Author Elizabeth Fisher is the Marketing and Communications Specialist for the Center for Healthcare Engineering & Patient Safety at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Her post is part of a series by the members of Michigan Engineering’s Staff Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Culture Committee.
I had the privilege of serving as a greeter at Lavender Graduation, a celebration to honor LGBTQ+ graduates of the University of Michigan, this spring. A sense of joy and connection permeated the event. As awards were given out and names were called, there was a sense of appreciation, community and celebration of each person’s unique contributions to the campus community.
I started work in the College of Engineering in January of 2005. It was five years before I met a coworker who openly identified as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) document, A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide, 46% of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work. Many said that led to feeling more stressed, depressed or unhappy at work, avoiding certain people or situations and feeling unable to report discrimination among other negative effects.
Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly emphasizes the vast difference between fitting in and belonging. She says, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” I was drawn to the CoE’s staff DEI initiative because focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion means more people get a chance at true belonging.
When the focus at work becomes fitting in, that can take a toll, especially when part of your identity sets you apart from the majority of your coworkers. LGBTQ+ individuals may not talk about their partner at work while others do so freely or may bear homophobic or transphobic comments because they don’t feel supported enough to speak out. One instance may seem small but many can build up and create a rift that cannot be crossed. There are people who aren’t bringing their full talent to their work because they’re too busy trying to hide or downplay aspects of themselves. Belonging, on the other hand, creates a work environment where people feel safe to be themselves and know they and their contributions are respected.
The number of out LGBTQ+ staff I know at U-M and in the CoE has grown in the past few years. I attribute that in part to the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. A few CoE staff pals were among the group volunteering with me at Lavender Graduation. Staff connecting with and supporting students has an impact. In Coming out in STEM: Factors affecting retention of sexual minority STEM students, which found that LGBQ students were less likely to remain in STEM fields, the authors state that “For sexual minority students, LGBQ faculty and staff serve as confidants and sources of support.”
I’m lucky to work at the Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety (CHEPS). It’s a workplace that recognizes the value of diverse voices among students, staff, and all members of the community. Our differences are seen as part of what makes CHEPS great and allows us to do the important work we do. It’s a workplace in which a sense of connection and belonging enables all of its members to better communicate and collaborate with one another. I see a dedication from our staff, students, and faculty that comes from feeling a part of something larger than ourselves and knowing we each have a unique contribution to make to our shared mission.
To me, the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the reason I chose to serve on the staff DEIC committee comes down to this: When people feel supported and part of something, when they feel that their whole selves are accepted and valued, they bring more energy, creativity, and daring to their work. This leads not only to a more rewarding work experience, but also better outcomes for all.
DEI Strategic Plan
Creating welcoming, inclusive physical spaces that enhance the learning environments are part of the strategic goals of Michigan Engineering's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. Learn more about the plan and how you can get involved.