Whether in real life or online, a safe space is where someone feels they can be themselves without being subjected to harassment, discrimination, racism, sexism, bigotry, hateful comments, and other negative behaviors that can cause emotional or even physical harm. The term is usually used when talking about people in marginalized communities that have historically been harassed, bullied, treated unequally, or even violently.
A diverse group of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs recently joined Fishbowl for a live panel discussion on “The Secrets to Safe Spaces,” facilitated by Arya Davachi, programming director of Do The WeRQ. Each panelist has built a company or industry safe space, and shared best practices for creating and finding safe spaces in the workplace and beyond.
The panelists included:
- Briana Mendez - founder of La Nueva Link, a digital community for Latinx creatives and media professionals
- Nik Kacy - a fashion designer, founder of Equality Fashion Week, and part of the Trans Inclusion Task Force for the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce
- Brian Tran - founder of Serif, a digital and physical network that brings together the extraordinary powers of the LGBTQ+ community and allies
While there is no single, perfect way to build an inclusive culture for LGBTQ+ people, keeping their tips in mind can help you find or even create a space where everyone is welcomed and empowered to be their true selves.
Why are safe spaces important?
Many companies are working on improving their diversity and inclusion efforts, including attracting and retaining employees from all walks of life. Those employees need to feel seen, included, and protected at work. Having a safe space in the workplace contributes to a positive employee experience and an engaged workforce. If diversity, equity, and inclusion are important values for your company, embracing safe spaces should be priority one.
Creating a safe space
Here are some dos and don’ts for building a safe space for LGBTQ+ people at work:
- Set boundaries and ground rules. Decide what is and isn’t allowed and share these guidelines with all members. If behavior falls outside of the rules, take quick action, including ejecting someone from the group and reporting poor behavior to management, if necessary.
- Decide on confidentiality. Set expectations for how much of what is said in the group stays in the group. Moderators should also decide if and how to handle any potentially dangerous behavior or comments such as harassment, threats, or discussion of self-harm.
- Share with caution. Safe spaces can feel like an important haven where you can unearth and share a lot of personal challenges. Remember, however, that electronic communication tools ultimately belong to the employer, and people should consider what they say online. Some people have actually been fired for comments they have shared in Slack channels, for example.
- Listen. Listening to members of the community and respecting what they say is one of the most important aspects of a safe space. It should be a place where all members feel they have a voice, if they want to share their thoughts.
- Keep it fluid. The group will continue to change and adjust depending on who’s there and what’s happening. People with different viewpoints can still work together to build on progress.
- Fundraise. Support issues or organizations doing work that’s important to LGBTQ+ people. Ask your company or organization to match donations.
- Try to be perfect. A safe space cannot be everything to everyone, all the time. Do your best with the information and feedback you have, but know you can’t please all the people as everyone comes from different backgrounds and has different priorities and challenges. Making improvements and tweaks along the way is part of the journey.
- Be too exclusionary. While you want to hold space for certain people, say, folks who identify as LGBTQ+, to make the most of the group, consider including allies and others who support LGBTQ+ people.
- Center yourself as an ally. If you are an ally, don’t make the safe space about you and your feelings. Listen, learn, grow, and help.
Should you include allies in your safe space at work?
An ally is any person who supports a particular group of people (say, LGBTQ+) in their ongoing quest for rights, recognition, equality, and inclusion. Should you include allies in your safe space or not? As the MAGIC 8-BALLR said, “Cannot predict now.” It depends on the people in your organization, your goals for the safe space, and the participants in the group.
Some people in the LGBTQ+ community want safe spaces where only other folks who identify as LGBTQ+ are allowed in the group. They might only feel protected from potential harm when among others who identify as they do. Your group may shape up that way if that’s what everyone wants.
But in some spaces, non LGBTQ+ allies are an important part of the group as they can help broaden reach and impact. Allies can also as champion a culture of inclusivity at the company and use their voice to help drive change.
Including allies in your safe space can also help them understand challenges that are unique to LGBTQ+ people in their personal and professional lives. This can be a powerful motivator for compassion and action.
Allies can also use their voices to help people in the group. If someone is afraid to speak up about something that feels unfair or wrong at work, an ally could use their voice to do i.
Always get permission first if you plan to discuss or share issues outside of the group with others. Part of what makes a safe space “safe” is feeling their comments in the group are confidential. While allies want to help, it is not an ally’s job to be a social justice warrior, applying their views or agenda on issues that are not specifically about them.
The decision on whether or not to include allies may be one of those decisions that may not please everyone. You could also create two groups at work: one for people who identify as LGBTQ+ only and another that’s open to allies as well.
Make your voice heard
For more about creating an inclusive workplace culture for LGBTQ+ people, join Pride in Review: The 2022 Scorecard on Wednesday, June 29 at 5:00 p.m., ET. This conversation will be a one-stop shop for all things Pride this year.
Tune in to the “Hardly Working” podcast to hear the full conversation between panelists.