Salespeople are probably the most mentally flexible to be able to create relationships with people of different backgrounds because the ultimate goal in sales is to sell.Patti Flynn
To celebrate Pride Month, we sat down with Patti Flynn, a Process Improvement and Change Management professional to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion in organizations. Here’s the transcript of the conversation.
Patti, let’s start with you 🙂 Could you tell me a little bit about your work and what you do?
Patti: I am currently working as a diversity, equity and inclusion trainer and strategic planner. What this means is, I will go into a company and assess where they are with their inclusion plans and come up with a strategy on how they can make it better.
Usually, there are a lot of things that they can do to fill the gaps in their DE&I plans. Most companies don’t know where to start, so I go in and help them.
Everyone talks about “diversity and inclusion”, but there are many out there that don’t really understand what it actually means, especially in the context of organizations and workplaces. As a diversity and inclusion speaker, what do these words actually mean to you?
Patti: Diversity simply means getting people from different walks of life, race, gender orientation and more into a place.
It really is worthless without ensuring that an inclusive and welcoming environment is present.
In the U.S, in particular, diversity means getting people from different races and gender to get equal representation. On a lesser extent it is LGBTQ directed as well. Internationally, however there are other difficult challenges, but basically it means, you are trying to get underrepresented people to get their due representation. But without implementing inclusion policies you are going to fail.
Creating an environment that is inclusive is what is going to keep these people there and it is just as important. So setting up the other half of the equation (inclusion) is also extremely important.
Do you think heteronormativity and cisnormativity within the sales community is common today? If yes, what can we do to work towards changing that? If not, why do you think so?
Yes. Absolutely. It’s a hundred percent present not just in the sales community, but everywhere round the world.
I know cisnormativity from this perspective. A lot of people call trans people trans, for example I am a trans women but they won’t address a cisgender woman as a cisgender woman but rather she is a normal woman a regular woman so to speak.
So you see this is the standard and I am considered “other” or “different”. So, from my perspective, it is very much the case.
I mean, only half of the people who are LGBTQ are out at their workplace. That tells you that people can have a picture of their wife on their desk, they can give their wife a kiss if they are a straight man, and give their wife a kiss as she comes in to visit him at the office.
To be honest, saying it in that way is just that way is cis/heteronormatativity. And so if there is any sort of queer in the workplace a lot of straight people will say, “please keep your politics, or sexuality” out of the workplace.
Most straight people don’t realize the sexualized nature of heteronormative relationships that are potrayed in the media. That just feels normal and no one comments on it. However, when a queer relationship is potrayed in the media or just in their little sphere of influence it is suddenly gets heated and questions like, “Why are you shoving this in our face?” and more pop up.
What they fail to understand is that we are literally doing what everybody else does. It is just that they are too used to seeing heteronormative relationships as the “norm”.
To be honest, I was part of that world, for a really long time. I saw things the same way as well. I had to do that in order to survive. It is really tricky being a queer person in that world because you are seen as something “strange” to people but in reality, it is the same as their relationship stories and their cis-heteronormative stories.
To change this environment, I always tell people who are prospective allies to listen to the queer community and their stories. Providing a safe space to do this is very important. Because there is a history of backlash from that. For example: Instances where queer folks shared their stories but at the end of the day they were fired from their jobs.
I know that it is getting better, but there are still a lot of countries where homosexuality and is not only against the law but there are grave penalities for being LGBTQIA+. I cannot speak for those countries but, in the USA, I can really speak only to my experience as a human being on this planet, if people find themselves in safe environments, they are more open to sharing their own stories and experiences.
However, the other part of this is if you are potentially interested in helping someone, then you need to do your own research and listen to queer voices and be an ally. Just basically be a kind person.
Another way is to help build trust.The way you can do this is by standing up for people who are LGBTQ or just different than you are. Stand up to people who are being jerks without the target being nearby. What this means is that, if someone is saying crappy things about trans people for example, and the said person is not present, it doesn’t mean you get a blanket pass to go chuckling along with what is being said.
If you are my friend or even my colleague for that matter, stand up to those situations by saying “it is not cool to say those things, or that is not how I see things or that is an offensive statement or joke”.
