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By Nina Orlowski ( Community Outreach & AVP Intern)

According to HRC’s Corporate Equality Index 2017, PepsiCo has already demonstrated its commitment to LGBTQ equality and inclusion receiving a perfect score and being named one of the ‘Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.” But instead of sitting back and basking in this accomplishment, the company continues to make strides toward an inclusive work environment for all. How so, you might ask?

With June being Pride Month, we over here at Center on Halsted were operating in outreach overdrive for 30 days straight (no pun intended). However, we were not the only organization ramping up to celebrate and raise awareness. In honor of their third annual Global ALLY Day, PepsiCo’s LGBTQ employee resource group EQUAL invited Center on Halsted to conduct a training on LGBTQ in the Workplace at their Research & Development Center in Barrington, IL. I had the privilege of accompanying our Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Joanna Thompson to this event on Wednesday, June 7th. In addition to being personally greeted and shuttled from the train station to the PepsiCo campus, staff had rolled out the rainbow tablecloths for our arrival. They also set up a balloon wall and props for photos, an ally poster for signing, and a rainbow cake. This combination of things made the two of us social scientists feel right at home in a room full of hard scientists. The real question was: Could they put their actions where their rainbows were?

After placing PepsiCo in the context of LGBTQ acceptance followed by a crash course on LGBTQ and GNC individuals, Joanna was sure to explain how everyone experiences their identity differently. To validate, a brief exercise on using gender neutral language sparked a lot of discussion about personal pronoun use. Attempting to tell the person next to us a story about a specific person without using any identifying language proved to be a very strange experience, even for me (supposedly one of the experts in the room). So much so that my partner belted out, “This is so weird!” To which, the room abruptly turned and agreed as I sat in silence trying but failing to imagine how it might feel to be misgendered on a daily basis. In that moment, I may have seen employees struggling around me, but I also saw them learning.

From this came a conversation about the importance of self-determination. We worked through the seemingly awkward but powerful moment that employees can and should face together: “How do you like to be addressed?” Arguably one of the simplest ways to be an ally, though much easier said than done for most. But, we don’t know what we don’t know. What we do know is what happens when people assume. So just ask, we urged!

Aside from this message, perhaps the biggest a-ha moment for the group (so cleverly called EQUAL) was when their very name was challenged. By this I mean we encouraged staff to reconsider the idea of treating everyone the same, because the very nature of seeing all people as equals denies the real differences and unique struggles of LGBTQ and GNC folks in the workplace. As we let that sink in, once again I saw mystified faces sprinkled across the room; but I also saw wheels turning in their heads as we switched gears to summarize the final theme of the day: visibility.

Closing with a celebration of the company’s efforts to that point, we wished them well going forward and bid them “see-you-soon.” And we did! Not once, but twice. Just two weeks later, a few hundred Pepsi employees marched in the Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday, June 25th. (Another simple way to be an ally: show up!) Shortly thereafter, Center on Halsted was invited back to Pepsi, this time to their corporate office in the Loop where we gave an overview of our work and explained how folks could get involved. Through each of these efforts, Pepsi has shown us that they deserved that perfect score! We look forward to partnering with them in the future.

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