Best of: How can companies be true allies of the LGBTQ+ community?
Chris sits down with Sherise Bright, Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization. Bright has spent her career defining, elevating, promoting, and safeguarding the brand, reputation, and impact of world-leading nonprofits and global media properties. This conversation explores Sherise’s experience in the worlds of LGBTQ+ advocacy, education, law, impact litigation, public policy and entertainment.
Hello, everyone. I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next episode of "Here To Help". At Indeed, our mission is to help people get jobs. This is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us going all day. And what powers that mission is our people. "Here To Help" is a look at how experience, strength, and hope, inspires people to want to help others. June is Pride Month. And today, I am thrilled to be joined by Sherise Bright, Senior Vice President for Communications and Marketing at The Human Rights Campaign or HRC. And even if you don't know HRC by name, you've no doubt seen the logo, yellow equal sign inside of a blue square, which is one of the most recognizable symbols of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community. It has become synonymous with the fight for equal rights for LGBTQ+ Americans. HRC's mission is incredibly powerful. By inspiring and engaging individuals and communities, The Human Rights Campaign strives to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. HRC envisions a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, plus community members who use different language to describe identity are insured equality and embraced as full members of society at home, at work, and in every community. In her role, Sherise leads HRC's comprehensive, multifaceted communications and marketing efforts that highlight the ongoing work of the organization in pursuit of this mission. Sherise is a Strategic Communications and Marketing Leader with over 20 years of experience working in the entertainment, sports, education, legal, and social justice sectors. She most recently served as chief communications officer at Lambda Legal, where she built and led a team that rebranded the organization. And Sherise is also a friend and the wife of Indeed's Senior Vice President of Environmental, Social and Governance, LaFawn Davis. Sherise, thank you so much for joining me today.
Thank you so, so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
- Well, let's start where we always start these conversations. How are you doing today?
- You know what? I'm doing great. I started my morning as I always do, or most of the time with meditation and I have a gratitude practice. So no matter what's going on, I think it's important to sort of list some of the things I am grateful for, and then just set the intention for today. So I started off with that, and I'm feeling great.
- Fantastic. We're going to dive into your work. And the work that you're doing is so important, especially now. And has a deep connection with Indeed's mission to help all people get jobs. But before we dive into that, let's back up a little bit and talk about your career journey. How did you get to where you are today?
- So my career journey is non-linear. And as I look back on my career, while I was in the midst of going through the different career opportunities, I was like, "What are you doing? What are you sort of leading to?" But really, I started my career in entertainment. For me, I am a huge fan of music and entertainment. And so the entertainment industry felt exciting for me. And I absolutely enjoyed my time in entertainment. Most of the time, it felt like fun. And so really started there. And as I got burnt out on entertainment, I decided to sort of do something that held close meaning to me. And I worked at the Los Angeles, LA Gay and Lesbian Center, which was sort of my first introduction to the work I'm doing now. That work was all encompassing. It was emotional. It struck me on a level that I wasn't even prepared for. And so I found myself wanting to run away from it at first, because this is just a lot. "Let me go back to the fun entertainment." And then from there, I went into education to legal, to sports, to finally back to the work that just lights me up, and the work that I'm passionate about, which is advocacy, social justice work for the LGBTQ+ community.
- So, it's interesting. We got to spend some time together last week in New York at the Tribeca Film Festival for the launch of "Rising Voices" Season Two. And one of the themes of that work is the meaning of work and what a job means in someone's life. And you've had all these different careers in these different areas. And I'd imagine, it means something different when you're doing the kind of work that you love in terms of entertainment, but then also advocacy. And you talked about the fact that it's maybe even scary to do that work. Can you talk a little bit about what it means to be doing something where your job is so deeply aligned with who you are as a person and what matters most to you?
- It's intense, it's intense. It is absolutely something that you carry with you outside of work, right? And so there is the need to understand how to balance that, right? There is this strong sense of responsibility. There are folks who are literally benefiting from the work that we do every day, and there's a strong sense of responsibility to show up for my team who is also in the midst of this work. And it is not easy work, specifically, given the times we are in now. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that we're fighting against, and every day can seem like you're not winning, you're not succeeding. But coming into contact with the families and the folks that this work benefits, helps us keep going. So it is the most rewarding, the most exhilarating, the most heart wrenching, but beautiful work. And I feel absolutely grateful to be able to do this work.
