Pride in an Age of Empathy
Two doves, gray in color, can be seen most mornings from the garden where I join my team meetings. Being a Danish company, the lively, thoughtful, mostly-remote company discussions of their afternoons add color and energy to my mornings. In between meetings and cups of coffee, I watch these doves care for one another. Equal in size, one gathers its findings from the property as the other watches over until the sun rises and they disappear. I cannot help but envy their care; their compassion, attention to one another, and their extremely relaxed approach to my presence.
Today marks the end of Copenhagen Pride Week. While I am not in Copenhagen for the time being, it holds special meaning to me this year. This week normally would be dotted with celebrations, parades, and rightfully so, the ‘ære’ of being the first country in the world to legally acknowledge same-sex unions back in 1989, before I was even born. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I have been well aware of progressive legislation driven by the Danes since the 1940s, and while happiness and gratitude can travel 4,000 miles in short periods, it was difficult to forget the reality of my situation in the United States. The soft, occasional, whispered “faggot” in a high school hallway can easily wake one up to the reality of their being; how one is perceived, and what preconceptions are tied to that word.
As Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of ‘hoodHeroes, the Danish start-up previously mentioned, it was quite the apathetic statement to admit to other cofounders that I was in fact, gay when I was invited to join the company last September. While apathetic in approach, the history of this apathy to unexpected outcomes is greatly attributed to an overwhelmingly supportive family, friends, and former colleagues. Perhaps apathy is the incorrect word, this feeling is fed by empathy for many others my age who have been kicked out of their homes, removed from their families, left to fend for themselves, or even killed for being who they are. As an LGBTQ person in leadership, it’s a take-it-or-leave-it mentality where I have had the same care, compassion, and attention to my individual needs to no longer be harmed by opposing rhetoric. The worst expectations of my perception, even in the riskiest of circumstances, have never been the outcome. This, in itself, is a privilege that I do not let go unchecked.
‘hoodHeroes is a company rooted in sustainability. Our whole business is formed around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Through comprehensive company ratings, reviews, CSR/sustainability analysis, and matchmaking services, ‘hoodHeroes enhances companies’ sustainability aspirations and goals with tangible stakeholder feedback and benchmarking. SDG 11, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals includes:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people living in urban contexts continue to face killings, violent attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, forced marriage, denial of rights to assembly and expression and systemic structural barriers to education, healthcare, housing, and labor market participation on the basis of their action or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/or sex characteristics. In order to achieve aims of SDG 11, the human rights and development needs of LGBTQ individuals must be included in the effort to make cities and human developments inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
Herein lies the beauty of years of helping others with their LGBTQ journeys, personally observing and trying to go unnoticed; seen but not heard, ostracized for appearance and demeanor but not understood: empathy. (Were you expecting pride?) Where I would once hide from potential ridicule for who I was, now I can leverage this quiet understanding as a form of empathy not only with potential customers but also within the ‘hoodHeroes team. This empathetic approach to leadership; the understanding of the individual to not only do their best work and succeed but be happy and prosper regardless of their nationality, sexual orientation/identity, the color of their skin, religious affiliation, etc, etc, has not only made me a better leader but also more hopeful for a more just and peaceful society as it is more often than not reflected at me.
Many of my misconceptions about LGBTQ peoples in the workplace are falsified in data. According to a 2018 study by PwC’s Out to Succeed program:
- More than 60% of respondents say that being out at work has improved their ability to do business and engage with customers
- 83% of employee respondents say having an openly supportive focus on LGBT+ has improved their employers’ place in the market
- 35% believe their company leverages LGBT+ inclusion for business advantage
- Strong gaps between employer intention and employee perception — 60% of employers have LGBT+ focused recruiting, but just 35% of employee respondents are aware of it
- 88% say that visible LGBT+ senior leaders make an organization an attractive employer
- 28% of employee respondents have an LGBT+ mentor; 52% have a non-LGBT+ mentor
If it weren’t for two non-risk-adverse Danes, it may have taken years to not only reach this level of confidence, but also come to the full understanding of sustainability in empathy, and ultimately pride for everyone involved.
Sustainability in its most basic form is understood as environmental sustainability.
*cue spreadsheets and graphs on mitigating CO2*
Yes, it is sometimes that. However, the more experience I continue to gain; the more people I have the opportunity to meet; the more I see an unrelenting thirst for change around the globe, I would argue that sustainability is personal. These broad, overlying definitions of sustainability do not incite action in a nurse trying to save a life, nor do they lay the groundwork for a thoughtful conversation with a driver delivering goods. Sustainability, like empathy, is only effective for those who can fully see themselves first.
As Copenhagen Pride Week comes to a close, I hope its significance allows you to realize the far reaches of your care, compassion, and attention to others; not only sustaining you as an individual but perhaps also as a leader. Like my dove neighbors, you do not have to be bold, bright, or flashy to have Pride or to love and be loved in return.