By Maryn Eisenhart, president of Palo Alto Networks’ LGBTQIA+ Employee Network
I would never have dreamed of how much the LGBTQIA+ Employee Network would achieve in the past year. I knew that the network was supported by many, but I wouldn’t have anticipated the mounds of support we received, from top to bottom, throughout the organization. So no matter where we were standing last year, this year our accomplishments were tremendous ones for us.
A lot of the time, working toward our goals for inclusivity and diversity can be daunting. There is so much work ahead of us. While we know that there is so much left to do, forgetting the steps we have taken so far to reach the ultimate goal of inclusion and equality would do a disservice to the work we are doing every day.
Take a moment to reflect on your year, on your employee network group’s year and on your company’s progress to more inclusion. Taking the time to collect your successes and share them throughout the organization — tying that success back to tangible results of feelings of inclusion, representation of more diversity — can be a key step toward continued support, engagement and excitement in a world of difficult goals and adversity.
In that spirit, we look back on our recent milestones.
We started the fiscal year with the largest LGBTQIA+ Pride event in the Netherlands, and one of the largest in the world: a parade of about 80 boats through the canal of Amsterdam! Our participation in Amsterdam Pride showcased our support of our network within Palo Alto Networks. It was our first sponsored event in this region, and we had lots of participation from employees.
In January, we launched new chapters in Amsterdam and Plano, Texas. It was a huge milestone for us to launch these chapters. Some employees have reached out to me directly to share that they had feared discrimination in the workplace due to their sexual identities and told me the launch of these chapters helped them feel at ease and supported. The presence of our network helped them feel more comfortable just being themselves in their daily lives at work. It was humbling to hear that our efforts and small strides can make such a huge impact. Our overarching goal for this network is to ensure that employees feel supported and safe to be their best selves at work.
Here are highlights from the many comments we have gotten from employees:
“My family is conservative, but seeing all the great Pride celebration fun on campus caused me to take my family to SF Pride. We all loved it. It brought tears to my eyes seeing the freedom and equality. Thank you LGBTQIA+ ENG!”
“I didn’t feel comfortable being ‘me’ at work. But seeing the huge support from everyone all month long gave me the courage to be more ‘me’!”
“I’m so happy to see you be your true self at work because I know my son oftentimes struggles, but knowing that there are change and companies like PANW who support the gay community warms my heart”
These messages aren’t just words — they are the validation and support each of us wants to hear when experiencing a difficult environment.
One of our group’s goals is to provide education to our employees. We don’t just discuss that problems exist, we face them head-on. In early May, we hosted our first Allies event, “Community Voices: How We Make a Difference.” Representatives for six out of seven of our employee networks joined to share personal stories about how allies have helped them through personal and professional scenarios.
A few members of our network attended the Lesbians Who Tech (LWT) conference in San Francisco in March. We quickly realized that the LWT summits are a great opportunity for us to connect with LGBTQIA+ Employee Networks from other companies and to make a much bigger name for ourselves in inclusion and diversity efforts throughout the technology industry. So we have made the commitment to be a corporate sponsor at the next two LWT Summits in New York and San Francisco.
Each of our chapters makes a unique impact and helps our local LGBTQIA+ communities in different ways. We nominated the Billy de Frank Center in San Jose for a grant that we received from our organization. With this grant, we gave the group $5,000, which it used as seed money to start up a 24/7 resource hotline for the LGBTQIA+ community. This free hotline will provide supportive listening, crisis intervention and lots of resources to the community.
We put a great deal of effort over the course of the year into creating safe spaces for employees, providing resources for colleagues to truly be their authentic selves at work. This was only the beginning. We were listed with a rating of 95% on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index. This report provides an in-depth analysis and rating of large U.S. employers and their policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees. While 95% is a good score to receive, we know that we can do better — and will strive to achieve 100% this year.
Our chapters hosted different events to celebrate Pride around the world. During Pride Month, the HQ chapter held weekly on-campus lunchtime celebrations with games, prizes, snacks and FUN! We also took the opportunity to educate employees on the significance of Pride and why it’s important to continue to celebrate and discuss how far we’ve come as a community. The Amsterdam chapter watched a Stonewall Riots documentary and educated employees about how LGBTQIA+ Pride first started. At the Pride celebration in the Tel Aviv office, they brought in a transgender person as a guest speaker to share her story of coming out, transitioning and being successful in the corporate world. The Dallas chapter participated in the Dallas Pride Festival and parade.
We closed the year with news that warmed our hearts. Palo Alto Networks awarded a grant of $2,500 to Dallas Hope Charities in Dallas. This non-profit group provides resources and temporary housing for LGBTQIA+ youth who have been displaced from their homes upon coming out. This grant helped three LGBTQIA+ youth obtain safe and welcoming homes. What a difference we are making in our communities!
Our work doesn’t end here. We have many big plans for the coming year. We want to better serve our LGBTQIA+ community here at work. We want more employees involved. We want to continue to make a bigger impact in our community at large. Where will we be next year? I can’t yet answer, but I know we will continuously grow our impact within the company and out in our communities around the globe, and that we will continue to celebrate the successes we have along the way.
This article appeared on our Medium blog, Diversity Unscripted