- The HRC role, and by the way, congratulations. It's a new appointment. It's very exciting. And I want to talk about HRC, but your most recent role before that was at Lambda Legal, can you talk a little bit about the work that you did at Lambda Legal and the type of campaigns that the organization supported while you were there?
- Yeah. So Lambda Legal is a phenomenal organization that not as many folks know about. It's not as well known outside of the LGBTQ+ community as compared to HRC. However, the work this organization has been doing for the past 50 years in support of LGBTQ+ rights and those living with HIV is unreal. Cases like Obergefell, which is marriage equality, that's Lambda Legal. Many of the bigger cases fought at the Supreme Court are cases that Lambda Legal have fought for our community. So basically, you can say that Lambda Legal are the gay lawyers. And so they're really behind the scenes, really working hard to protect our rights. So with Lambda being such historical organization that is not as well known, I sought out to hire some of the top experts to rebrand the organization. So I hired Debbie Millman, who is a brilliant lesbian woman who has rebranded some of the top fortune 500 companies. And I also hired Robyn Kanner, a brilliant trans woman to redo the website. She did the Biden-Harris identity, as well as the White House's website. And so that work is still ongoing, even though I have left Lambda Legal. So a new brand should be launched pretty soon. I also sought to bring different kinds of awareness campaigns to Lambda Legal. One that comes to mind is Stack the Deck Against Hate and it's stackthedeckagainsthate.org. And I worked with Campbell Ewald, an advertising agency to launch this campaign. And basically, what it is, is we brought together trans athletes to create sports trading cards, something like the baseball trading cards. Well, for donation, we were allowed to get these sports trading cards and all of that went to support trans youth in sports. And so really, really brilliant campaign. And wanted to do creative outside of the box things that would bring awareness to the issues, but also start to have by Lambda Legal be seen in a different light.
- So you're taking on this new role now, and obviously, you're going to be operating in the same sort of world of supporting the LGBTQ+ community. But how is your work likely to change? And can you talk about some of the bigger issues that are facing the community right now?
- So I think the work, we all, as a community, sister organizations are in the same fight, if you will, just different facets. I think that HRC is a much bigger platform, so much of a bigger opportunity to get the awareness of the issues out to more folks. And so much bigger team, much bigger opportunity to be creative and think outside of the box, which is my sweet spot, which is what I love to do. We are in, I would say the fight for our lives right now. As I mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Currently, many of them targeting trans youth and trans individuals all together. And it is brutal. It feels as though once we are sort of on top of one, another springs up, and it is incredibly challenging for us right now. And really heartbreaking. When I think about the bills targeting trans youth. If you think about it, it's really less than 1% of the population, but folks have chosen this as a political platform. And when you have the opportunity to speak to the families, this affects, it is incredibly heartbreaking. Specifically when in Texas, there are families who tell us that they are sending their children to school with letters with their lawyer's information on it so that in case their neighbor's telling them that they have a trans child, the children will be able to be directed to their lawyers. So it is really an intense fight and it's exhausting, but we're here for it.
- In the intro, one of the things that I mentioned, and we talked about briefly is this idea that our mission is to help all people get jobs. And there's a deep intersection with marginalization as it appears everywhere in the outside world, but it shows up so profoundly in the workplace. Can you talk about what the role of the workplace and workplace equity is in the types of issues that you and your team are going to be looking at?
- Yeah, so when I just backing out a little bit, if you think about work and you think about how much time you spend at work, right? And sometimes, we spend more time at work than we do with our friends and family. So with that in mind, if you think about the work environment and how it is to be in an environment that is welcoming and create space for you to be who you are versus an environment that isn't, you think about the folks who aren't in supported environments, taking back that energy to their friends and family in everyday lives. It is critically important that marginalized folks feel seen, feel heard, feel welcome in workplace. And many times, that has not only to do with the workplace policies, but the way in which with coworkers understand how to be, is simply be around folks who are different. So I think it's critically important and it doesn't just relate to the workplace. If we can think about the whole universe of how everything is connected, that is critically important.
- So what do you think the sort of state of the world is right now when it comes to workplace equity? Where are we? And obviously, we've made some progress and other things maybe are more challenging. What would you say is where we are in this journey today?
