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Students Leading with Pride

We had the pleasure of interviewing two students leading with Pride and creating an LGBTQ2SIA+ community at their business school. These two changemakers are making their school a more welcoming place for the queer community.

At Envol, we’ve spent the past few months deep-diving into diversity, equity, and inclusion. After releasing our anti-racism statement, we decided to highlight the work of leaders in combatting discrimination of all forms.


CUS Pride

We chatted (virtually) with Catherine Li and Ky Sargeant, two third-year students at UBC Sauder School of Business. They are the co-founders and co-chairs of Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS) Pride, a group of students building a community for queer people at Sauder through events, initiatives, and advocacy.

Last year, they hosted Out, an LGBTQ2+ student networking conference. Students were able to meet queer professionals at prominent organizations and share their experience with navigating and embracing their identity at work. The most rewarding part of Li’s experience as a facilitator was “seeing the smile on people’s faces and seeing people connect”.

CUS Pride, is now in its second year, with three new students joining the team. The co-chairs received more applications than expected. Li shared that “it felt great to know there are people who are just as passionate and wanting to create a better environment and community for queer students at our school.”


Institutional Evolution

Sargeant, a Singaporean native, has been able to explore their identity through Vancouver’s queer community and in their career. They work with TransFocus Consulting, a firm that specializes in consulting organizations on working with gender diverse individuals.

Looking within their faculty, Sargeant highlights there is still a long way to go. They believe that if Sauder School of Business wants to be “a starting point for this kind of progressive idea of what business leadership is like, there’s a lot of changes that need to be made.” Many of Sargeant’s concerns around barriers to entry for gender-diverse people stem from their own experience.

While institutions and organizations are aiming to attract gender diverse candidates, Sargeant explains that “if you want to make people feel they are even welcome here, this stuff needs to be in place before people can come here, right? You can’t have people come here and then ask for change. The change needs to happen first.”

In talking about changes organizations can make to be more inclusive, Sargeant notes signage and inclusion of preferred pronouns as “low-hanging fruit”. From their perspective, “it’s not going to be a big deal to 99% of people, but for the 1% it is a big deal for – it’s meaningful.”


Future of CUS Pride

Once graduated, Li hopes she will be able to look back and see the continuation of DE&I events and initiatives, not just from student groups like CUS Pride, but also directly from the administration. She believes that for companies to become more diverse and inclusive, these concepts must be introduced at the undergraduate level. She hopes to see continued diversification of executive boards as she enters the workforce.


Rainbow Capitalism

We mentioned this in a previous article, but as a quick refresher: rainbow capitalism (synonym: pink capitalism) is “the incorporation of the LGBT movement and sexual diversity to capitalism and the market economy, viewed especially in a critical lens as this incorporation pertains to the gay, cisgender, Western, white, and upper-middle-class communities and market.”

This often takes form in the use of Pride flags or rainbows in logos, marketing, in shop windows, etc. However, at the end of Pride month, some of these marketing efforts disappear, as do organizations’ initiatives to support the queer community.

There isn’t a consensus on the ethics of rainbow capitalism, however, if an organization chooses to partake, they must follow up with improved internal practices. This article outlines how to make your workplace more LGBT friendly, and why you should. Our tips for celebrating Pride at work can also be applied to boosting inclusivity in your workplace.

From Li’s point of view, companies that identify themselves as champions of DE&I must “actually implement policies within their companies, [and] providing their employees a safe environment where they feel comfortable being themselves.” She suggests that organizations explore employee resource groups and policies to bolster inclusivity.

For Sargeant, attending Pride in Seattle was their first exposure to the celebration of LGBTQ2SIA+ people. “You can argue that it’s tokenistic… but as someone that has never experienced this, this overwhelming amount of representation was really moving.”

The co-chairs agree: consistency is key. If an organization includes symbols of Pride in their external communication, it should provide a positive working environment for queer people.


“Diversity Hires”

Both Li and Sargeant identified diversity hiring as a misconception of DE&I. From Li’s point of view, the benefits of hiring a diverse team exceed the risk of “hiring someone less qualified”. Sargeant explains that if organizations want to take on difficult problems or goals, diverse perspectives are essential.

“Companies don’t hire diverse employees because they want to score ‘moral brownie points’. They hire because, on the bottom line, it’s profitable…Even if those employees may not have the same qualifications, right? Because the world is diverse.”

Sargeant’s point is largely backed up by research; that diversity in teams leads to productivity, success, efficiency – whatever the metric, diversity does it better.


Our Learnings at Envol
  • Match external messaging in support of queer people with internal efforts.
  • Hiring a diverse workforce is good for your team, organization, and bottom line. However, we should never undermine someone’s success by saying they were hired to fill a diversity quota. People are hired because they are qualified, and their unique perspective is an added asset
  • There are easy ways to signal your organization is a safe and welcoming space for queer people; like designated gender-neutral washrooms, including preferred pronouns with your name on business cards or creating employee resource groups

Want to understand diversity in your own organization? Check out our last blog on measuring DE&I through surveys.