By Melissa LoweryJean-Marie Navetta PFLAG

When PFLAG National was founded in 1972, it was simply a mother publicly supporting her gay son. Since then, PFLAG has grown into the nation’s largest family and ally organization. Made up of parents, families, friends and allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality and full societal affirmation of LGBT people through its threefold mission of support, education and advocacy.

In addition to PFLAG’s work in the social arena is the organization’s commitment to advancing business equality through training at companies around the nation and, increasingly, around the world.

Jean-Marie Navetta, PFLAG director of equality and diversity partnerships, guides the corporate education arm of outreach. An enthusiastic and articulate representative for the organization, each year she leads thousands of employees through Straight for Equality in the Workplace, a series of 13 learning sessions she created to help make the business case for equality and to assist organizations in creating a supportive culture tailored to the local environment.

“One of the biggest trends that we are seeing is that organizations are recognizing that they absolutely need to go local,” Navetta said. “They need to get outside of corporate headquarters, when it comes to ally engagement in the workforce.”

Microtargeting business equality
Marriott International Inc. already had a successful inclusion initiative at the corporate level — ONE Marriott — when they came to PFLAG for assistance in expanding the initiative to local chapters. PFLAG and Marriott began microtargeting to make inclusion opportunities relevant to people in specific markets and are seeing tremendous results. Employees feel empowered to take ownership of the ally engagement process, while also creating local connections with other businesses and LGBT groups. Integrating PFLAG’s Straight for Equality training with ONE Marriott’s initiatives provides a strong inclusion program that benefits the company from the bottom up.

“PFLAG and its work for Straight for Equality are both educational and inspirational,” said Apoorva Gandhi, Marriott vice president of multicultural markets and alliances. “We benefit year-round from the learning shared with us, in addition to PFLAG’s willingness to connect with and speak with our associates and leadership. For instance, this year, when we celebrated the third anniversary of our LGBT network group ONE Marriott, we were thrilled that the program included both our CEO Arne Sorenson, as well as PFLAG’s Executive Director Jody Huckaby.”

KPMG LLP is another longtime partner in the Straight for Equality program, measuring its achievements in business equality in years. The secret of its success is leadership buy-in at the corporate and local levels. KPMG established training in offices from coast to coast and had local managers introduce the program to add leadership weight. The Straight for Equality workshops are also part of KPMG’s annual diversity & inclusion requirements, counting toward the training employees undertake each year. By integrating PFLAG training into its corporate diversity plan, KPMG immediately gave the organization even greater weight within the company.

Telling a story
One component of PFLAG’s ally engagement training is teaching people how to share their stories in the workplace. Navetta’s communications background is especially valuable as she takes participants through the process of creating stories that grab the listener, teach a lesson and close with a call to action — all in under two minutes. She stressed the need to make maximum impact in a short amount of time and ask listeners to do something or shift the way they think about someone, rather than passively listen. This purposeful, practical approach to advancing equality is a cornerstone of PFLAG’s educational method.

“Our training is very intentional,” Navetta said. “It’s not just about a big group hug.”

Focusing on the trans community
Navetta identified engaging workplace allies in the trans community as PFLAG’s most in-demand educational area. While the organization has provided learning sessions focused on creating trans allies and building a bridge to understanding within the workplace for many years, the fourth Straight for Equality publication, slated for October, is solely focused on the ever-evolving topic.

“It’s a different conversation,” Navetta said, “and it’s such a different experience for people to think about, regardless of their sexual orientation. There’s a lot of work to be done there.”