Microsoft's Marie Hartung is not just a leader in GLEAM, the corporation's LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG), and a member of the GLEAM Board of Directors. She's also the organization's first Bisexual Coordinator to the Board of GLEAM. To my knowledge, Microsoft is the only company in the world with a bi-specific leadership position in its ERG.
Half of the company's 100,000 employees are based in Redmond, Washington, which is the headquarters for the GLEAM group. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to go to Redmond and speak to the organization about bi issues in the workplace. I had the pleasure of spending the day with Marie and her dedicated co-workers, some of them bi and some of them allies to the bi community. Recently, I followed up with Marie, to learn more about her internationally ground-breaking role as Bisexual Coordinator, and what makes Microsoft so cutting edge when it comes to LGBT workplace rights. Here was our conversation:
Amy: "What inspired you to focus on bi community at Microsoft?"
Marie: "Our ERG was the second ERG ever formed at Microsoft and has been in existence for nearly 20 years. The ERG itself has been leading edge for many of them and very well regarded. As part of our Board structure, we had a Transgender Coordinator role but no other role that exclusively focused on any other population. I felt like the Bi community was both underserved and under-recognized, and I lobbied for several years to add the role of Bisexual Coordinator to the Board. The goal is to have a specific point of contact for bisexuals at Microsoft, and also to have an expert resource who could advise and inform the Board, lobby within Microsoft on behalf of the community, and provide specific resources to our internal website.
Amy: "What are some of the events that you've organized, and how did they go?"
Marie: "I started a community networking group of bisexuals in the workplace that meets regularly - mostly for connection and networking but we also discuss current issues people experience or have witnessed or heard about. In my Board role, I would take the summaries of the perspectives of bisexuals back to the Board table. Sometimes the Board would also ask the bi group to consider solutions, with a bi focus, to the issues being faced.
Of course, I also invited you to come to Microsoft, Amy - which you graciously did - to speak to a broader audience as well as separately with the Board and the bi group. The turn out for your main event was a good turnout for a group that has really never gathered collectively in a room together. [If we have] more events, I think [they] could bring more people, as the novelty of gathering and the surprise of seeing people 'out' settles."
Amy: "What do you think is the biggest challenge for bi professionals (both the ones who are out, and the ones who are still closeted) in the corporate world?"
Marie: "I think one of the biggest challenges is where to place their identity within the broader community. There are so many brands of 'Bi' - not that there aren't for Gay, Lesbian, etc. But the bi community is distinctly different. In my role, given [the fact that] it's attached to the LGBT ERG GLEAM, it's easiest to connect with Bi individuals who largely associate in some way with that community. But it's very difficult to connect with Bi individuals who primarily associate with other communities - whether it be straight (heterosexual), or cultural, gender, etc.
That is why just having the email alias 'Bisexual Coordinator' is important in our structure. Microsoft is a heavy email environment, and we have a culture of using email to contact whoever we want - people can freely email Bill Gates or Steve Balmer if they want - and so having an anonymous place, where, should someone want to reach out, they can, is critical. The more it's known broadly that a resource and group exists, the more people who are more hidden or buried in other communities can at least see 'hey, there is a place for me, this part of me, here.' I think that provides some comfort for those who need it."
Amy: "What can other folks like you, who are leaders in their ERGs, do to support their bi co-workers? In other words, what advice would you have for someone who is trying to do what you've done?"
Marie: "Well, the first thing is to not marginalize bisexuals on your Board itself. I remember when I was first lobbying for the role and several members of our Board at the time made disparaging comments about bisexuals when I would speak about it - comments like 'the bisexuals should just pick a side' or 'bisexuals don't have the same needs and issues as us gays and lesbians, why do they need any help? They have it ok, they can hide.' So, it starts at the Board level with education about bisexuality and confronting any bias or discrimination within the Board structure itself.
The other thing is, just start doing something. Even if you can't create a Board position specifically for this community, being inclusive of bisexuals at ERG events is key. Make it clear that bisexuals are welcome. You can do things like we have done where you have a table of pins or just simple sticky labels and invite people to put one on stating their sexual orientation - not everyone will participate but it helps get sexual orientation of members out of the closet, per se.
Lastly, any decision an ERG Board makes should be seen through the filter of 'is this inclusive of bisexuals?,' or 'how would a bisexual perceive or interpret this?' A good place to also start is to make sure you have a strong strategy for being inclusive of allies - some of your ally members may actually be part of the bi community, especially those who might align primarily to the heterosexual/straight world. Including the allies shows your ERG is not just for LGBT folks."
Marie and many of her fellow GLEAM'ers will be at this year's Out & Equal Workplace Advocates' Summit, where Marie will be a panelist in two workshops: "Bisexuality in Our Cultures and Our Lives" and "Putting the B Back in LGBT: How Employers Can Foster a Bisexual-Inclusive Workplace". She tells me that Microsoft is also donating software as part of the visibility campaign. I wonder which company will be next, when it comes to bringing bisexual community needs to the forefront! What is your company doing for bi folks?
image of Marie Hartung courtesy Marie Hartung