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Pride panel: LGBTQIA+ representation in the workplace

As part of Hotjar's month-long celebration activities this Pride Month, we held an LGBTQIA+ panel for the team—exploring how to show up for and represent LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace.

Last updated

18 Aug 2022

Reading time

16 min


To provide insight and inspiration on how to build safer and more inclusive workplaces, we heard from:

  • Keval Harie (he/him): activist, writer, and qualified attorney

  • Phenix K. (she/her): model, activist, and podcast host

  • Honey Mahogany (she/they): co-founder of the Transgender District

  • Ellen Plummer (she/her): administrator in the U.S. at Virginia Tech

You can find the speakers' bios at the end of this article.

After hosting the panel, we realized the true value it brought our team and wanted to share our learnings with businesses looking to build more inclusive workplaces, so here we are.

This panel—and other Hotjar Pride Month activities—is a continuation of our ongoing commitment to inspire change through empathy. This is core to everything we do at Hotjar, and we're very proud to share with you a little of what that looks like in action.

The importance of building an inclusive workplace for LGBTQIA+ people

Keval dives into the why behind building inclusive and empathetic workplaces with his 'sense of home' analogy:

"For many, home means safety, relaxation, comfort, security, love, family. It's where the people we love are. Home is a smell that we recognize and a place to sleep.

No matter what forum you ask this question in, irrespective of the background and cultures people come from, home to most signifies safety. Home signifies a place of comfort, a place where we feel that we can be ourselves.

However, for many LGBTQIA+ people, home is such a contested and difficult space. For many of us, home is not a place of safety.

We therefore try and find ways of creating spaces of home, creating families, and allowing ourselves these spaces of safety elsewhere. It's often in workspaces that people are searching for safety.

Workplaces are a chosen home, and one LGBTQIA+ people look to for a sense of safety. It's up to businesses to work empathetically and inclusively—providing a safe space for everyone."

Yet, how can we do it? How can we create spaces that are inclusive, safe, and respectful of all people?

How can non-LGBTQIA+ colleagues become allies?

Let's start with allyship and what that looks like for people who may be either concerned about making a mistake or hurting somebody's feelings inadvertently.

Phenix walked us through allyship and how we can encourage it in the workplace:

Build awareness with education

"I think the first step to being an ally is to be aware. To be aware of the situation and to be aware of the need to educate yourself. If you're not part of a certain marginalized group or community, you need to educate yourself on that community regardless."

A few educational LGBTQIA+ resources you can share with your team are:

"The first step to being an ally is to be aware. To be aware of the situation and to be aware of the need to educate yourself."

Phenix K

Avoid binary language

"Secondly, very important, is language, especially in languages stuck to gender constructs.

For example, German is a little more set on genders than English is. Even using the pronouns they/them doesn't really work in German. That makes it a little more difficult to use non-binary language.

Many of us are pushed into gender binaries, expectations, and stereotypes of what a boy and a girl are when we are young, which means we make gender assumptions quickly—it just happens.

However, teach your team to be aware of language and assumptions they may make with language choices.

An easy win is using gender as an adjective. The adjectives of male and female are used in scenarios where they don't match or aren't necessary.

For example, to describe a voice as male or female can be insensitive. Rather than that, you could describe a voice as a deep voice or a raspy voice, even a soft voice. By doing so, you avoid gender binary in everyday situations and become allies to those who identify as something else."

Show up regardless

"Something that's also very important is showing up; to be an ally when someone of that group of people is not around. For example, if I am not around and someone is using the wrong pronouns for me, an ally will step in and say something."

"An ally means to stand up for the group when they're not around."

Phenix K

Correct a mistake and move on

"If you make a mistake, like using the wrong pronoun, correct yourself, and don't make it a huge thing. I experience people coming back to me days and days after misuse of my pronouns, and saying 'I'm so sorry it happened.'

It's a painful reminder for me because they are bringing that situation up again. I know I'm trans. I deal with it every time I see myself. I'm dealing with it every day; body dysphoria and more. We don't need the reminder all the time. It's okay to correct yourself and then move on."

What is the most important thing I can do as an ally?

