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Celebrating Pride Month with PRISM: 3 Tips on How to Be a Workplace Ally

June 29, 2022      By Raegan Blackburn
Photo of prism logo.

“Corporations and business leaders across this country are speaking out in support of fairness and equality for LGBT[Q+] people because they know it’s not just the right thing to do, [but] it’s also good for business,” Stephen Peters, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace not only creates a welcoming environment for all, but also increases creativity and innovation. When businesses support employees showing up authentically and include the perspectives of all, that leads to a better outcome—from more innovative project solutions to employee retention and an overall better workplace culture.

To support the inclusion and diversity of our associates and our clients, RS&H associates recently joined together to create an employee resource group (ERG) PRISM. This group was formed to serve as a resource for LGBTQ+ associates and allies alike to:

  • Express and be themselves
  • Create and make resources available for continued education, development and networking
  • Ensure safety, well-being, equal and fair treatment, and access to opportunities

In celebration of Pride Month, we were able to sit down with PRISM’s Co-Chair, Nick Gentile along with a few other PRISM group members. We talked about Nick’s career experience with diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts, PRISM’S ambitious goals and how they are reaching them, and how to be a better ally in the workplace.

An Associate’s Experience with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the AEC Industry

Nick began his career with RS&H in 2019 and in 2020, he noticed a much-needed national push for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. RS&H was quick to join the conversation and Nick was an integral part in ensuring that the ideas stemming from the societal events of 2020 turned into real actions.

In the summer of 2020, RS&H realized, more than ever, that associates needed a place to share their feelings and perspectives. That’s when RS&H launched community conversations to understand the personal and professional struggles employees have faced in the AEC industry.

Community conversations was a place where associates and leaders could be honest, open and have proactive conversations about DE&I. These key conversations laid the foundation for RS&H’s formal employee resource group program, which in turn led to the creation of two of our newest employee resource groups, BUILT and, now, PRISM.

LGBTQ+ Inclusion in the Workplace 

Members of PRISM expressed their desire for a sense of belonging and the ability to be wholly themselves in the workplace. The pressures of doing your best at work can be strong and having to edit yourself adds significantly to that pressure. This pressure to show up differently to the workplace can result in losing the freedom to innovate and not doing the best, most authentic, work.

Nick was eager to support the creation of PRISM because he sees the value in creating a sense of belonging and community.

“I want PRISM to be a space that will invite people in and allow them to be their most authentic selves at work,” said Nick.

Increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace is an ongoing journey. “In my perspective, the word increasing is a bit objective to what it actually means in reality,” stated Nick. “If people show up more confidently as themselves, that’s a great outcome to strive for.”

Nick shared that PRISM has plenty of goals to create a more inclusive environment at RS&H and within the industry as a whole. Their first goal is to create a space where diversity within RS&H can be celebrated, allowing for more opportunities for promotions, professional and personal growth, and retention.

An Open Dialogue with PRISM

Nick emphasized that although he has his own story to tell, it wouldn’t be the same story as many of the other members of PRISM. We sat down with a few other members of this ERG to hear about their individual experiences, vision and goals. These members represent different markets and disciplines of the firm including:

  • Kellen Baker, Talent Acquisition Leader 
  • Stephanie Burt, CEI Project Engineer 
  • Jennifer Nix-McGerald, External Communications & Public Relations Manager
  • Steve Cote, Senior Planning Leader 
  • Himesh Patel, Sustainability Architect Associate 

Q: Let’s say it’s Pride month five years from now, what is one thing you hope PRISM has accomplished?

Kellen Baker: In five years, I hope PRISM has done a lot for RS&H, its associates and clients. I would like to see the openly LGBTQ+ associate count double, if not triple. I’d like to see RS&H sponsoring and associates participating in area pride festivals in Jacksonville, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Dallas, Denver, Charlotte, Savannah and near offices throughout the United States. I also would like to see RS&H proudly ranked on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index for multiple years running. The Human Rights Campaign Rights Foundation Corporate Equality Index serves as a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits for LGBTQ+ associates.

Steve Cote: I hope that PRISM can grow in membership including allies, helps to educate and enhance acceptance amongst all associates and continues to support charitable organizations across the LGBTQ+ community.

Q: Why is creating an open and safe space important for our associates?

Himesh Patel: The University of Oxford wrote an article on how happiness can make employees 13% more productive. Feeling safe and welcome in the workplace can increase collaboration, communication and support the overall growth of the firm.

Stephanie Burt: We spend so much time at work and with our coworkers… having to hide who we are can be exhausting and does not allow associates to dedicate all their energy to their work. A more inclusive environment for associates leads to happier, healthier and more efficient/effective associates and production.

Jennifer Nix-McGerald: An open and safe environment allows people to truly thrive. Real innovation happens when people feel seen, heard and safe to be who they are. 

Q: When it comes to professional development, what’s one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out in their career?

Steve Cote: Be yourself and be proud of who you are, the technical skill sets and the ideas you bring to the table. Our communities need smart and hardworking people like you – so do your best to move past any negativity or discrimination through support from allies within your network of family, friends and other co-workers.

Stephanie Burt: I would advise young professionals joining the industry to seek some of these resource groups so they can start their careers comfortably and without hesitation.

Tips on How to Be an LGBTQ+ Ally in the Workplace

For this year’s Pride month, PRISM has one goal in mind: increasing allyship.

Allyship is an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. Allyship is not always easy, it is a continual process and requires constant learning and listening.

Having the support of allies is important for employee resource groups like PRISM to be fully visible and truly create a safe space for LGBTQ+ associates. Through our conversation, the group shared three steps you can take to be an ally in the workplace.

1. Educate Yourself

A key part of being an ally is continually doing your own research to educate yourself about the LGBTQ+ community. This allows you to better support LGBTQ+ colleagues and helps create a safer, kinder and more compassionate world. 

You can begin your research and education by learning the basics of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. From there, research LGBTQ+ history and culture. The Human Rights Campaign offers free resources covering many topics that will help you develop your knowledge.

2. Ask Questions

As you educate yourself, you’re sure to run into some questions. Use any questions as an opportunity to connect with your LGBTQ+ peers. It’s commonly assumed that community members have the same experiences, but this is far from true. Ask members to share their own experiences–if they are comfortable–what disadvantages they’ve come across and why having a space like PRISM is important to them. Be sure to state your commitment to educating yourself and advocating as an ally alongside your peers.

“It may not always be an easy conversation but learning about others, their experiences and how they feel is how we start to make them feel safe and more included a part of the company culture,” explained Stephanie Burt.

3. Promote and Encourage

Creating an environment where LGBTQ+ associates feel empowered to be their whole self is an imperative step toward inclusion. However, for these groups to grow and create lasting impacts, allies must speak up in support of the group and its members.

Everyone has privilege in some capacity. Look for opportunities where you can use your privilege to speak and act, help bring awareness to issues, add varying perspectives in discussions and bring attention to bias.

Using your voice to promote and encourage your LGBTQ+ colleagues and resource groups is a great way to strengthen your allyship.

“Join LGBTQ+ resource groups, attend activities, tell your friends and fellow associates about all of RS&H’s ERGs,” says Steve Cote.

We are eager to see how PRISM continues to increase career development opportunities and create a sense of belonging for our LGBTQ+ associates and allies. If you’d like to be a part of our company and join PRISM, explore our current job opportunities in a wide spectrum of markets and locations.

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