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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne introduces Safe Zone training during Pride Month to advance allyship, inclusion for LGBTQIA+ employees

Argonne expanded the national Safe Zone model by customizing it with history, research studies and a specific component on LGBTQIA+ individuals in STEM.

As a student, Pete Friedman remembers seeing offices with the logo of the university’s Safe Zone training program.

Just knowing that such a program existed, and that there were people who willingly participated in it, took an enormous weight off of my shoulders,” said Friedman. At the very least, my department had a non-zero number of people who understood me. Even if they were not LGBTQIA+ themselves, they had taken the time to learn and to visibly show their support—and that really matters.”

Our people are everything. This is one of the ways that we show that. Because we are showing respect for members of our community, who are sometimes marginalized, and we’re taking time in allyship to educate ourselves and to ensure that they are working in an environment that is equitable and inclusive.” — Lydia Finney, ALI interim manager of diversity, equity and inclusion and co-facilitator of The Safe Zone Project allyship training

Friedman is now an enterprise architect in the Business and Information Services division and co-chair of the Spectrum employee resource group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. In fact, a Spectrum flyer is taped to his office door. So, if an employee sees it, they will know they are not alone.

To have such allyship is vital in the workplace. That’s why Argonne is marking Pride Month by launching its participation in The Safe Zone Project with the Lab’s first campus-wide workshop on June 29 focusing on allyship. Safe Zone encourages collaboration and understanding of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, agender (LGBTQIA+) community. Future workshops are being planned to focus on a variety of other topics. In each case, the program aligns with Argonne’s core values of respect, teamwork and safety.

An Argonne team — including Spectrum and the Argonne Leadership Institute (ALI) — worked on the Safe Zone training materials with Adrienne Coleman, founder and CEO of Illinois-based Candid Conversations Matter. Argonne joins two other DOE labs — Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility — as well as universities and other organizations that offer Safe Zone.

Allyship is one of the keys to success for a workforce, said Lydia Finney, ALI’s interim manager of diversity, equity and inclusion. Finney and Freidman will co-facilitate the allyship training.

Our people are everything,” said Finney. This is one of the ways that we show that. Because we are showing respect for members of our community, who are sometimes marginalized, and we’re taking time in allyship to educate ourselves and to ensure that they are working in an environment that is equitable and inclusive.”

At its core, allyship is about empathy and the ability to empathize with people whose experiences may be vastly different from others, as well as being willing to speak up against injustice. That means recognizing that the impact of an event (such as a global pandemic) affects people differently, reflecting on that and offering support. The first step towards allyship is recognizing that you don’t have to be perfect or understand everything. The action itself of asking How can I help?” is the first step to a broader dialogue of allyship and inclusivity, Friedman said.

At Argonne, as at any workplace, there are numerous opportunities for allyship. It can take the form of reviewing processes, such as during the hiring process, where an ally will look for ways to make it more inclusive. It can improve the inclusiveness of laboratory culture, examine information produced and published to use appropriate gendered language, or make content more easily consumable to a person with a disability, Friedman said.

Individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community want to feel safe coming out, if they haven’t done so already, and they want more representation. This training aims to reduce any microaggressions, bias and discrimination they face in the workplace, said Coleman. 

For those who are not in that community, the training could help to create a more diverse community, where you can hear different perspectives that could impact problem-solving,” said Coleman.

While Safe Zone is a national program, Argonne expanded that model to be inclusive of history, research studies and a specific component on LGBTQIA+ individuals in STEM.

Argonne’s training could be a national model for other organizations to implement gender and sexuality education, which could make the workplace more productive, inclusive and safe,” said Coleman.

Allyship also encourages collaboration and teamwork by creating the conditions for us to be authentic and to contribute our best work, said Friedman.

Most importantly, it increases the psychological safety of the workplace — allies take the time to educate themselves, stand up and advocate for marginalized individuals,” he said.

In addition, providing an inclusive workplace allows ideas to thrive, and those ideas can ultimately help society, said Finney.

If we can have a self-awareness on what may impact people in the LGBTQIA+ community, we could examine our choices and make our workplace an easier place to be,” said Finney. Then, people can be themselves at work. This workshop also will address and reduce any implicit bias, avoid stereotyping and improve decision making.”

While some may feel such LGBTQIA+ topics are difficult to discuss or they are unsure how they feel about them, the bottom line is simple: We need to respect our colleagues,” said Finney.

Elizabeth Laudadio, a postdoctoral appointee in Argonne’s Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, is excited about Argonne’s Safe Zone program.

I know that often people who are or want to be allies are not sure where to start, or what the work entails,” said Laudadio. I love that Safe Zone will be a way to make allyship and information about the LGBTQIA+ community more accessible to the entire lab.”

Allyship means doing the right thing to protect or stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community without expecting praise or notoriety for it, but simply doing it because you believe it is the right thing to do, Laudadio, said.

I feel safest around the people I can rely on to be aware of injustices and work to correct them,” she said.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.