Drew Geishecker is a director of product management at Yahoo! Inc. and has been actively involved in Yahoo! Pride since its creation in 2005.
Tell us a little about Yahoo! Pride.
Geishecker: Yahoo! Pride started in 2005. It was a pilot program for an employee resource group (ERG), which is the technical term for a community group that is intended to provide focus for a given segment of the employee base. Yahoo!, in 2005, did not have any ERGs because it had functioned mostly in a start-up atmosphere, but when it started creating an ERG, it used its LGBT group as the pilot program for other groups, including African-American, Asian-American, and women’s organizations within the company. The original impetus behind Yahoo! Pride was to build a community based on the LGBT workforce that would solve some of the issues for the populace and make people aware of each other. At that point, a lot of us had been working together for a number of years and had very little knowledge of who was gay and who was straight within the company.
How many members are in Yahoo! Pride right now, and what does being a member involve?
Geishecker: We have over 200 members. Being a member means you’re on an email list in which there’s an open discussion on topics in terms of what’s affecting LGBT people in the workplace and how competitors are addressing LGBT issues. We’ve provided a lot of different support mechanisms, from educating people about tax breaks to dealing with coming out issues. We’ve had members of the group who had not come out to anyone before coming out at work because Yahoo! Pride has been the first support network they’ve had in their lives.
What are some fun activities and Yahoo! Pride has organized?
Geishecker: We are always involved in San Francisco Pride. We’ve also participated in San Diego, New York City, and Portland Prides. Also in San Francisco, we have an annual holiday party that is always our best-attended event of the year. For the past couple years, we’ve participated in San Francisco AIDS walk, in which a group of employees get together and walk under the Yahoo band. This year, there will be a group of Yahoos specifically involved with the AIDSRide from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
How do you think Yahoo! Pride compares to LGBT organizations at other major technology companies?
Geishecker: We all grapple with the same problems and communicate with each other on a relatively regular basis. We had a discussion panel the other day with Zynga, Google, and Facebook about LGBT issues, and what emerged was the fact that we’re facing the same issues, such as how to make sure the LGBT segment is being fairly represented. It’s a collaborative environment, and we share solutions with each other.
Do you have any suggestions for how people who don’t have LGBT organizations in their companies could go about starting one?
Geishecker: If your company is large, discuss with the human resources division of the company about creating an ERG; they will likely be familiar with the prerequisites. You also need an executive from the company who’s willing to say, “I’m willing to represent the needs of the organization at the most senior staff level.” If you’re in a small company, take a look at the marketing organization. For example, at Yahoo!, we polled our audience in 2006 shortly after we founded Yahoo! Pride and discovered that 7.7 percent of our audience self-identified as LGBT. To us, that number was huge, and we discussed it with our marketing department in terms of improving how the internal resource of LGBT people are being represented.
How much effort does Yahoo! put into developing benefits for the LGBT workforce?
Geishecker: Our benefits package is very competitive. We have ongoing discussions about how to evolve benefits programs year after year. It’s always a moving target. One of the things that have been useful to both organizations in general and the education of people running them (like myself) has been the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which is a scoring of companies on a 1 to 100 scale for their performance in LGBT-related matters. Yahoo! has scored 100 for the past four years. The criteria of that index change on a yearly basis. They actually get more stringent, and we use it as a way to educate ourselves on what we need to do to make our benefits package more competitive.
What has Yahoo! Pride done recently to educate the general workforce about LGBT issues?
Geishecker: Last summer, we had a transgender awareness panel in connection with Yahoo! Labs in order to educate a primarily straight audience about issues related to gender identity. We had transgender employees share their experiences about being transgender in the workforce and going through transition while at Yahoo!, which is something the company’s benefits packages supports. It was a great way to educate people who had very little exposure to these issues in their day-to-day lives.