- Well, I will say optimistically, we have come a long way. I remember when I first started working, just getting a domestic partnership was ordeal, right? There was a lot you had to go through to even get health benefits for your partner. Now, with a click of a few buttons, you can get that. But, we have so far to go. We still struggle to get affirming care, affirming healthcare for trans folks in the workplace, trans and non-binary folks. And the healthcare benefits are incredibly expensive, and it could be a challenge to even navigate that for trans and gender nonconforming folks. So we still have quite a long way to go, but have made some strides. And my hope is that through the work that the brilliant colleagues I work with at HRC, as well as others in our movement, is through that work, we can continue to make strides and help folks understand that all folks deserve equity in the workplace with benefits.
- Talking about benefits and healthcare. I mean, there's a host of reasons why this would be critical. One, being obviously being able to support people and provide the services and support that might be specific and unique to their needs. But the policies that an organization has also says something about what the organization cares about, and it sends a message. Can you talk a little bit more just about that? What the role of benefits and healthcare in the workplace really plays in this area?
- Yeah, so, I mean, you said it perfectly there, the policies are what are important, right? Because the policies help you better understand who that organization is. What is important to that organization? We can tell that as folks in our community get really savvy at trying to better understand how to navigate where we belong, where we can feel safe. And so many times, we're looking at the policies, we're looking at what folks are saying in our community about these companies before we feel safe, bringing ourselves to these companies. And I feel as though, if companies want to benefit from our talent, then they have to be willing to accept us. And the way they accept us is by creating inclusive policies and ensuring that discrimination is not accepted in these workspaces. I also want to say that as part of that, too, ensuring that folks are educated. I don't think it's all the way necessary that a company provides all of the education. I think folks need to come just as I'm expected to come to work and know how to interact with others. I think that folks should learn we're living in a very diverse world. And so if you're coming to work and you're not understanding different folks, I say, get some knowledge outside of the company. But I also do think that for what it's worth, it's important for companies to educate, to provide resources so that folks who want to learn more and want to be better allies and learn should have that opportunity at their fingertips.
- So, one thing that you've talked about before is the difference between bringing your whole self to work and being your authentic self. Can you explain what you mean by that?
- Yeah, so I'll just use myself as an example. I want to be able to bring my authentic self to work. I want to be able to come as a queer Black woman and express myself the way I'd like to. I want to be able to be vulnerable. I want to have ideas and be seen and heard. But I also don't want to bring the Sherise that's grumpy when she hasn't eaten and expects my coworkers to have to deal with certain things. What I say mean by that is that, and some may not agree with this, but I do not think that an employer can be all the things and can contain all of the different things, but I do feel that you should be able to show up authentically. And so, that's how I kind of explain that. We want you to be authentic. We want you to feel safe, heard, seen, but there are some things that we simply don't have the capacity to deal with in the workspace. And so that's what I mean by that.
- We're talking about the range of things that a company can do. And one of the things that you were talking about was making sure that there's no discrimination. And that feels like clearly like the entry, right? We have to ensure that. But what we're really trying to do, and what LaFawn talks about all the time is this sort of journey from sort of where we are to inclusion. And ultimately to belonging, we say that we want everyone to feel like they have a home at Indeed, a place that feels like home. So what are some of the things that companies need to do that maybe we're not doing yet, to really provide a safe and inclusive environment for all employees?
- I would say the first thing is, listen. I think a lot of times companies think they know that they're doing the right thing, but I say, listen. Listen to employees, understand where folks are coming from. And then from there, create policies and create a space that is inclusive from there. There's a, the ability to trust is something that is, I would say, we don't talk about a lot, but is critically important specifically for marginalized folks. Because oftentimes, we come into these environments and we see DEI is on a lot of company's websites, but what really does that mean? And how is that ingrained in everything that is done at the company? It shouldn't feel like an afterthought, right? It should feel like this is just how we are. This is, we all sort of are here and we're a family and inclusive, and it shouldn't feel separate. And so I would say, companies should first listen to better understand what employees need, but secondly, foster an environment of trust through action. Through actually showing up what is the hiring process like? What is it like day to day when folks are in meetings? Can folks see themselves reflected in leadership teams? And what happens when folks have issues with coworkers who don't understand? How are those things handled? So that's what I say. Just really, it takes time. No one is perfect and no one should be expected to be perfect. But what happens along that journey in trying to better understand folks is what endears people to companies.
