Out in the Workplace: Alicia Crawford, Managing Director of Talent and Organizational Effectiveness at Reinvestment Fund

Alicia is a white person with short, gray hair that sits close to their head. They are seen smiling in front of a blurred outdoor background for a traditional headshot. They wear a deep green shirt and beaded earrings.
Alicia Crawford.

Alicia Crawford is the Managing Director of Talent and Organizational Effectiveness at Reinvestment Fund, which is a community development financial institution. 

Crawford has a degree in chemical engineering and previously worked as a software engineer, teaching and onboarding new engineers in their former roles. That led them to learning and development before moving to a human resources function. In their current job, they help run Reinvestment Fund’s human resources department — making sure people can grow and develop in their careers.

Crawford chatted with PGN about their experiences as a nonbinary lesbian in the workplace. Some of the responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

What was coming out at work like for you?
I’d say it was very much a process for me over many years, frankly, and it is something that I reevaluated every time I moved to a new company. I think there were different aspects of my identity to consider. There were also different things about the company to consider — the culture, the company norms, inclusivity within the company, all of that. I’ve learned that for myself it’s sort of easiest to test the waters at the very beginning during the interview process. Interviews are really that opportunity for you — and I say this as a member of HR — to interview the company as much as it is for the company to interview you. I feel like now [I’ve] gotten to the point where I just come straight out and I ask folks — what’s the company’s stance on D, E, and I? Does that actually feel reflected in your day-to-day life? Are there LGBTQ+ employee resource groups? I think that building the confidence to ask for and about the things that I need is a recurring theme throughout my life. I think I’ve finally gotten to the place where I’m confident.

What have been your biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve dealt with while being out in the workplace?
The biggest challenges or obstacles are more systemic — where there’s just a lack of context and knowledge from folks outside the queer community, sometimes even from folks who are super supportive. I think that the most frustrating things for me personally can be sometimes how frequently I can be surprised or reminded about things that non-queer people just don’t know or haven’t thought about at all. The conversations and the education has to happen on such a basic level for folks in the workplace sometimes. I’ve found for myself that this can be frustrating. Sometimes it’s like, “How do you not know this?” I think [educating other people] is one piece of building a good company culture that’s inclusive. It also [shouldn’t be] on the community to educate. I think I’ve been in places where that’s went well. I’ve been in places where that has just felt frustrating.

I’ve also been a part of a lot of DEI groups and diversity councils and different employee resource groups — and the groups themselves have been really consistently amazing, especially for building community at work and finding people with similar lived experiences. But I’ve found that sometimes for the company itself, it can be disappointing when you’re so excited to make change and the company doesn’t care enough or doesn’t focus enough on it so those changes don’t really happen.

How would you describe being an out person in your specific industry and how would you compare that to others you’ve worked in before?
For my current industry, I work for a nonprofit CDFI — a community development financial institution — which essentially means that we’re helping to advance communities that have historically been denied access to the resources others get by default. That work and that mission draws certain kinds of people who want to do the work and want to make sure that they’re showing up in the best way. That reflects internally, and it’s amazing to be surrounded by people who are literally spending their lives working for social justice in lots of different areas. 

I think in the tech industry specifically, companies tend to talk a big game. They’re trying to draw a lot of talent and so they play up the diversity stuff. It essentially feels like it’s there for marketing. The people doing the work care. The energy is there. But the company is only going to make changes insofar as it’s going to help their bottom line. I do think the advantage that the tech industry has is they have a lot of really awesome professional groups —  like Out in Tech or Lesbians Who Tech.

How have your colleagues supported you as an out person in the workplace?
I’ve had a lot of amazing supporters — both in other queer folks that I’ve gotten to know and learn from and just find community with but also those not in the community who are just willing to use their voice and stand up for me and for other queer folks. It’s a small example — but it’s nice when people correct folks when they use the wrong pronouns and when they hold people accountable in rooms where I’m not. It’s a signal that people have my back.

Is there anything that you have done to also signal to other people that they’re safe and that you have their back too?
Beyond the pronoun stuff, I’d say I’m a naturally reserved person, but having gotten to where I’ve gotten, I now want to be that representation to people to help them feel more confident and more safe. Because that’s not a given everywhere. And I never want to see people feel scared or alone where I can prevent it by being more loud and proud, if you will.

I can also bring attention to different days. That’s an advantage of an HR function. For National Coming Out Day or Trans Day of Remembrance, those sorts of days — I can speak from my own personal voice to let people know it’s important and share resources.

What advice do you have for other queer people in the workplace?
I’d say two things. It’s really important to remember that you get to decide if and to what extent and to whom you’re out to at work. As you look at the stats for the US where we are politically as a country — all the legislation that’s come out over the last several years — it’s OK to not be out at work if you don’t feel safe or for whatever reason that you have.

And then I’d say the second piece is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are so many cool LGBTQ+ professional organizations and those resources can be so valuable for networking for support. Build your support system and your professional network if you don’t already have one. That can help too if you’re looking at jobs and companies. If you don’t really know what the culture is there, if you have somebody on the inside or somebody who’s had experience with that company, they can give you more insight too.

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