In the US, nearly half of all LGBTQIA+ workers experience workplace discrimination, from recruitment to obstacles around career progression. But how are queer employers doing things differently? Whether it’s focusing on more inclusive hiring practices that go beyond the résumé, tailoring specific benefits to each individual, or offering extra vacation time, LGBTQIA+-owned businesses are rewriting traditional workplace policies to better account for the needs of all of their employees.
We spoke to Kylo Freeman (they/them) and Em Chadwick (she/they), Founder and Chief Operating Officer respectively of chest-binder brand For Them, and Sarah Burke (she/her) from LGBTQIA+ publication Them, on why they chose to revolutionize internal workplace structures to benefit their employees.
Kylo Freeman & Em Chadwick
Kylo Freeman (Founder) and Em Chadwick (Chief Operating Officer), of For Them
Chest binding is more than an act of self-care—it can be a life-saving part of daily routines for many gender-variant individuals. But, when done incorrectly, binding can cause severe injury, which is, unfortunately, an all-too-common experience due to lack of education, stigma, and accessibility surrounding queer health.
Kylo Freeman, a non-binary actor originally from the UK but now based in New York, set out to change the rules around LGBTQIA+ wellbeing and, along with Chief Operating Officer Chadwick, launched For Them—a queer-owned-and-operated wellness company that created an improved binder. The garment safely compresses the chest area for a flatter look and is just one of many revolutionary products nurturing queer bodies and minds.
“We started the company because of a personal problem, which was that my chest binder was very uncomfortable,” Freeman says. “I had a few friends that had these dangerous experiences, from fractured ribs to changing the shape of muscle. I wanted to do something for the community, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that was. I decided to start by making a new chest binder that was something that I and my friends just really, really needed, and it expanded from there.”
Now, almost 3 years in, For Them is shifting the narrative of queer wellness both through its products and its fresh internal structures. Here, Freeman and Chadwick share their approach to onboarding staff.
1. Hiring through community channels
Instead of traditional means of recruiting, For Them focuses on creating and advertising tailored postings to share on social media platforms. “If you compare us with a fintech company or SaaS business, when hiring, they’ll go out on job-hiring sites or just ask someone they know. This is a very different situation for us,” says Freeman. “We have to be creative. That’s why you see these beautifully designed Instagram viral job specs because we hope that we have enough distribution through our community to find people that are really going to help us build up.”
2. A values-first approach to hiring
“We have our values written down and that’s what we hire off,” says Freeman. “It includes questions like: ‘How much do you care about the community?’ and ‘Are you willing to learn?’ Because I do believe that people can learn most things. As long as we have that capacity and time, we can build people up instead of transferring someone that’s already got experience and education. It’s an accessibility piece.”
3. Setting and holding boundaries
“Startup culture and hustle culture are associated with the idea that you’re supposed to be working at all times. But as a wellness business leader, you won’t see me messaging the team on the weekend,” explains Freeman. “We really hold those boundaries tight. It’s advantageous to us as a company, too, because people have real energy on Monday since we haven’t messed with their weekend.”
4. Unlimited paid time off
“We’re very honest. We do regular one-on-ones. If we’re drifting into personal trauma or emotional stuff that’s making it difficult to work, I completely understand that. That’s why we have an unlimited paid time-off policy,” says Freeman.
5. Understanding neurodivergence
“We talk to our employees a lot about their zone of genius and help them figure it out,” says Freeman. “It’s hard to know what you’re really good at and what you really love. But once we’ve figured that out, we’ll do our best to put that person in their zone of genius within their role, which is great for business and great for the person. If there’s someone who’s just incredible, exceptional, driven, and aligns with our values, then we’ll create a role for them.” Chadwick adds: “Our hiring is loose and the job specs are just there to attract the right people, vaguely, in terms of department. Ultimately, we’ll create roles for the right person, and the whole team is just a network for us to reach our goals.” Businesses should focus on a strategy that accounts for their needs while pulling in a diverse array of talent. This could mean focusing on established roles and recruiting for them, or adopting a more flexible method.
Sarah Burke, Editor-in-Chief of 'Them'
Them is a digital publication that focuses on showcasing and amplifying the voices, experiences, and perspectives of the LGBTQIA+ community. Launched in 2017, Them features a wide range of content, including news, opinion pieces, personal essays, and in-depth profiles of prominent LGBTQIA+ individuals. The publication is committed to celebrating diversity and inclusivity and aims to be a platform for underrepresented and marginalized voices within the queer community. With its thought-provoking content and commitment to social justice and advocacy, Them has quickly become an authority for information and inspiration for the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies.
Leading the charge is New York-based editor-in-chief Sarah Burke, who has 10 years of journalism experience and spent time as a writer and editor at VICE’s gender- and identity-focused publication Broadly, specializing in QTBIPOC (queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, people of color) culture. Burke breaks down the responsibilities that come with leading a tight-knit all-queer team.
1. Look beyond the résumé
“The main thing that I look for in hiring is alignment with the mission. It’s important that our team also reflects our readership. That’s what makes the voice of Them special. The diversity of the team really matters. It’s usually pretty clear when someone has the same values as us and feels like they’d be a culture fit within the team. Keeping everything in mind that I’ve experienced as a queer journalist, just knowing the obstacles, the implicit bias, and that someone’s potential isn’t necessarily going to be reflected on their resumé. I ask questions about how they work, etc, to really understand the potential that someone has.”
2. Offer the tools your team needs to grow
“We recently held a trauma-informed workshop for the team about reporting on marginalized and traumatized communities and taking care of yourself. We’re dealing with really traumatizing topics every single day, and there’s a huge issue around resilience there. One of the biggest contributors to resilience, in terms of being able to sustain your work, is camaraderie and being able to talk to one another about what you’re reporting on, what you’re experiencing, how it’s affecting you. For my team, we’ve been setting up ways to make sure that even in remote work, we still have those channels and those opportunities to casually talk among themselves and support each other.”
3. Realize your job is never done
“Diversity and inclusion are a daily practice. It doesn’t end at hiring, and it also doesn’t end at pronoun workshops. I very much encourage people to be proactive as opposed to reactive and not wait for someone to say, ‘Hey, this is an issue that I’m having in the workplace,’ but really think about diversity inclusion in the entire structure of your organization and all of your workflows. It’s as simple as if you want to have a diversity of perspectives being heard in your newsroom, build that into the way meetings are run and into your review processes.”
4. Recognize your responsibilities
“You do have responsibilities as a leader of a team to recognize that each person is dealing with a really specific personal set of life and identity experiences and circumstances. That might include trauma or triggers. Another responsibility is mentorship. Make sure that each person is really set up with what they need.”
5. Be there for your staff
“I always say that managers should think of themselves as advocates for their employees. Particularly when you have a staff of marginalized people, that advocacy becomes even more important. You need to recognize if someone doesn’t have access to the healthcare they need, or things like gender markers on badges. It’s your responsibility, even within a huge company, to make sure that stuff is figured out and that your employee doesn’t have to be the one to deal with all of that.”
For Freeman, Chadwick, and Burke, being hyper-aware of their staff's individual needs sets their businesses apart from traditional working environments. Taking care of your employees means more than offering decent workplace benefits or insurance options; it’s about recognizing how many of the old-fashioned ways of operating—everything from hiring practices to how you communicate with your team—need to be re-evaluated for a modern and diverse workforce. Implementing just a handful of their tips and actions would go a long way to creating a more inclusive working environment that allows all employees to bring their true selves to work every day.