Equality Utah trains business leaders how to be more LGBTQ inclusive

Five years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country and Utah enacted a nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBTQ Utahns in housing and employment. Still, Troy Williams hears from employees who are afraid to come out at work or put a photo of their spouse on their desk.

Meanwhile, businesses across the Beehive State, particularly in the tech industry, have reached out to Equality Utah, where Williams is the executive director, “for our help to recruit and retain top tier talent,” he said. As Utah has experienced an economic boom over the last decade, there are not enough available workers to fill open positions.

“Though Utah is a beautiful state to live in and has a high quality of life, there are still some misperceptions and stereotypes that we are a state that’s not welcoming to LGBTQ people, women or communities of color, and that makes recruiting talent from outside of the state more challenging,” Williams said.

He added, “Ten years ago, the big question coming into Utah was, ‘If I move here, can I get a good drink at a bar?’ And now employees are coming and they want to know ... do they value and embrace diversity and inclusion?”

Last year, the nonprofit launched its Business Equality Leader program, which evaluates a company’s workplace culture and policies and provides training on how to be more inclusive. Instructure, a technology firm known for education platforms used in public schools and colleges, announced in May that it was the first business to be certified through the program, and Williams said there are “several companies that are in the process.”

“It really helped us make people more familiar with how we could be better allies with members of the community,” said Jeff Weber, executive vice president of people and places at Instructure.

The Business Equality Leader program begins with an initial consultation, in which Equality Utah trainers talk to employees and determine “where the company is and what challenges that they’re facing,” Williams said.

“We’re looking to understand the perception of diversity within an organization and how people feel within the organization. So, are there biases? Are there ceilings that some minorities can’t get over? Is there a sense that you might have to hide who you are at work?” he said.

Then, Equality Utah holds three hours of LGBTQ-focused diversity and inclusion training geared toward companywide management or C-suite level employees. By working with leadership, the hope is that the training "will permeate all aspects of a company” and help LGBTQ people, women and other minorities rise up the ranks, Williams said.

Trainers go over the language of inclusion, which Williams described as “our LGBTQ alphabet.” They also explore the gender spectrum, provide a legal history of LGBTQ laws in Utah and review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission policies on discrimination. “And then we have a kind of robust LGBTQ&A,” Williams said.

Ideally, these trainings are held in person, he said, but they’ve had to adapt in recent months and hold sessions remotely due to social distancing recommendations to curb the spread of COVID-19.

At the end of the program, the company is certified and it gets "our official seal of approval that they can use on their website and in all of their recruitment materials,” according to Williams. The nonprofit is currently working on advanced trainings so companies can be recertified each year, he said.

“We never want people to feel shamed or just feel like that they’re not doing things right. We really want to challenge hearts to open up to each other so that we can really connect, heart to heart, and break down the kind of fears and prejudices people may have,” Williams said.

The program is a work in progress, he said, but “our ultimate goal is that we want every Utah employee to bring their full, authentic self to the workplace.”

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.