So standing up for us when we are not around to defend ourselves sets a good precedent for similar situations that occur the next time.
It’s easy to kind of have someone’s back when they’re right there. And it’s a little more difficult to remember to do that when they’re not there.
What do you think is the need of the hour when it comes to educating salespeople about the LGBTQIA+ community and individuals that identify as part of the community?
Patti: I say this to all the folks in the business world – generations age and the current Gen-Z population are soon going to be hitting the workforce and they are going to be your buyers. At least 30% of them identify as some member of the LGBTQ community. Whether this number feels inflated or not, there are more queer people in that generation than before.
Whether or not these number’s translate internationally or not, businesses are going to have to change. They are going to have to figure out how to work with people who are not mildly different but are radically different on some levels.
Coming back to sales, the whole goal of sales is to sell things. To do this you need to establish relationships to be able to hit your numbers or quota. So my few cents for salespeople everywhere is – Go out there and learn. There is plenty of content available on Google that can help you understand, content that you can watch to understand the plight of folks in the LGBTQIA+ community and basically learn how to treat people like people.
The uniqueness of the situation is that LGBTQ community is not as identifiable as people from different races (even though there are levels of ambiguity on that as well), but a lot of queer folks can cis-pass and not be noticied.
But if I am to think of any group of folks in the business world, salespeople are probably the most mentally flexible to be able to create relationships with people of different backgrounds because the ultimate goal in sales is to sell. Hence this group of people are the best place to start making positive changes since it always comes back to numbers.
And we know that numbers don’t lie. So if your market is “queering” as many people have noticed, as the group of people that they can sell to start getting older and replace the current generation of workforce, salespeople need to tap into their ability to foster relationships with the LGBTQ community or risk avoiding a huge segment of the population that they can sell too.
There are so many young professionals that are looking to come out at work, but are hesitant to do so. What would you like to tell them?
Patti: Don’t do it until you feel safe. Don’t do it in a workplace that you know, that you’re not going to be safe. There’s a term that was coined about 20, some years ago called “psychological safety”, you have to judge where you feel safe. Coming out at work can be as complex as, let’s say, calculus.
They need to ask a lot of questions to themselves and understand what it is going to mean to come out at work for them, their career and if it will be a barrier to proceed further at work. Having said that, there are some people who are fine with coming out at work and can shrug it off as something that doesn’t matter if they come out or not.
This can be quite cumbersome in the sense that straight people don’t have to come out, but queer people have to all the time. It is quite ridiculous but sometimes it feels like I am always telling people who I am and it can get overwhelming.
So maybe coming out at work doesn’t have to feel like a weight on their shoulders, and it could also mean a space where they can just focus on work and move on.
Having said all this, coming out work is such a personal decision that there is no one size fits all answer. It requires a lot of self-listening before telling others who you are.
Finally, there are so many roadblocks to do this that there is no succinct answer or path one can take. It ultimately depends on the person and circumstances and their feelings.
So all I can say is that listen to yourself a lot and make sure that the workplace you decide to come out at is safe and is going to continue keeping you safe.
There are innumerable instances of people passing (even unintentionally) homophobic/transphobic remarks in conversations, in workplaces and otherwise. When allies find themselves in situations like these, what should they do?
It’s quite simple actually. Say it is not funny. Say it is derogatory.
Patti: The more you stand up to these situations the better people will realize that these kinds of comments will not fly.
Next thing you can do is educate yourself and others. There’s a Netflix documentary called “Disclosure”. I think this is a useful watch to how transphobic jokes have been so interwoven into the media for so long that it makes people like me look like monsters at some level and that will help people recognize that even small slights hurt.
This all comes back to educating oneself. Go back to do that.
Another thing to learn is to put oneself into the shoes of the person against whom these remarks are being made. Let’s be clear, it is not funny whether they are around or not because it is the same joke all the time since it is barely a derivative of this one joke.
Hence “be an ally for us even when we are not around”. Because we don’t have a chance to be our own ally at that time. Sometimes, when I think back, I bristle at the jokes that I used to laugh at because my own transphobia was so internalized that I couldn’t help myself. Now I don’t know how I would react if I hear those same jokes now. So know that people can change and give them the opportunity to change.