Honey, co-founder of the Transgender District, the world's first officially recognized transgender neighborhood located in San Francisco's Tenderloin, jumped in to answer this.

"One thing that's important to do is to figure out how you can help alleviate some of the disparities that exist in the workplace, especially for trans communities of color.

There are many trans women in the work that I've done who aren't able to get jobs in places like Hotjar for a variety of reasons.

This could be because of the multiple disparities that they're facing, being Black, being an immigrant, being trans, coming from poverty—they're not able to access valuable resources or education.

Even if they are educated and accomplished, often they're facing a much higher bar because of what they look like and who they are when walking through the door."

"I hope in my own small way that I am creating little mini spaces in which people can come together, and we can participate together in creating families of choice."

Ellen Plummer

"I would say being an ally is not just about getting pronouns right and showing up at Pride [events]. Being an ally is thinking about how we can actually help level the playing field and how we can help make a difference in mistreated communities.

For example, actively referring people to jobs or helping LGBTQIA+ people with their resumes, or writing letters of recommendation.

Secondly, once people are in those positions at work, the most important part is making sure that they are supported.

The reality is, even once people get through the door, there are so many things they're dealing with and having to figure out because of who they are. It's sometimes hard for them to succeed in those positions.

Making sure that you're doing what you can to ensure people are successful in their role is critical for ally representation."

“If you see folks struggling, be there as a support system and let them know that they can come to you for help."

Honey Mahogany

Ellen added to this by sharing her strides as an ally in her workplace at Virginia Tech.

"It's important for all of us to examine our privilege: whiteness, maleness, overeducation, whatever we have. All of those ways in which we have access to power within our organizations.

Some of us have access to spaces because of our age, our presentation, or who we know. I'm expecting my allies to carry water for me if they're in the room in which I am not.

Think Hamilton"I want to be in the room where it happens." If allies are in the room to which I don't have access—for whatever reason—they should be keeping an ear to the ground and step in to make a correction or a suggestion or move the needle in some way when they can.

Allies should create space for those of us who are not at the table and whose experiences are not 'normative'."

"I expect my allies to step up and step in—to create space at the table."

Ellen Plummer

How can we build inclusive communities at work?

An inclusive community takes time and comes from the workplace culture you build from day one.

As the co-founder of the world's first officially recognized transgender neighborhood located in San Francisco, as well as San Francisco's oldest LGBTQ establishment, Honey is in the perfect position to talk us through building welcoming communities.

"In the U.S., for many of us, our workplace ends up being a really important part of our daily lives. Our coworkers become a sort of family. Sometimes those families are really, really wonderful, and we really enjoy going to work.

Other times they can be really toxic, and it can be very draining.

I think that there are things companies can do to make the workplace less toxic, more affirming, and make it more welcoming."

Build out inclusive policies and cultures

"Build policies and handbooks that are part of employee onboarding training. Put boundaries and things in place so that people feel respected, seen, and safe.

Remember, not everybody is coming from a background of being experienced or knowledgeable about the diversity in gender.

Also, make sure that people know that this is not an option, that they can't pick and choose whether or not they respect people's pronouns or sexuality."

To this, Ellen added, "I rock the boat while I stay in it. I dedicate myself to create safe spaces and opportunities. I hope that one of my contributions is to be out there literally and figuratively as a person who demonstrates and models inclusivity."

How can we make sure that LGBTQIA+ people feel safe in the workplace?

A sense of safety is critical to building a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Build a workspace where people feel comfortable being their authentic selves without feeling judged. Honey and Keval guide us through how to create safe workspaces.

Eradicate discrimination

Honey says, "A safe workplace means even if people don't always understand what I'm saying or referring to, they're still open to hearing it and still receptive and still celebrate moments with me. Even if it doesn't necessarily pertain to them or they don't relate to it directly, they're still able to appreciate it."

“It's about building an ability to have a dialogue and an ability to share in each other's joys and be open to that."

Honey Mahogany

Continue to lead by example

Keval adds, "We also have to consider the kind of structural elements that exist historically within workspaces and particularly corporate spaces—which are historically very top-down.

