LGBTQ+ allyship in the workplace is about more than giving your logo the rainbow treatment once a year and goes beyond recognizing and respecting pronouns. Above all, it’s about creating an environment where there is safety in self-expression for all, regardless of how we appear to the world, how we self-identify, or whether the two even align.
As a firm in service of design for equity and the human experience, we know that—individually and collectively—people are their most creative, collaborative, and innovative selves when they’re able to bring their whole selves to work. On a human level, we have a duty to one another to contribute to a culture of respect and belonging wherever we find ourselves. As designers, we have a responsibility to craft environments for ourselves, our communities, and our clients that inform inclusive behavior and empower they, she, he… we!
James Woolum, Partner and co-lead of ZGF’s interiors practice, shares how the idea of being yourself, authentically and unapologetically, is a piece of his past that he carries into his work and hopes for the future.
Picture it, June of 1989 in the “thriving metropolis” of Upland, CA. Nine years BWG (Before Will & Grace). There were still no mainstream gay characters in movies or TV and it would be decades before identities beyond Lesbian and Gay were actively recognized outside of core activism circles. My senior quote in the yearbook was “insist on yourself, never imitate”—a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that I mistakenly attributed to Coco Chanel, which probably should have been a bit of an “aha” moment. In retrospect, this was my first public statement about being my true self. In the years since, the idea of being able to bring one’s whole self to work has become foundational to my approach as an architect designing all manner of places of work, and as a leader and mentor.
At ZGF, I am so proud of the conversations we are having around inclusion, diversity, and equity. We are actively acknowledging and embracing the full human spectrum, the multitude of differences that make us a stronger, more authentic, more dynamic organization. My sincere hope is that everyone at ZGF feels comfortable sharing the unique perspectives and lived experiences that make each of us who we are.
Ashley Dai is an interior designer from Los Angeles who believes the influence of LGBTQ+ designers is key to creating environments that feel equitable and safe for all.
Working in an industry with numerous visible LGBTQ+ people is a stark contrast to when I was growing up completely immersed in athletics. Back then I felt trapped in a stifling heteronormative culture where I struggled to come out. Now, stepping into a more accepting environment as my authentic lesbian self feels as freeing as ever; each day a breath of fresh air where I’m allowed to create with my whole heart instead of futilely shrinking the parts of myself I didn’t want people to see. With this freedom I strive to ensure that what we are designing is reflective of our increasingly diverse society and that it’s also providing a sense of security that’s communicated in a more permanent way than rainbow flags or stickers. My hope is that as more and more queer voices bring their ideas to the table, that our built environments will keep evolving to be safer and more inclusive for everyone – no matter their gender identity or sexuality.
Chris Somma, Associate and architectural designer from D.C., believes in supporting every individual’s gender and sexual identity, which includes putting a stop to microaggressions and misused terminology.
While we’ve come a long way as a society and industry in creating inclusion for LGBTQ+ people, we still have a long way to go. Today, the Human Rights Council reports that only 50% of queer Americans are out at work, and Bospar reports that only 55% of Americans are okay with their coworker being LGBTQ. As a gay individual, every time I enter a board room, visit a construction site, or attend a network event, I am uncertain of any bias or potential aggression I could encounter if I choose to come out in that setting. It is important to remember that coming out is not a singular event in a LGBTQ person’s life—it happens over and over again. As a cis man, I can act as a chameleon when necessary, but that’s not an option for all queer people. We need to support and provide allyship to those who can’t or choose not to hide their identity. Microaggressions and incorrect terminology must be corrected on every occasion, especially by those who identify as cis and straight, who face the least risk and potential aggression by speaking up.
Liz Ford, Associate and project administrator from D.C., values the feelings of security in the workplace that stem from a culture of equity and acceptance.
Since starting at ZGF in 2016, I have been my whole self—bow ties and all—and have been given room to continue to grow as a person. I have always felt comfortable at ZGF to be open about myself and to talk about my life with ease. Being able to be my whole self at work means I have the privilege of not having to spend extra energy censoring myself, I don’t have to worry about losing my job over my sexual orientation or gender identity, and I don’t have to worry about my safety at work because of my gender expression.
Josh Crowell, Associate and member of our Seattle People + Culture team, strives to make ZGF a place where everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, can feel comfortable showing up every day as their whole self.
I have a passion for people that drives me to do anything I can to create a safe, inclusive, and welcoming work environment for everyone at ZGF. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community, I understand what it’s like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and overlooked. I know firsthand what it feels like to not be able to bring your whole authentic self to work every day. It’s not easy and it chips away at your spirit over time. That’s why it’s important to me to be a part of the People & Culture team and ZGF as a whole. I’m committed to doing everything in my power to build on the foundation that has been laid and to continue to construct and expand that space for all ZGFers, regardless of background, race or sexual orientation. We spend so much time with our work family that it’s imperative we feel accepted and supported for our uniqueness and eccentricities each and every day. I’m proud to be part of this firm and for the work we continue to do to educate, enrich, and better ourselves and each other. We’re in this together, and together is how we create change and make a lasting impact.