Editor's note: This is the second article in a series of profiles featuring Mimecasters sharing their personal experiences with, and perspectives on, prejudice and marginalization and what actions people can take to better support their colleagues in this era of change and help drive a culture of inclusion in and beyond the workplace.
Bryan Vermes is okay being vulnerable when it comes to sharing his experience with prejudice as a gay man.
“Telling a story is how we can help others learn,” Vermes, global manager for employee experience and social impact at Mimecast. “If they don’t live that experience day-to-day, there’s no other way for them to know what it’s like. Storytelling is such a powerful tool for creating inclusive spaces, whether in your personal or professional life.”
Vermes, 27, doesn’t want people to have the illusion that our work as inclusive coworkers and leaders is done because we’ve made advancements like gay marriage, and more recently, employment protection.
So, he agreed to join Mimecast CEO Peter Bauer earlier this month in an internal video to commemorate Pride Month, and to share a sobering story of violence that he experienced a couple of years back while out to dinner in Boston.
Vermes and his partner were sitting together at a restaurant when a group of angry and aggressive men began screaming at the couple, threatening to kill them and describing their weapons as a dining room filled with dozens of other diners and staff looked on.
“What was more shocking and disturbing was that this restaurant that was filled with 50 other people,” Vermes said, “and not a single person said a thing.”
He called 911 five times, but the police never arrived – a disparity in law enforcement and services that the Pride movement protests alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, Vermes said. Finally, he called a rideshare, and when it arrived, Vermes and his partner ran to the car and asked the driver to “hit the gas.”
“It was the same feeling of being alone and isolated that I felt when I was young,” he said. The confidence he had in his mind – that this sort of isolation was no longer a part of his everyday – was shattered that day. That’s something he still reflects on regularly.
“It could be your last dinner because of who you are,” Vermes said.
Growing up in Westborough
Vermes had the good fortune of having a very open and accepting family as he traversed middle and high school in the Boston suburbs – and that’s not the case for many people, he said. And family support was critical to his survival as he experienced violence, discrimination and people publicly outing him.
“That was a very scary time,” he said. “There can be a sense that you can shelter yourself as you get older from the pain and discrimination that you can’t really avoid when you’re young, because you have to go to school.”
But Vermes began to feel more comfortable in his skin as he got older, and he started living how he wanted to, and once he got to college, he started dating who he wanted to date. He never had the stereotypical “coming out” conversation with his friends and family, it just evolved.
“The older I got, the more I came to accept who I was,” he said.
But without a strong support network, LGBTQ youth have nowhere to go. According to the Trevor Project, a national service organization for crisis intervention and suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth, LGB youth with “highly rejecting” families are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide than peers who “reported no of low levels of family rejection.”
“Youth empowerment is so important,” Vermes said. “Organizations like the Trevor Project have a key role to play to fill gaps in support. If you know of someone that is really struggling, I encourage you to share resources and contact information to nonprofits dedicated to the advancement of our community.”
Being gay in tech can be difficult
“There’s a long way to go in terms of inclusion for LGBTQ employees in the industry,” Vermes said.
Vermes has seen tech companies rush to publish rainbow logos before implementing policies that support LGBTQ employees.
In many tech companies, LGBTQ employees, along with people of color (POC) and women, often find that presenting to rooms full of cis-gendered white men overwhelming, Vermes said.
“The anxiety of speaking up in a meeting for fear of someone noticing your ‘gay voice’ can be all-consuming,” Vermes wrote in a LinkedIn article titled, “Let’s Talk About Being Gay in Tech” in 2019. “It's also still largely driven by ‘bro-culture.’ That can be scary, especially if you're a gay man.”
But there are a lot of things tech companies can do to improve inclusion for LGBTQ employees.
Three tips for building an inclusive environment for employees
On what would be the 50th anniversary of the Pride movement, Vermes provided three things companies can do to build safe and inclusive workplaces for LGBTQ staff.
1. Don’t Make Assumptions – Identity Isn’t Always Visible.
To make human connections, people make a lot of assumptions. Human Resources departments have a vital role to play there in creating norms that avoid this. Further, we can all take steps, like not assuming a woman has a boyfriend or husband. There’s no expectation that overnight people will know to use the right pronouns or use the word “partner” instead of gendered terms – that’s a journey, and it’s one we’re on at Mimecast as well.
2. Provide Avenues for People to Share Their Stories.
Sharing stories can be difficult, particularly for transgender employees that may not be getting the healthcare they need. By simply providing an outlet for people to share their authentic backgrounds and identities, this is an easy way that employers can be more progressive. This should be done in the context of benefits and policies that bolster diversity and belonging.
3. US. Organizations Have a Key Role Regarding Employment Protections for LGBTQ colleagues.
As an example, Mimecast forbids threats to employment because of sexual orientation or gender identity, even in regions where that was not the law of the land until earlier this month. International companies with these values can help set the tone for employment protection in less inclusive markets.
Pride and Black Lives Matter
“The challenge of racism is across all communities,” Vermes said. Pride is all about equality and justice for everyone, he said. The Black Lives Matter movement is exactly that – fighting for justice for Black Americans and Black people around the world.
“The LGBTQ community can identify very closely with that struggle,” Vermes said. There is great overlap between the communities; people within the LGBTQ community who are also POC face tremendous hurdles in everything from employment, to healthcare, to basic public safety, where there has been a significant increase in violence in the last seven years for Black trans people in the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Since 2013, HRC has documented more than 150 killings of transgender or gender-non-conforming people, 127 (85%) of which were trans-POC.
Pride looks a lot different this year, Vermes said, but the energy of Pride lives on very strong to advance the needs and rights of POC in the LGBTQ community.
“Even within the LGBTQ community, it’s something we all play a role in and need to keep working on,” Vermes said, “ensuring that we root out racism, and that we’re inclusive. It’s been great to see the communities come together, really just fighting for common humanity and what people deserve.”
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