We still have leaders in management that are white cis-gendered males, and businesses need to change structures and representation at all levels within an organization. It's a period of slow change, but it is happening.

From those of us coming from the activist space, it is often heartening to see how many organizations have really changed. If you think about 20 years ago, to see organizations supporting Pride would have been unthinkable."

Support positive change

"There's an obligation for corporate organizations operating in more restrictive parts of the world to speak out and start engaging with governments—to say, 'you have to make your spaces more inclusive, and you have to protect LGBTQIA+ people.' As opposed to using laws to imprison them or force really awful, awful systems upon them."

"I believe there's a responsibility for leaders to speak out, specifically publicly, on what you want and envisage the world that you want to be in."

Keval Harie

How can we ensure recruitment messaging is inclusive towards LGBTQIA+?

Building an inclusive workplace for LGBTQIA+ people and representing them fairly is one thing, but sharing your goals and your progress is something else entirely. It can often be a struggle for businesses to authentically share that they are working towards a safer world with a safer workplace.

Keval talks us through a few ways we can actively promote LGBTQIA+ representation in the recruitment process.

Pull determining factors away from physical representation in interviews

"We know that statistically, young, queer, and majority Black trans individuals still face the hardest challenges in terms of even getting an opportunity to interview for positions.

It's not even about getting the job; it's getting opportunities for interviewing. There has to be a lot of sensitivity around not necessarily focusing on how people present. We know that with interviews, there's a lot of emphasis on how people present themselves. I think we need to be very mindful of the different backgrounds that individuals are coming from, and respect where they are at."

"Interviews should not focus on how people are presenting, but rather focus on the actual content of what people are able to provide."

Keval Harie

Provide work experience

"Internship programs, particularly for young graduates, are absolutely critical in giving people an opportunity to experience work environments. Businesses need to support them whilst doing that in order for people to bold themselves up and to be able to get these opportunities where they can then apply for workspace positions.

Workspaces also have to be quite mindful of the ways in which we want to protect those individuals, particularly those who can't be out in public or can't be out within their workspaces.

Think about how you engage with those work colleagues or people who are being interviewed in a safe way so that you're not at any point putting them at harm's risk—even though they might be out within workspaces because they might necessarily feel safe there.

It's important to stay aware of the reality that many people face, particularly outside of workspaces."

What can managers do to create inclusive workplaces for LGBTQIA+ people?

Managers at all levels have a responsibility to lead the charge on change and build safe and fair workplaces. For this particular area, we spoke to Ellen to get her insight on how managers can make a difference.

"As a manager, if I get a negative report, I make the assumption that if it's gotten to me it must be really bad. Now that may be a cynical and a jaded approach, but invariably, if you're in management and getting intel or people sharing information with you, you can assume that there's probably something worse going on.

Maybe it's something more hurtful than what you're being told because of the iterations that the information might go through."

"My guidance to my colleagues who are managers is to make sure that you keep your ear to the ground."

Ellen Plummer

Stay visible

"I like to make myself visible in the organization and wherever I am. If I'm in a space as a manager and I'm wearing that hat, I try to signal that you can come talk to me."

Build confidential places

"I also make sure that, as frequently as possible, folks know where the confidential places are that people can share information about what's going on in the workplace.

It's not as safe as I would like it to be to share that you are experiencing discrimination or hatred in some form or fashion related to your presentation of who you are. It takes very careful managing and negotiating.

As a manager, I implore you to exercise judgment about when and with whom you share information you might have received. We do not want to put ourselves or our communities at risk. I think we can help and support without also causing additional harm."

Exercise your managerial privilege

"Some situations call on all of your managerial skills and all of your wisdom to imagine what that employee or employee's plural might be experiencing—that there are sensitivities associated with that.

It's a question of privilege. It's a question of power. It's a question of who's got access to what kind of resources. But I think the manager does have an important role to play in ensuring that we can all thrive in our workplace."

How can management measure and track how safe and inclusive a workplace is?

Keval says, "In South Africa, we have the South Africa Equality Work Index; it's focused a lot on the Stonewall Index where a lot of corporates measure themselves to fill out the surveys and have people from within interviewing to create safer spaces.

