For both Carlhey Bolz (she/her) and Raina Nelson (they/them), finding a career that allowed them to contribute to the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality was important. Both found that at the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program, where Bolz serves as deputy director of global programming and Nelson serves as a senior manager.
In their roles, Bolz and Nelson work with national and international companies and businesses to help them advance inclusive and affirming policies and practices for their LGBTQ+ workforce. They understand that to truly champion for LGBTQ+ equality, LGBTQ+ people must feel represented, safe, and free of discrimination in all areas of life, including their places of work.
“Most adults spend about a third of their life at work, they get access to health care through employer-sponsored health insurance, they save for retirement through employer plans. This means that LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace is core to the lives and livelihoods of people in our community.”
For more than 20 years, our Workplace Equality Program has strived to improve workplace conditions for LGBTQ+ people by working directly with corporate leaders and partners, helping them to better support their LGBTQ+ employees and their unique needs. Whether by expanding healthcare coverage, helping to form LGBTQ+ employee resource groups, or improving corporate social responsibility, the program continues to advance workplace LGBTQ+ equality through team members like Bolz and Nelson.
For Nelson, having the opportunity to help these companies better support LGBTQ+ employees is “a great privilege.”
“Working at HRC’s Workplace Equality Program is something very personal for me. What led me to HRC was truly rubber meets the road,” said Nelson. “In my previous career opportunities, it was obvious that I was hired for my background and identity, but those weren’t aspects of myself that the employers wanted to prioritize. I also didn’t want to be misgendered every day. Working in a progressive environment like HRC, I knew I could work alongside people who truly acknowledged my identity, acknowledge who I am. Also, my political convictions are tied to HRC’s mission. Here, we understand that the political economy is connected to the reasons why LGBTQ+ people are oppressed. Through the work that I do, we help make life better for LGBTQ+ people by helping employers improve healthcare contracts, helping them understand how health benefits can improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. There’s very little representation in the economic and corporate world, and HRC is here to help ensure that we’re being accounted for in these areas of life.”
Because of her own personal and professional experiences, as well as her convictions, Bolz also found herself looking to work in a progressive space like HRC. In her role, Bolz primarily focuses on helping companies and businesses in Latin America adapt inclusive practices for their own LGBTQ+ workforce through the Global Business Engagement Program, which was established in 2016 and oversees our Equidad Mexico, Equidad Chile, Equidad Argentina, and Equidade Brazil programs.
“It’s a pleasure to know that my role helps corporations strive for greater inclusion in their respective countries in a way that furthers the whole geopolitical landscape for LGBTQ+ persons throughout. I grew up in a single-parent household. My heritage and my background influenced my decision to do something for the Hispanic community, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. As a Mexican-American, I witnessed the tension between the country I lived in and the region where my history comes from. This is an opportunity for me to both contribute to the LGBTQ+ movement and help LGBTQ+ people in Latin America, where my roots are.”
Whether in the United States or abroad, Bolz and Nelson — along with the entire Workplace Equality Program team — are tasked with conveying to business leaders why their work is important.
“Folks will often ask what the business case for our work is,” said Nelson. “People believe that our community has more rights than we actually do.
A lot of conversations are about highlighting what we don’t have, highlighting what bills are actively attacking our rights. Many believe that full equality was achieved through marriage equality, but that wasn’t and isn’t the only issue LGBTQ+ people face in the workplace.
We have the immense privilege to talk directly to the largest companies in the world. They’re coming to us for expertise and guidance, especially regarding their human resources as well as diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. We know what they need to do. HRC’s expertise gives us a lot of weight to do that.”
Bolz says that HRC also stands as a beacon of guidance in Latin America.
“Working in spaces outside of the United States with the Equidad/e program, currently implemented in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil and beyond ,means viewing best practices and lessons learned through the lens of the country’s context and with those audiences in mind. We work alongside our partners, we speak to businesses, and we listen to the employee experience to collectively determine how best to evolve and/or move the benchmark. As the program continues to grow, I’d love to see the LGBTQ+ community elevated in the workplace through their recognition for the value they add to their companies and the perspective they bring to their roles. Ultimately, I want the LGBTQ+ community to feel safer being themselves where they invest so much of their time.”
These work experiences have both humbled and energized Bolz and Nelson, helping them to re-center themselves in their work at the end of the day.
“I feel pretty lucky to know that we’re making a difference,” said Nelson. “Progress isn’t always linear, but I still feel fortunate enough to have a job that I feel good about and aligns with my values. For many people, work is often coerced, it’s often a situation that doesn’t provide much autonomy. At the very least, it is key that we be treated equally.”
Bolz and Nelson share excitement for both the future of the program and LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace.
“I feel optimistic about the work we’re doing,” said Bolz. “I feel fortunate to work with my teammates and our partners in other countries. It has broadened my perspective of where we can go as a community, both in and outside of the workplace. Our community remains under legislative attack. I’m happy to be a part of the movement and do this impactful work on a global scale–it is continuously inspiring.”
Learn more about HRC’s Workplace Equality Program at hrc.org/workplace