Sometimes all it takes is just one person to stand up against discrimination and deregotory remarks, for others to get the courage to do the same.
What are some of the major things organizations can do to make their workplace more diverse + inclusive and combat homophobia/transphobia?
Patti: First thing companies need to do is invest in the community. It just doesn’t mean you put up a rainbow logo during june, and then forget about the community the rest of the year.
Next would be hiring people from the community. However, to do so, companies need to first create an environment that is inclusive. This is because you don’t want to have a pioneer come in and have a horrible experience. This goes both ways for the pioneer as well as the company.
Set some frameworks in place that are inclusive and allow for people to succeed, no matter who they are. Don’t let trans-misogyny and transphobia in general slip away. This doesn’t mean that if someone says something then they are fired on the spot.
Rather than that, you should not sweep it under the rug, or call it water under the bridge because those words linger, actions linger for a long time. There is an urgent need to address this issue and for the person involved in making transphobia remarks to understand why it is not right to do so and why the company does not tolerate it.
For all the strides forward that the world is making in terms of diversity and inclusion, we still see entire countries taking a step backward. Recently, Hungary decided to ban LGBTQ+ content for minors. What are your thoughts on this?
Patti: It’s beyond harmful. I understand their social conservative perspective at some level. They dont want to “queer” the kids.
They don’t obivously see being queer as okay. But the the reality is that they dont see expressing LGBTQ expression as the social norm when compared to cis-normativity. So people who identify themselves as the LGBTQ community, are only just looking for the same level of understanding, education and representation just as anyone else.
All this decision does is to make young people hide who they are, and when they are so young , they don’t have the capacity to handle it. They will feel trapped and they lack the emotional maturity to deal with this.
So the question that arises is what is the benefit of doing so? Nothing. Rather the down side is young people dont see who they can be, don’t see any representation of who they are and they don’t see a path for being themselves.
It is not something people choose to do, they are not made gay, they just are. I didn’t choose to be who I am, the only thing I chose as an adult when looking at my options is to undergo transition.
With the sucide rates being so high, just in the US, among kids who identify as LGBTQ is because of the cis-normativity that exisits. I can not imagine it is any better among countries like Hungary and other countries that are passing socially conservative agendas.
Even in the US, certain states are passing anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans legislation, essentially by doing so the end result is seeing a continuous spike in sucide rates among the youth. Even I struggled with being who I am when I was in my 40s. Typically it would look like I had it all together based on all the experience life has given me.
So to deny the opportunity for kids and teenagers to see themselves represented or even teach them people like them have been around for a long time is bound to be detrimental. I am not trying to be a scaremonger here but ultimately this decision will only drive up the sucide rates among the youth who identify themselves as part of the community but cannot express themselves. There are no two ways about this.
Anything else that you want to specifically talk about/mention?
Patti: For starters, don’t be disrespectful when wondering about things. If you don’t know how to ask a question don’t ask it, rather get consent to ask it. Educate yourself before you go into conversations.
I know Google exists, and there might be potentially damaging information out there as well, but if you approach this with the outlook that “I want to educate myself”, then look for information that will help you understand and become an ally.
Another way is to approach queer people and ask them if they are willing to share their prespecitive or answer a few questions you have. Make sure you reach out to the right people and avoid groups that are putting out false information.
There has been a renaissance of sorts of queer storytelling, becasue of internt and other platforms to do things, which has made it possible for LGBTQ people to share their stories. So when queer people are telling their stories for free and in front of you, dont waste time in thinking of how you can come up with cute answers, but engross yourself in that moment and give them your full attention.
Once you have the consent to respectfully ask questions and they have been answered go back and reconnect with them. Tell them what you understood, what took away from their conversation and more. But keep in mind that people from underrepresented communities have zero obligation to educate you, because sometimes they don’t have the bandwidth to do so.
Finally one of my mottos in life is – “Be Kind”. It is quite simple at the end of the day.
“As it turns out, we don’t only exist in June but exist in all months of the year. While it is great to celebrate us in June, sometimes it is okay for you to have a pride party for us in October. So don’t just pick this allyship packet in June and put it back into the closet (so to speak) in July.
Come and celebrate us all year round and we will gladly celebrate with all of you.” – Patti Flynn