For many years, the annual Milwaukee Pride Parade has marched north on South 2nd Street, right through the heart of our headquarters campus, under the third-floor bridge that connects Rockwell Automation’s clocktower building to the offices across the street.
But Rockwell Automation isn’t just the backdrop for the jubilant celebration of LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) pride with floats, flags, music and dancing – its ties to the community have become stronger through the ROKout employee resource group (ERG).
“We typically have an employee support section at the parades in Milwaukee, and Cleveland as well. We have even walked in them a couple times,” says Joe Matheys, ROKout president and product manager. “It’s really a fantastic thing for Rockwell Automation to have that association on the route.”
ROKout ERG, established in 2013, provides a networking and support resource for LGBTQ+ employees and allies.
“ROKout is here to foster an inclusive environment – where LGBTQ+ employees are encouraged and empowered to come to work as their authentic selves,” Joe says. “That's the core mission.”
The group offers an important social and professional support structure for LGBTQ+ employees. In recent years, there has also been an intentional shift toward attracting and involving allies.
“While this ERG, like all ERGs, was formed for people who identify within the community, allies are so important to our success. With any minority, it takes majority allies to show support for the mission, that’s how we all move forward together,” Joe says. “Most of the programming we offer is for everyone to enjoy and learn from.”
Driving personal, professional growth
For member employees who identify as LGBTQ+, ROKout ERG plays many roles, from being a safe space to discuss and share experiences and make friends, to a way to network and grow your career. The ERG partners with organizations in the community that provide LGBTQ+-specific trainings and professional programs, and is also a great way to attract new employees to the company.
“Since my new-hire onboarding, I’ve reached out to several ROKout members and found a joyful openness at Rockwell Automation that has made me feel welcomed here,” said Eric Nelson, a global HR data analyst who recently joined Rockwell Automation. “As a jobseeker with options of who to work for, it was important to me that my time and effort at work would support a company that not only expresses values of inclusion but also actually is somewhere all people can live and work freely.”
Eric knew that having an LGBTQ-focused ERG meant there would be at least one space where people could learn from others who have different lives and experiences.
“As a professional, seeing that Rockwell Automation had ERGs long before they were commonplace, I became confident the company was positioned to innovate and reach formerly unreached markets well into the future,” Eric says.
Influencing policy and organizational change
An important focus of the group is to drive organizational change related to policies and practices that affect LGTBQ+ employees, Joe says.
“We’ve developed training we can go through with anyone in the company and provide knowledge and education on terminology, culture, history, social barriers, and statistics about the community and the LGBTQ+ presence in the workplace,” he says. “It's been great to grow the level of knowledge within the organization so people understand who we are and what we are striving for.”
ROKout ERG has been instrumental in making sure terminology like sexual orientation and gender identity is recognized in Rockwell Automation’s non-discrimination policies, with healthcare-based policies that ensure trans people have the health care support they need, and same-sex benefits policies that come with marriage laws in the U.S.
“We hope our work makes it better for everyone across the gender and sexuality spectrum and brings more awareness to these issues within the company in general,” Joe says.
From local and in-person to global and virtual
Before the pandemic, many of ROKout’s activities were held locally, particularly at the Milwaukee and Cleveland offices, where a majority of U.S. employees are based. From Pride parades and sporting events to community engagement and fundraising, getting together and having a good time was a huge focus.
Of course, gathering in person hasn’t been an option since March of 2020. Whereas programming typically focused on a handful of annual in-person activities, the ERG has gone back to basics this past year, relying heavily on virtual monthly meetings welcoming members from all countries and regions.
“We’re engaging more people in field locations and international locations than we used to,” Joe says. “Going forward, we’ll balance both local and global member needs to make sure we connect with people in person where we can and maintain connectivity virtually for people who aren’t in the primary locations.”
During these calls, attendees learn the latest news from around the world as well as notable historical information and updates on global progress for LGBTQ+ issues. But first, participants are encouraged to introduce themselves if they are new to the group.
During a recent call, new members from across the world – some in countries that are not considered LGBTQ+ friendly – spoke up, sharing their perspectives and situations in sometimes emotional ways. They were greeted with support and welcomed warmly to the group.
“LGBTQ+ identities exist everywhere in every community all over the world,” Joe says. “The nature of these identities is, many can hide that part of them if they choose to or feel forced to, which is pretty burdensome emotionally. Seeing others living and existing as their true selves and bringing their whole selves to work does encourage people to open up in different ways. We try and provide examples of people being open about who they are with no negative impacts to their careers.”
Part of a greater DEI emphasis
Rockwell Automation’s emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) gives employees an opportunity to have difficult but respectful conversations, to listen and grow from those conversations.
“We know not all of us are going to agree – but we are respectful during challenging conversations,” Joe says. “The fact that we can have these open spaces and give employees a chance to set the direction of our company culture is really appreciated.”