Happy Pride: How does inclusion play a role in dry cleaning?
As Pride Month comes to an end, we step back to take a look at how far we’ve come. LGBTQ+ rights have turned into a loving celebration of one’s self. Companies have adopted policies and missions to become more inclusive. In the dry cleaning industry, there isn’t much talk of cultural issues. In fact, there isn’t much talk at all. But, it’s important to start conversations where no one is talking at all.
At Meurice, we strive to create a supportive and accepting environment for our employees, where individuals are evaluated and encouraged on their accomplishments and not their background. However, these principles are not uniformly adopted across all employers in the United States. Only 23 states have made employment discrimination illegal for sexual orientation and gender identity in public and private employment. Moreover, 12 states have no protections for sexual orientation or gender identity in either public or private employment; meaning that in these states it remains legal for employers to fire employees for no other reason than the fact that they are LGBT+. Even with legal protection, groups of people still face barriers that can prevent their career development.
My name is Andrew, and I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Being a member of the Meurice team, we’re always encouraged to bring new ideas to the table. We are very grateful to be an equal opportunity employer. The people bring the ideas and cause change. Meurice has a diverse team, driving innovation and change to not only our company but our industry. We even have a whole team dedicated to innovation. To gain more insight into the current landscape we interviewed an LGBT+ member on staff Marleen Cohen, Director of Operations. She is the driving force behind the operations and the dynamism in our company. How does diversity and inclusion play a role in such a sleepy industry?
What kind of an impact does being an LGBT+ leader make? Let’s start there.
“I don’t see any difference. my career is amazing. I have been out since I was 18 years old and never allowed my being gay to impact me professionally. I was always out and shared that I was an openly gay women and my feeling was always that I had to be really okay and great in my own skin in order for the rest of the universe and other people. . . to be accepting and okay with me”
The fact that her career hasn't been significantly impacted by her background is highly encouraging. Her being able to project confidence in her skin and influence her environment that way is amazing. However, this is also indicative of a unique problem that minority communities face, that they feel or may have to justify their value. While she has never had problems with customers or current employers, she has had some conflicts with previous employees.
“There was one person that I worked with who was deeply religious that I think had some issue but still worked with me and I think loved me, liked me, but religiously had an issue with me being gay, as it is not the Lord’s choice.”
For queer executives an added complication emerges, employees taking issue with their lifestyle and potentially causing issues for the leadership or within the organization. LGBT+ leaders have to navigate complex working relationships with their team members as well as the problems that it can cause for the efficacy of the organization.
Employees that aren’t out at their jobs are put in a tough internal conflict on a daily basis. Not being able to share significant portions of their personal lives with colleagues makes it difficult to build strong working relationships. In particular, this creates barriers for closeted queer individuals to earn promotions, as managers are more likely to select people that they have come to know well. However, if they do come out they also run the risk of working under managers that are not accepting, creating a hard barrier to their professional advancement. When asked if being able to be out at work makes her happier, Marleen had this response, providing insight to the previous problem.
“100%. I can share, I can be open about my personal life, my feelings, what's going on with my family, my wife. People know who I am, about my life, what I've done. If you can't come to work and say oh i went to the theater with my wife today or we went away to a beautiful Island, Anguilla and had the best time. Sharing is caring and it helps to connect people at work. Everybody here is important, what's happening in their lives as it impacts who they are and what they bring to their work, to their job, to their job performance. You have to be able to share.”
What does this mean for a dry cleaning company, or rather, anyone for that matter?
Dry cleaning is what they call “a sleeping industry.” It hasn’t been at the forefront of Forbes or Page 6. It’s not an attractive topic. Dry cleaning is a chore that people detest talking about. People hope that it gets done in the background and it magically shows up in your home. Even so, Meurice has created many jobs to do just that. These issues affect our company as well. I asked Lynn, Head of Innovations, how Marleen’s leadership style in reflection of her LGBTQ+ label has impacted her team.
“Well, the mentality of separation between work and personal life is something Marleen preaches and has been a great example for our team. There is a big emphasis on personal life at Meurice. I think her nonchalance in context of her labels say that she’s a normal human being and she’s proud of who she is, regardless of her labels. I think this indirectly creates a norm within the workplace. Her anecdotes are always the best. Marleen constantly encourages transparency and work-life balance when it comes to that. Being able to find that balance and project it outwardly to the team shows them that you can be who you are in and out of the office at the right time a place. And that goes for how religion and personal beliefs affect your work.”
Queer individuals face unique challenges in the workplace, from legal discrimination to difficulty connecting with coworkers. It’s important to shed light on these issues, especially where light isn’t shed at all. As the public becomes more aware of these issues and the LGBT+ community gains legal protection these challenges will hopefully alleviate. As Marleen put it:
“I don’t think being gay, LGBT, or straight, or blind, or black, or white, or Asian, or anything should really matter. It just shouldn’t matter. If you're effective in your job, love what you do, love who you work with, its performance based, then none of this should matter, what your sexuality is or any of that.”