- So we are having this conversation right now in June. It is Pride Month around the world. Can you talk a little bit about what you feel, the Pride celebrations mean and the role that they play in change?
- So Pride is a protest, and I think many people either don't know that, have forgot that, but Pride is a protest, really spearheaded by a Black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson. And so, when I think about the moment we're currently in, right where we are hurting as a community, we are simply hurting. I mean, there isn't a moment. Yesterday, for example, I needed to stop and drop things because there was a ruling against trans folks participating in swimming. This is our day to day lives. And so when I think about companies that change their logos to the pride colors and support parades and give a donation to us. But then next month, also support politicians who are introducing these very bills that are harming us right now. I think we have gotten a little off center, specifically, the corporations. I'm speaking specifically to corporations. We need companies as allies, and we need allies in general because we're really in a fight we're exhausted and Pride can't simply be, " Hey, here's this rainbow logo." It has to be action. And so I would say, I call on companies, I call on individuals to be our allies in this moment of complete and utter devastation for us.
- Yeah, I wonder to some degree, this idea of rainbow washing, right of you'd walk into a Target or the Gap and it suddenly would look like there's just, the whole world is on board with everything. And it's almost feels like after Obama was elected, this sort of narrative that came out that will clearly we beyond race because there's a Black man in the White House. And that actually is been one of the more challenging narratives to sort of fight against in terms of people's perception. And to some degree, the amount of rainbows that you see throughout the month of June, I'd imagine must have a similar effect that people would sort of come with the, "What more do you want?" Right? We have rainbows everywhere.
- Oh, yeah. I mean, absolutely. I think folks think, "Okay, well, you got your rainbow, flags everywhere." We're nowhere near where we need to be. And quite frankly, we have some work to do as a community too. We also deal with in our community, sexism, ableism, racism, all of those things. And so there's so many different levels to this. While there has been progress made, that progress is obviously under attack currently. We can't be distracted because there's just too much work to do. And right now, the lens is on trans folks and trans youth. It is us as an entire community that is under attack every day. So the rainbow flag is great, but we've got so much more work to do.
- So LaFawn and I were actually having this conversation when we were together last week, that in his first major book "Stamped from the Beginning", Dr. Kendi, in his intro talks about the fact that people have this idea that the sort of struggle for equality is like a tug of war that you're making progress, or maybe there's two steps forward and a step back, but that it's essentially a linear march in one direction. And he argues that that's completely the wrong model. And that what's really going on is that there are two separate forces, one for equality, and one for oppression. And they're both constantly marching forward. And in fact, the more forward progress that one makes, the more the other digs in and works harder. And some of the things that we're seeing right now, like you referenced in the FINA ruling yesterday about international swimming, about in Texas, investigating parents of trans kids for offering any form of gender affirming care as child abuse. And then most recently in Florida, investigating parents who take kids to see a drag show. Right? All of these things, at some level seem more extreme from a policy perspective than the policies that we'd seen before, because there was just enough individual human discrimination that you didn't need that. As the general sort of world comes to accept things more that maybe they didn't accept 10 years ago or 40 years ago, or 50 years ago, that the forces of oppression feel like they have to actually work harder. And they're doing things now that seem almost more unimaginable.
- I couldn't have said that any better. I mean, and that's exactly what's happening right now. And I think that people seem to think, "Oh, we can rest now. We got marriage equality." That's even not guaranteed right at this point. And so it's just when you think you're getting to a place where okay. You can't. It is ruthless and relentless. And it is unbelievable. And I want to say that just from zooming out from a human perspective, I just read a great book by Brené Brown called "Atlas of the Heart". And on a podcast, she talks about, as human beings, we just are untethered, right? We just aren't feeling as though we are connected to one another. And so, this ruthlessness is literally due to, in my opinion, the feeling of being unconnected. At the end of the day, the basic and the basis, and this has been throughout history as we think about slavery, but the basis should be, we are human beings. And that doesn't seem to come across. Some of this is just, I really don't care. I need to push my agenda. It doesn't matter if you hurt, if you're human. And that is an incredibly dangerous place to be. We're at a dangerous place. Crimes against Black trans women are disproportionately over the top. I mean, it is just a dangerous, sad time to be in for this community.
