Happy Pride Month from Knotel

by Elliot Epstein: Jun 11, 2018

Head of People Operations

This June marks my one year anniversary at Knotel, but the company has changed so much in that time that, in many ways, it feels like five. We’ve grown tremendously – not just in headcount, geographic footprint, or ambition of our product – but also by building a culture where people can be their most authentic selves. When strategizing how to properly celebrate Pride Month as the head of Knotel’s People Operations team, I started reflecting on how fortunate I have been: I’ve had great educational opportunities, am married to an amazing man, and have had the pleasure of building a world-class organization at Knotel over the last year, as we’ve more than doubled in size to 175 employees.

Upon first interviewing at Knotel, I was immediately struck by the diversity of people and ideas, the gender neutral restrooms, and the deliberate focus on the value enlightened hiring can bring to our organization. When we rolled out our core values last fall, “Fly Your Flag” – the idea of celebrating your whole identity – was at the top of the list. It’s more than just lip-service here; all walks of life within the LGBTQ community are represented and embraced.

Knotel is hardly alone in these convictions. Many corporations, non-profits, finance, and tech companies have made visible strides in terms of embracing LGBTQ inclusion and empowerment. But let’s not allow progress to beget complacency; we still have a lot of work to do. 25% of LGBT employees report discrimination within the last five years and the trans community’s unemployment rate is three times the national average. It is still legal to fire people for being lesbian, bisexual or gay in 28 states and for being trans in 30. With the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to design a wedding cake for a gay couple, I was reminded of how, despite recent progress toward LGBT equality, we must not rest on our laurels.

I first realized I was gay over 20 years ago. Back then, Ellen coming out on national television was a major cultural phenomenon, and the HIV/AIDS crisis was still seen as a death sentence primarily affecting the gay community. The notion of being queer – especially as a burgeoning adolescent – was viewed as something that would limit one’s potential, personally and professionally. My own coming out journey, which took several years, wasn’t always easy, but my family and friends were resolute in their support every step of the way. By the end of high school, I had experienced a whopping five-month relationship with a first boyfriend and also my very first soul-crushing breakup. Two decades later, I’m even more grateful that my family, friends, and educators were ahead of the curve, and that my greatest struggle was coming to terms with myself and not born from others’ cruelty.

The last 12 years has seen a real sea change in terms of media visibility, significant improvements in law and policy, and workplaces more explicitly valuing diverse genders and sexual orientations. I’ve been especially pleased with the increasing – if not long-overdue – recognition that equality must fundamentally include trans and non-binary people, homeless youth, people of color, and all other traditionally-marginalized groups within the LGBTQ community. The right to marry is necessary, but far from sufficient. My professional history has dovetailed with the times, and I’ve stopped feeling compelled to diminish any aspect of who I am in the workplace.

I’m still struck by how differently things have played out for me than I imagined they would. Back when I embarked on my first job search, I was advised by some well-intentioned people to scrub any LGBTQ affiliation from my resume. Fast forward to last summer when I got married, two months after joining Knotel: colleagues enthusiastically showered me with donuts, champagne, hugs and gift certificates. I’ve since brought my husband to numerous company functions without thinking twice. Those same people who told me to hide my identity on my resume have since realized that such advice would be misguided today. This is what progress looks like, and I’m committed to creating an environment at Knotel where nobody ever feels like they have to conceal who they are.

Here are a few things we’ve done at Knotel that you can implement out at your company, regardless of its sector, size, or budget, to foster a more inclusive environment:

  • 1. Make all restrooms gender neutral, and include signage as to which restrooms have which amenities.

 

  • 2. Have employees include Pride-themed graphics in their email signatures, as well as pronouns they use (e.g. She/Her/Hers, They/Them/Theirs).

 

  • 3. Include a diversity and inclusion statement on your website and in in job descriptions. Ours is here.

 

  • 4. Set up partnerships with non-profits that support LGBTQ causes. At Knotel, we work with the Epic Foundation to enable an easy pathway to charitable giving for our people. Epic introduced us to the Ali Forney Center, an amazing organization for homeless LGBTQ youth, which we’ve since had a chance to tour and intend to return for service learning events. This is a great way to build internal culture as well.

 

  • 5. Start an employee resource group for LGBTQ employees and allies. It can be as simple as a slack channel, or go beyond that and be a conduit for social events for members and the entire company.

 

  • 6. Finally, speak out as a company and remain attuned to the world around you. Progress and equality are hard-fought and can never be taken for granted, which is why Knotel signed an amicus brief–and led other NYC-based tech companies to do the same–in support of Gavin Grimm, a transgender teenager in Virginia who wanted to use the school bathroom that corresponded to his gender identity.

 

I sincerely hope that kids 20 years my junior are growing up with a more optimistic outlook as a result of the world they see around them. As we celebrate Pride this month, let’s commit to being the kind of employers that catalyze that change and uplift multiple generations.