational seminars, monthly discussions, and collaborative events with other ERGs. The members have championed equitable workplace benefits like adding all-gender bathrooms to Co-op’s locations.

“Pride Alliance has become especially important recently with the proliferation of anti-transgender bills in many areas where Co-op employees live. It’s been helpful to have open conversations about the emotions that come up and how we can support transgender employees individually and as an ERG and remain a space to share encouragement and wins,” Rachel explains.

Building a safe space for others at Co-op

Creating a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community at work didn’t happen overnight. It took time and effort, but it was incredibly worth it, and positive changes were put in motion from the get-go.

“The biggest change for me was that I didn’t have to be guarded about my life outside of work. I have been in a long-term relationship with an agender partner, and I felt I could talk about them more and answer questions that those unfamiliar with the community often have,” Rachel shares.

A decent amount of education goes hand-in-hand with being out, but Rachel is happy to educate her colleagues, especially if it means they’re more likely to accept others.

Another positive change from creating the safe space at Co-op was that Rachel gave herself permission to be authentic. “I share my ideas more frequently, speak confidently, and volunteer to work on new initiatives. Feeling more acceptance led me to highlight diverse employee stories and promote acceptance across the company through my work with the DEI Council. I was able to build deeper relationships because of those common values and see more perspectives than I had previously,” Rachel shares.

3 tips for contributing to a safe workspace for LGBTQIA+ employees

For those wanting to contribute to a safer workspace for LGBTQIA+ employees, Rachel provides three suggestions:

  • Champion equitable pay and benefits: It’s important to routinely analyze and report equitable pay across the organization. Ask a diverse group of employees to review the benefits being offered to bring light to any inconsistencies. “For example, parental and adoption leave for all parents, gender transition medical and legal aid, inclusive names and definitions for family benefits, and adequate mental health offerings,” Rachel explains.
  • Be an active and loud ally: It’s simply not enough to “accept” LGBTQIA+ employees. Allies need to be advocates, too. “Advocates should consider what you can do to make a difference in your space. They can add their pronouns to introductions and email signatures, use non-gendered language for coworkers and partners, call out intrusive questions and inappropriate comments, and always correct incorrect name/pronoun use for absent colleagues,” she shares.
  • Create and participate in safe spaces: Take time to learn, listen, and get to know your LGBTQIA+ colleagues. “Check in on them. Ask them what they need and help them to make that a reality,” Rachel shares.
Interested in working for a company that allows you to show up as your authentic self? Check out open roles at Co-op Solutions!
You may also like View more articles
Open jobs See all jobs