With support from the Center for Ethics Diversity and Workplace Culture and Fox faculty, students are empowered to transform a class project into a celebration of community.
Upholding the value of one’s self-worth and that of the community with whom one is closely associated is the essence of pride. Historically, the pressures to fit in with the “norm” have resulted in silences and erasures of peoples’ lived experiences. But by uplifting the stories of underrepresented people—asserting their presence and power in a conversation—we take a crucial step toward overcoming barriers that hold them back in their workplace and social lives.
In April 2022, the Fox School’s Center for Ethics, Diversity and Workplace Culture (CEDWC) sponsored a day-long event held in Alter Hall called Equality at Work 2022: Voices of Pride. Formally established in October of 2021, CEDWC’s mission is to promote innovative thought leadership, research and programming to promote diversity and inclusivity in workplace cultures.
Equality at Work 2022 was the first in a planned series of biennial events, each highlighting unique aspects of underrepresented communities in the business community. The LGBTQ+ experience within the workforce was at the center of this event, presenting a full day of panels and networking opportunities designed to reflect and uplift different perspectives within the LGBTQ+ community on a variety of topics.
The event was born out of a class taught by Katie Gerst, associate professor of marketing, in the fall of 2020. Gerst’s class, Honors Business Communication, included a hands-on project in which students presented and wrote a persuasive proposal. The idea for Voices of Pride was formed when Gerst made a connection between three students who presented similar ideas during the semester.
Sean Boyer, BBA ’22, wrote a proposal for an LGBTQ+ student professional organization (SPO).
“Discussing my project with my class was the first time I talked about being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community with my classmates,” says Boyer. “I was very hesitant to choose the topic at first, but I decided to go for it! My classmates and Katie were very supportive of it and it gave me encouragement to be more authentic within my roles at Temple and Fox.”
Class of 2023 students Stephen Fiora and Maggie Luong also proposed ideas for hosting an LGBTQ+ conference.
“I’m really advocating for more LGBTQ inclusion in events, especially at Fox,” says Luong, who is a management information systems major. “The Fox Honors program really prioritizes collaboration over competition, and I think that’s a huge factor on how and why we were able to do this.“
Gerst connected the students based on their shared interests and encouraged them to form a planning committee to bring their ideas to life.
“The students did such amazing research that, by the end of the assignments, I was convinced that they were right,” says Gerst. “I went to them at the end of the semester and asked them to put their heads together and decide on one project, and that I would see if I could help make it happen. The three of them decided on the conference.”
Gerst then introduced the students to Leora Eisenstadt, associate professor of legal studies and the founding director of CEDWC. Eisenstadt helped the students plan the activities of the day-long event, offering guidance on programming that highlighted personal stories and promoted education, and advocacy for the LGBT+ community.
“What I was able to do initially was to help concretize some of their big ideas into an event program,” says Eisenstadt. “We helped create structure around it.”
By highlighting underrepresented perspectives, students can find comfort in a community that affirms the validity and value of their experiences, creating a welcoming environment for people to better understand and connect with their identities and gain confidence as individuals.
“We want to see people who represent us because representation matters,” says Luong. “There was a Temple alumnus on a panel that really touched my heart because he understood the cultural part and the intersectionality of my being LGBTQ+ and a person of color, and that mattered a lot to me.”
“It’s crucial to start professional development and networking early in young professionals’ careers,” adds Fiora. “The insights provided by the academics, business professionals, researchers, legal experts and alumni can help LGBTQIA+ individuals maximize their potential in the workplace—no matter what industry they try to excel in.”
CEDWC’s networks of top-tier professionals were ready to help plan and participate in the event. Faculty such as Jeffrey Boles, Heath Davis and Debra Blair, as well as staff member Azaria Keys, recruited panelists from across the business community. They also assisted in the administrative efforts that helped make the event possible.
Eisenstadt hopes to draw upon the success of the center’s first year to further develop events and educational content centered around promoting ethics and diversity in workplace culture.
“We’re hosting industry and academic working groups to spur new research, sponsoring a case writing competition focused on protagonists from marginalized backgrounds, sponsoring and co-producing a podcast on diversity at work, and continuing to put on large-scale educational programs,” says Eisenstadt.
Voices of Pride’s success marks a promising start for CEDWC’s programming, illustrating just what an energized network of students, faculty and alumni are capable of when they are encouraged to take part in defining the workplaces of the future.
“I like to believe that we, to some extent, have the autonomy to build a life and choose the things that are true and beautiful to us,” says Luong. “Voices of Pride has to be the most vulnerable thing I’ve done in college so far, but at the end of it I have so much gratitude and love for the event and everyone who came out to support us.”