- So today is Monday, June 20th. Yesterday was Juneteenth. And today is actually a new federal holiday recognizing Juneteenth. The reason that we're here having this conversation, and Indeed doesn't have the day off is that we celebrated on Friday. We had made Juneteenth the holiday last year before the federal government did. And we had already picked Friday in advance. So we stuck with that day, but several people are taking the day off today as well. But I would love to hear your thoughts on how we should think about marking an event like Juneteenth and commemorating and remembering the reason we have them in the first place.
- So I think that, for me, seeing Juneteenth recognized is beautiful, but also mind blowing, right? I'm seeing also the corporations jumping on it really quickly from a financial standpoint. You're seeing Juneteenth ice cream and Juneteenth salads, which is ridiculous. But literally, as a community that is struggling the way in which this holiday should be commemorated is through using those funds to support the community. The economic status of the Black community right now isn't where it needs to be. The racism, all of the struggles in which the community faces is all pervasive. And we have these companies that are like, "Here, some Juneteenth paper plates." So I think that, first, again, it's such a hard thing because you have the folks who are fighting against telling history how it is, but then you have a recognition of a time that is historical. And it is hard to quote-unquote, "Celebrate this time without really talking about the history and the why." And so, I have mixed feelings about where we are with the celebration of Juneteenth. I'm grateful that it's recognized, but I think a lot of work needs to be done about educating folks as to what Juneteenth actually means for our community.
- The HRC's foundation has a corporate equality index that is published every single year. It's a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices, and benefits, pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees. Can you talk about what it takes to be number one on the corporate equity index, and what other companies can learn from those companies on the top 10?
- So that is a lot. First of all, a lot goes into that. And I want to just take this time to acknowledge HRC's foundation, my brilliant colleagues there who work on this every day, who are the ones who are coming together to decide what it means to be on that equality index. We have a whole list of sort of things and guidelines and things you must do in order to even get on that. And you can find that at hrc.org/workplace. But what it takes really is, put your money where your mouth is, if you will, and not just money. What kind of policies do you have? What kinds of insurance do you offer? How do folks in our community feel at your company? I think that's the biggest deciding factor there is. How are folks telling us they feel sitting in these roles and sitting in these companies? That's important for us. And making sure that the environment is one that people can feel safe going into. Those are some of the general things, but again, there is a whole list. And some fall off. Recently, we've had to take some off. I won't name the companies out of respect, but companies can do things throughout the years that make us re-evaluate them being on the index. And as we think about things like, "What are you doing that's harming our community? Who are you given to politically?" Things of that sort. That'll be ways in which we will look at the index moving forward.
- At the very start, from the HRC mission, I read this statement that HRC envisions a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, plus community members who use different language to describe identity are insured equality and embraced as full members of society at home, at work, in every community. Can you talk about what this better future looks like from the perspective of HRC?
- Sure, so lived equality for folks in the LGBTQ+ community. A feeling in a sense of being able to be safe, to be full members of society. I don't know if we will ever sort of realize equality, but we will fight really hard every single day, along with our sister organizations to ensure that we are pushing to get there. So it looks like me as a Black queer woman, marrying my wife and walking through lives and sitting on leadership teams, more of that, but more of that for all folks within our community.
- Well, as we draw to a close here and I could keep this conversation going all day, but I always like to end sort of looking back over the last, now almost two and a half years that we've been through in this pandemic and all of the challenges and the inequities that have been exposed throughout that process. I'm curious throughout all of that, what, if anything, has left you with some optimism for the future?
- Yeah, so one thing that might sound a little cheesy is, but I married my wife during the pandemic, right in the middle of all the chaos. And so that gives me hope, the love. Being able to love and be embraced by our family and friends, it gives me hope. But I hate to sound date myself here, but I really truly am inspired by youth because more and more they're looking at identity, their gender identities and saying, "We will make our own decisions about our bodies and about who we are and about these sort of political ideologies." And that gives me so much hope. Yeah, so I'm very hopeful and really focused on continuing to work and fight, and do everything I possibly can to support my communities. I should say communities.
- Well, Sherise, thank you so much for joining me today for this conversation and for sharing your experience and strength and hope. But thank you so much for everything that you do to make the world a better place.
- Thank you so much for having me. I am, again, like I said, I'm thrilled to be here.