I think creating those kinds of models where you're also measuring yourself and getting input from organizations is available.

Organized LGBTQIA+ workgroups are very important too. My challenge here is that we shouldn't place the responsibility on queer people to have to review and constantly fight for changes in policy within workspaces.

I think those LGBTQIA+ groups need to include allies and people who then take on the responsibility. Often, when there are cases of workplace discrimination, it's particularly traumatic for people to have to raise those with management. That shouldn't be the case.

There should be opportunities where people are listening and then taking those instances of discrimination or challenges on policy."

4 LGBTQIA+ nonprofits you can support today

Hotjar gave each panelist €500 to donate to their charity of choice.* Here are their chosen LGBTQIA+ charities, which you can also support this Pride Month and beyond:


"GALA Queer Archive (GALA) is a catalyst for the production, preservation, and dissemination of information about the history, culture, and contemporary experiences of LGBTIQ people in South Africa."

San Francisco Transgender District

San Francisco Transgender District, "the first legally recognized transgender district in the world, encompasses six blocks in the southeastern Tenderloin and crosses over Market Street to include two blocks of 6th Street."

Virginia Tech Women's Center

"The Virginia Tech Women's Center's mission is to promote a Virginia Tech community that is safe, equitable, and supportive for women and that celebrates the experiences, achievements, and diversity."

TrIQ in Berlin

"TrIQ is a social center and a political, cultural and research association that supports trans, intersex and queer people in Berlin and beyond."

*Hotjar is also matching employee donations to LGBTQIA+ charities during the month of June.

Closing thoughts: there's still a lot of work to do

Many companies are taking great strides towards better representation of LGBTQIA+ in the workplace. However, there's still a long way to go. Let your Pride initiatives be the kick-starter to an increasingly progressive culture and ensure your efforts encourage and inspire ongoing change, representation, and continued impact.

Hotjar Pride Month panelists

Keval Harie (he/him) is an activist, writer and qualified attorney, who has always sought to put South Africa’s constitution at the centre of his career, using it to find new ways to promote social justice and human rights across the country. As executive director at The GALA Queer Archive, Keval is most excited about the opportunity in creating a visibility for queer life on the African continent and findings ways of celebrating the stories and lives LGBTQIA+ in the global South. In his spare time Keval is an avid baker and Bollywood junkie.

Phenix K. (she/her) is a model, host of the podcast “FREITAGABEND” and an LGBTQIA+ activist with a focus on the trans* community. Through her Instagram and TikTok channels (both @thisisphenix) she shares entertaining educational content with almost two million views combined. Furthermore, besides her work online, she brings her educational content as a speaker to universities and companies to discuss discrimination towards the queer community. She is the current face of Gillette Venus Germany and was in the ZEIT Campus “30 under 30” and “100 women of the year” by Focus Magazine.

Honey Mahogany (she/they) is a co-founder of the Transgender District, the world's first officially recognized transgender neighborhood located in San Francisco's Tenderloin; co-owner of the Stud Bar, San Francisco's oldest LGBTQ establishment and the nation's first cooperatively owned LGBTQ nightlife venue; a founding queen of Drag Queen Story Hour; Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party; and also works as a legislative aide in the District 6 Office of San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney. Honey's work has earned her commendations from San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and the State of California; Sainthood from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; and awards from the Milk Club, San Francisco Young Democrats, San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, and the Women's Foundation of California. In 2019, Honey was featured in the Stonewall 50, Queerty's list of advocates continuing the legacy of Stonewall and the fight for equality. Honey was also featured in Out Magazine's Out100 in both 2018 and 2019.

Ellen Plummer (she/her) is a university administrator in the U.S. at Virginia Tech and advocate for human rights within the U.S. and internationally. Since 1981, Ellen has championed legislation, public policy, and direct services for victims and survivors of gender-based violence with particular attention to the unique circumstances often faced by members of the LGBTQIA+ communities. In recent years, Ellen supports the work of the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech. The center provides services to all survivors of violence with attention paid to LGBTQIA+ survivors whose needs are too often overlooked or dismissed. Ellen and her partner of 36 years live in the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia in which they like to hike and kayak.

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