Lilly’s LGBTQ Employee Experience: Enhancing with Empathy

Here at Lilly, inclusion is woven into the fabric of our work. It’s not an isolated segment of what we do – it’s who we are. That extends to Lilly’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) employee experience. As with all communities and organizations the world over, this part of our employee base includes a varied, complex and beautiful spectrum of identities.

Even so, here is what’s simple about it: respect. Respect for people, integrity and excellence comprise the three core values that Eli Lilly and Company has abided by for its nearly 145-year history.

Lilly Pride: A Truly Global Organization
The Lilly Pride employee resource group (ERG) marked a quarter-century of existence last year, and we paired that milestone by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, when a population of people said they would no longer accept their identities being criminalized. The gains made since Stonewall cannot be denied – for gay men and lesbian, and later all LGBTQ people.

I joined Lilly in 2015. Months later, same-sex marriage – marriage equality – became legal in the United States in a landmark Supreme Court decision. What a time to be alive.

As the second oldest ERG at Lilly, behind our African American Network’s 1980 origin, our ERG has three branches: U.S. corporate, U.S. field and international – and the geo-diversity of that third arm makes for a varied set of cultures and holdings on LGBTQ topics. Our ERG community also includes an active Ally organization.

Honoring the LGBTQ Spectrum
Pride’s evolution even in the past half-decade has been telling. Increasingly, Lilly Pride members would approach me as the group’s leader to confide their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some were bi or trans, though multiple others noted that they are genderqueer, trans masculine, pansexual or asexual.

As of 2018, it was obvious to me that our ERG must be the “big tent” community for a wider range of people than even what the acronym LGBTQ represents. (“Queer” can harbor a wonderfully inclusive set of identities, though it might not translate to all geographies. To see our community take back the power of that word has been tremendous. I’m glad to identify as queer, and as a gay man.)

We in the LGBTQ community know that vernacular evolves, and our Allies at work know it as well. If and when we all put in the time to educate ourselves and talk to one another openly, the growth can be realized sooner than later.

The COVID-19 Era’s Challenges
At the outset of 2020, all of us in our shared humanity entered what we didn’t know would be a cruel decade – from the standpoints of the global COVID-19 pandemic to public demonstrations catalyzed by racial injustice, the latter echoed by passionate displays of solidarity in other countries.

In the COVID-19 era when many people are fortunate to work at home, we find ourselves “alone together.” Still, no person is an island. That would never be sustainable. Thus our sense of connection or community remains important not just to maintain, but to enhance. LGBTQ employees must continue to be not just visible, but listened to – given a voice, a seat at the table, for collaboration and innovation. In the past nearly six years, I can’t count the number of times that an LGBTQ perspective has been integral to a discussion. Diverse voices and inclusive teamwork are invaluable to making truly good decisions.

Lilly’s Global LGBTQ Ally Program
I’m glad to say that’s happening at Lilly. In October 2018, we in the Lilly Pride ERG inaugurated our Global LGBTQ Ally Program, with a goal of raising up 4,000 Allies in four years. We’re tracking with that goal – and what’s more, we’re actually exceeding another key measurement: Over 30% of our Allies are outside the U.S.

Lilly Pride’s Ally Program has co-leaders for the U.S. and rest-of-world memberships. From its inception, has been invested in turning Lilly teammates from casual Allies to action-oriented Advocates. Tangible signals of allyship are made available through rainbow-flag “Ally” items – laptop stickers, virtual-meeting backgrounds and the like. An expertly shaped, stepwise curriculum delivers learning on key topics. It opens the door to conversations about dimensions of difference, even among Lilly’s LGBTQ employees. This Ally program also promotes peer coaching and live educational and cultural events. These experiences build understanding.

As with so many diversities – across gender, race, ethnicity, disability, veteran status and generations – the so-called veil can truly be pulled back by learning about someone’s life and seeking to come alongside that and walk with them. We ensure that doesn’t remain a metaphor.

Reverse Mentoring at Lilly
Another marquee initiative that our Lilly Pride ERG leads is Reverse Mentoring. In these situations, LGBTQ employees and senior leaders in the company come together to help each other learn and grow in cultural literacy and empathy. This creates an environment that helps everyone succeed. Lilly CEO Dave Ricks and many members of his executive committee have participated in this program – sending an important message of support to everyone.

Reverse Mentoring at Lilly recently completed its seventh year, with more than 120 senior leaders mentored to date. As one who has participated as a mentor for the past four years, I’m pleased to report that leaders remove any sense of hierarchy when they enter these confidential conversations. We speak candidly as peers, as people. I can say from personal experience that many of these lead to ongoing business relationships. Connections aren’t bound to a calendar year.

In these mentoring relationships, in which colleagues speak freely in psychologically safe spaces, honesty and vulnerability lead to breakthroughs. Not only do vice presidents and other leaders learn and grow to empathize with their mentors, the relationships provide opportunities for healthy outcomes for Lilly.

Lilly’s LGBTQ Employee Journey
I’m grateful for the work of the LGBTQ Journey at Lilly, and what it means to many among our 35,000 global employees.

You may be wondering what an Employee Journey is. Our Global Diversity & Inclusion Office at Lilly has conducted deep research with five populations: women, African Americans, Asians, Latinx and, most recently, LGBTQ. What we’ve learned about Lilly colleagues’ lived experiences has helped us turn empathy into action to build an increasingly inclusive culture. This research leads to results in how people engage, and it keeps them engaged. This in turn is creating a more inclusive culture.

Our Inclusion Work Continues
At Lilly, our work to recruit and promote the best talent from all backgrounds truly fuels our successes. As many data show, a diverse set of perspectives and backgrounds collaborating on a team will make for better outcomes.

Lilly’s approach is reflected in recognitions such as our No. 3 standing on DiversityInc’s roster of the Top 50 Companies for Diversity, announced in May 2020. And in 2019, we received the coveted global Catalyst Award.

Voluntary self-identification of one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity remains another key way for Lilly colleagues in some geographies to make their voices heard, while respecting and protecting individual privacy. Unlike many other aspects of diversity, LGBTQ status isn’t apparent, so we say “count me in” when we self-identify.

Anyone at Lilly can join any ERG at Lilly, and because we all have multiple identities, many people feel they’re represented by a few ERGs.

At Lilly, there’s a place for all of us. Our differences make a difference to the success of our company, and most important, to the people we serve.

About the author

Jonathan Scott

Jonathan Scott

Eli Lilly, Digital Strategy Manager, Corporate Affairs and Communications & Chair Emeritus of the Lilly Pride employee resource group

Jonathan Scott works on Eli Lilly and Company’s corporate affairs and communications team as digital strategy manager. He is the editorial lead for corporate and executive social and web communications. Jon served as chair of the global Lilly Pride employee resource group for 2½ years until August 2020, and as communications chair before that. He continues to be involved in Lilly’s diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. Jon has worked at Lilly for more than five years after a 10-year career in the media world of magazines, books and digital. In November 2020, the Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber of Commerce recognized Jon as its 2020 Business Leader of the Year, also selecting Lilly as its Corporate Leader of the Year.

Jon graduated from Ball State University’s College of Communication, Information and Media with a journalism degree and concentrations in political science, sociology and communication studies. He serves as a member of the Ball State Alumni Council and Alumni magazine editorial board. Jon also serves on the boards of nonprofit organizations including the Damien Center, “One Home For HIV Wellness”; the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation, which provides scholarships to student journalists; and EntouRaj for Kids, helping fund high-performance junior and high-school student athletes and teams. He lives in Indianapolis with his husband Josh, as human servants to three rescue dogs.

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