By Suzan Cox, Chemical Engineer
A Guide to Improving the Manufacturing Environment for LGBTQ+ Employees
It is increasingly common for large US corporations to make diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) pledges. These commitments, although well-intentioned, are often implemented unevenly across large corporations. Despite the best intentions of plant leadership, carrying out corporate DEI initiatives on the shop floor can be especially challenging because of the day-to-day demands of production.
I share below ideas for how individual employees can effect meaningful, incremental change in the manufacturing environment. Most of the ideas are not my own. I am sharing the work of an amazing engineer I have had the privilege to learn from, Laurel Hunt, BSME. Laurel is a design engineer in the fenestration industry.
Advocate for Facility Updates
Protecting and respecting individuals who identify as non-binary can be one of the biggest challenges for companies. There are small changes, though, that make a big difference. One change that can be fast and easy is the conversion of single-stall men’s and women’s restrooms to be all-gender restrooms by hanging new bathroom nameplates. Ask your facilities manager if you can help them make this change. Send them a link to bathroom signs from mydoorsign.com. Let them know this is an easy way to show compliance with corporate initiatives.
Offer Training Resources
Your plant leadership may be hungry for training but unsure how to get it. Propose training. This can range from teaching a short “LGBTQ+ 101” training during a leadership meeting that hits on main points like “it is generally rude to ask trans people about their medical history” and “use the pronouns people ask you to use.” Or connect them with a local PFLAG group or an online ally training.
Advocate for Document Updates
When you come across documents that aren’t inclusive or use out-of-date wording, ask the owner to update them. Volunteer your expertise. Point out problematic or missing language and suggest a replacement. One example of this is on job applications. Check to see if your company has multiple gender options, and if not, ask them to add more choices. Another is in benefits enrollment and emergency contact forms. Is there an option for Partner? Keep an eye out, and you will likely spot other opportunities for updates.
Speak Up, Later is Fine
When you hear problematic remarks, it can be difficult to speak up in the moment. It is common to feel a sense of guilt for not saying something at the time it occurs. Anita Villanueva Pacheco, an electrical engineer, described it thusly, “As a Latina, I feel especially hit by this when I hear people making insensitive comments (even not at me), and I’m too hurt or shocked to say anything. And later being upset at myself for not standing up to it more, and therefore allowing it to continue. It’s like being victimized twice.”
The good news is that you can be just as effective when you take time to sleep on it and bring it up the next day. Identify what feels like a safe way to speak up. Options might include approaching the person directly, informing your manager or HR rep, or reporting it through your company’s anonymous reporting system. Even if you don’t foresee wanting to report it, send an email to yourself with as many details as you can remember.
Identify Yourself as an Ally
Let your team know that you are there to help them problem-solve any LGBTQ+ or DEI related issues that may pop up. Proactively tell the people around you that they can come to you if they ever need help. This applies to individual contributors and managers alike! You don’t have to come out at work to let folks know that you are happy to help them. If someone has a negative experience or needs accommodation, it means the world to have a coworker or manager whom they feel comfortable approaching.
You can do this in different ways, from subtle to direct. Put Employee Resource Network (ERN) logos in your internal email signature. Forward ERN events to coworkers and let them know you are attending. Bring up company DEI initiatives at group meetings and offer to talk more with anyone interested. Let your direct reports know that you take the corporate initiatives seriously and are always available to chat about any concerns they have.
Suzan Cox, Chemical Engineer, is a Supplier Quality Lead in the fenestration industry. She has two school-aged children and has worked full time, part-time, and taken a career break.