June is Pride Month in the United States, and as it comes to a close, I wanted to take the opportunity to share a story that I’ve been reflecting on recently with the Insurance Nerds Community.
Nick, Tony, and I stay in almost constant contact through a Slack Channel that we’ve set up to run Insurance Nerds. About 3 months ago, I sent them a message after a few minutes of deliberation and worry on my part. I had been reviewing LinkedIn and happened to notice that a friend of ours, Amy Waninger, author of Network Beyond Bias: Making Diversity a Competitive Advantage for Your Career, had recently updated her bio to start with a single line of text “Pronouns: she, her, hers.” I loved it!
In high school and college, back in Duluth, MN, we had teachers and professors who signaled that they were allies by posting a pink triangle on their doors or in their rooms. If you saw this triangle, you knew that they were safe to talk to if you were going through a struggle related to your sexuality. In the professional, conservative world of insurance, I hadn’t encountered anything like this. I thought to myself that including your pronouns in your LinkedIn bio was a similar way to signal that you are aware of and accepting of people who are transgender. I wanted to change my bio to match Amy’s, and I did.
Equally important to me, though, was that Nick and Tony follow my lead. I had a hunch that this was the type of little detail that they might never notice. And though, I had an idea that they would be ok with the change, I wasn’t positive that they would be as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. It’s hard to believe that in 2018, I count these two among my closest friends, and I still had a little anxiety about asking them to show up as allies. But, if we’re being honest, we probably all have family members who cause us that anxiety, too. I sent the message: “guys, I want to ask you to update your LinkedIn profiles to include your pronouns”, and I included a screenshot of Amy’s profile
I was thrilled when Tony replied with “of course! How did you think to do that?” And Nick said “Ok, I don’t get it, but if you want me to, I will. What do the pronouns mean?” I explained that I had seen Amy’s updated bio and that sharing your pronouns would signify that you recognize that people may not know by looking at you what gender you identify as. And, that listing them on your LinkedIn profile and other profiles as an easy way to identify as an ally for transgender people. Tony and I shared a couple posts from Amy’s site Lead at Any Level with Nick. Amy does a better job than I could in explaining the basics of gender identity in this primer, and she gives a few simple ideas for those looking to be an ally in this post.
I shared with Nick and Tony about the educators I saw who supported youth in my hometown of Duluth, MN by signaling that they were allies, and I said that this idea of posting your pronouns was similar in that I saw it as a way to broadcast that you’re a safe person. It is likely that no one would notice the small gesture unless they were looking for it. So, someone who is transitioning or questioning or who knows someone who is transitioning or questioning their gender. One of the hardest challenges for a parent in that situation may very well be fear that their child will be ostracized or injured and seeing colleagues who you trust and respect present as an ally in a small but visible way can do some small bit in alleviating that fear.
He said “To be honest, I admit that I don’t understand. But if a small gesture can make someone who is going through inner turmoil feel a bit better about the world, then I’m not afraid to show that support.” And they both updated their profiles within the hour. I was touched and grateful to have witnessed their reaction. I was also happy that I had taken the leap and been able to educate someone who hadn’t thought much about the issue.
As I reflected on Nick’s response, in particular, I thought about what a small ask it is for those of us with privilege to be more inclusive and accepting. I also thought about how important it is to the future of our industry. Yes, there are still swaths of intolerance and bigotry, but generally, younger people are more inclusive and open to all people. They are growing up in a world where they see transgender people in popular culture (and in their own lives), not as a joke, but as whole individuals. They will not want to buy products from or work for companies that don’t respect and support all people.
Signals like including your pronouns on your profiles, using inclusive imagery, and promoting people who aren’t white cisgender men will be essential to the recruitment of our future workforce and the sales of our products. If that’s the only reason you can think of to take these actions, it’s an acceptable first reason in my book. But, if you can, think about the human element, like Nick did, why not make the world a little bit of a kinder place? We all have private struggles, let’s do our small parts to ease each other’s burdens. We always say that Insurance is a relationship-based business, let’s act like it, invite more people in to the ecosystem, and value each other as individuals. Let’s make our companies places where you can truly “bring your whole self” to work.