June is Pride month in the United States, a month-long celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people, marked by parades and cultural events. The tradition dates back to a 1970 gathering in New York City to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The events of that summer—a series of raids and protests at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood—forever changed the landscape of LGBTQ activism in the United States. Since then, LGBTQ individuals and their allies in many countries around the world have come together each summer to march in Pride parades, celebrate policy victories, and demonstrate for equal rights.
Planning for WorldPride 2021, a celebration of LGBTQ rights on an international scale
The first fully international “WorldPride” celebration took place in Rome, Italy in 2000. Since that inaugural event, WorldPride has grown, focusing much-needed attention on this community’s struggle for equal rights: equal access to healthcare, jobs and housing; the right to marry, the right to serve in the military, and the right to adopt children. This August, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to minimize crowding at the events, WorldPride will be held in two locations, Copenhagen, Denmark, and the neighboring city of Malmö, Sweden.
These joyful and empowering celebrations nevertheless expose a struggle for recognition and rights that is ongoing. As explained by the Human Rights Campaign, “In spite of much progress in recent years, all around the world LGBTQ people still face harassment, legal and societal discrimination, violence, and bigotry. Sixty-nine countries criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and in up to nine countries, this may be punishable by death. So-called anti-LGBTQ ‘propaganda’ laws inhibit LGBTQ advocacy in at least three countries, and in countless more, organizing is constrained by restrictions on civil society.”
Pride isn’t seasonal—there’s work we can all do
Led by our global Pride Employee Community, Zendesk has always celebrated Pride as a company, and as a part of the local communities where we have offices. Yet even as we celebrate the achievements on behalf of the LGBTQ community, we know there’s more work to be done. Many companies tout a commitment to diversity—in their employee ranks, among leadership, on their board of directors—but Pride is ultimately about a larger issue: Inclusion. Legal rights are not the entire battle: LGBTQ people deserve to be seen and valued for who they are so they can thrive at work.
Pride is ultimately about a larger issue: Inclusion. LGBTQ people deserve to be seen and valued for who they are so they can thrive at work.
When companies make room for employees to bring their whole self to work, they create a truly inclusive work culture. As explained by a 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review, “In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen. As noted diversity practitioner Vernā Myers puts it, ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’”
Creating an inclusive workplace is about ensuring that employees feel safe—psychologically, physically, and emotionally—at work. Do they feel they are recognized, accepted and celebrated for who they are? Or do they feel the need to hide aspects of their identity because their work environment doesn’t feel welcoming to them?
Creating an inclusive workplace is about ensuring that employees feel safe—psychologically, physically, and emotionally—at work.
Sexual preference is considered an invisible aspect of identity; Meaning, we really don’t know someone’s gender or sexual orientation unless they make it clear. Assumptions can lead to hurtful, traumatic, and even illegal exchanges, and result in employees feeling unseen. But there are things all companies can do to neutralize assumptions and raise awareness:
- Adding pronouns to email and Slack profiles
- Getting good at asking others what their preferred pronouns are
- Providing ongoing diversity training and education to people managers
This year, while Zendesk employees won’t be dancing down San Francisco’s Market Street alongside a parade float, or marching with ShoutOut in Dublin, we’re celebrating Pride throughout the summer with a series of internal events and by sponsoring the annual WorldPride events held in Copenhagen and Malmö this August.
Tech for Good + Copenhagen 2021
“At Zendesk, we believe that all employees deserve the opportunity to live authentically and thrive at work. As part of that mission, we want to share our resources and knowledge to support organizations like Copenhagen 2021 that are promoting diversity and inclusion worldwide,” shared Jeff Titterton, chief operating officer at Zendesk.
In July of 2020, Zendesk engineer Morten Kristensen, head of the EMEA region’s Pride Employee Community, approached WorldPride with an offer: He and a team of colleagues would build a custom Zendesk Help Center instance to manage customer support for the upcoming WorldPride event in Copenhagen. The project would fall under Zendesk’s Tech for Good program, meaning that the software and skilled implementation services would be free to the nonprofit organization.
The response from WorldPride was enthusiastic, particularly in light of past events where the organization was overwhelmed by the volume of emails. They instantly saw the value in implementing Zendesk to help the organization better understand and manage its customer support.
Thirty Zendesk employees formed a volunteer committee and got to work. They began meeting weekly, brainstorming ideas on Miro boards and communicating via a dedicated Slack channel. Wanting to pull out all the stops on behalf of this passion project, they even offered design help, so the finished instance would integrate seamlessly with Copenhagen 2021’s official website.
“Our expertise is customer service, so we knew we could bring this to the WorldPride games,” said Andre Alves, a senior software engineer located in Copenhagen.
The help center went live in time to begin customer support for ticket sales, with a template that ideally can be used by future host committees of WorldPride events. Seventy support agents can manage visitor and participant experiences through this instance, to both field incoming requests and manage feedback.
The project had an added benefit. Working together in the midst of the pandemic, the Copenhagen 2021 volunteers discovered a true sense of shared purpose and community. “Feeling so isolated at home, this project was a relief, a way to dive into an aspect of life at Zendesk and have a community,” said Casey Macaulay, a software engineer in Copenhagen.
Part of Zendesk’s Social Impact initiatives, the Tech For Good program provides more than free software. It intentionally supports nonprofits with volunteers with the skills and expertise needed to get up and running, with features customized as needed to a unique mission. To date, Zendesk has donated nearly $5.2 million in software and service for nonprofit organizations to leverage its support tools.
How you can have an impact
Zendesk also supports these global and local organizations that work to promote and protect the rights of the LGBTQ community. Join us in empowering their work or the work of an organization in your own community.
You can show your support for the LGBTQ community and show gratitude at the same time. Our latest version of the Thank You Machine makes a $10 USD donation to the Human Rights Campaign for each card sent that uses Pride accessories.
Reimagining Pride in a virtual, global world
With fewer in-person Pride parades this year, companies must reimagine how they celebrate Pride. For example, Zendesk employees will participate in 8 weeks of synchronous and asynchronous programs, across time zones and offices. The challenges presented by a remote workforce may actually ensure a more equitable experience, allowing for an experience that lasts longer than a one-day parade and can be accessed by everyone.