Why we need to gather, dream, and amplify louder and prouder in 2023 and beyond: A Pride month special with Zendesk’s Scott Morris
This year’s WorldPride theme is Gather. Dream. Amplify. In a candid interview, Zendesk Acting Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Sponsor of Pride employee committee, Scott Morris, shines a light on why now is such a pivotal moment for Pride community members and allies to rally together.
Last updated February 21, 2024
At Zendesk, championing equality and inclusion for all is woven into the fabric of our culture and values. We believe each one of us has the power and the responsibility to make a real difference, and that our business—and its employees—can be a powerful engine for change.
Our Pride month celebrations are a glittering testament to this spirit. From confetti cannon-filled parade floats and coordinated dance routines to supporting impactful initiatives and nonprofit organisations, Zendesk has recognised Pride month since 2014.
While our Pride programming has changed over the years, our dedication to celebrating our LGBTQIA+ Zendeskians and global community, and creating connections in a digital-first environment remains resolute. Zendesk scored 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), earning us the designation as one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.”
We are a signatory of the Business Statement Opposing Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation and have an ongoing partnership with Out Leadership to advance LGBTQ+ representation in leadership, as well as provide leadership development opportunities catered to our LGBTQIA+ employees.
Zendesk Pride celebrations over the years
As in years past, Zendeskians around the world have come together to celebrate Pride month loud and proud by participating in various internal and external events including thought-provoking workshops, fireside chats, tech Pride summits, film screenings, and much more. We caught up with our Acting Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Sponsor of Pride employee committee, Scott Morris, to learn more about what this year’s Pride theme means to him as a member of the community, the crests and troughs of the LGBTQIA+ movement, and the vital role employers can play in driving real change and progress.
This year’s WorldPride theme is Gather. Dream. Amplify. What does this year’s theme mean to you?
Morris: It’s a very positive theme if you think about it, especially in the context of what is happening globally right now around the movement for LGBTQIA+ rights.
In the U.S., for example, there are a lot of states passing local laws that are hurtful to transgender people. We see similar regulations around the world, including drag bans, which is frankly ridiculous.
“Gather” implies that globally coming together as a community, along with our allies, is a lot more powerful than our individual voices. “Amplify” implies that collectively we are a lot louder than the sum of our individual voices—a vital goal for us in coming together. And “Dream,” as with all things surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights, is about being aspirational and looking ahead to the next milestone.
The LGBTQIA+ communities around the world have come a long way in their journey for visibility, unity, and equality, but there are still miles to go. In your view, what are the mountains we still have to climb?
Morris: It feels like after all the progress we’ve made, we are back at the “fighting for fundamental rights” stage, which is very disappointing for people. People are quite worried about what is happening around the world today. And, historically, we tend to take a few steps forward and one step back. We are in the one step back phase right now. This is the moment we can rally everyone together and keep surging forward.
I do think this is a pivotal moment for trans rights in particular. Trans rights have not always been included in a lot of the progress that we’ve made in other areas of the LGBTQIA+ movement and efforts. I think this moment gives us an opportunity to focus and really get behind that fight.
You’ve had a long, illustrious career spanning more than three decades. As a member of the Pride community, are there any challenges you had to personally overcome?
Morris: I think I have been fortunate in my career in that I’ve always had a very supportive workplace environment, with the exception of the first couple of years when I was fresh out of university. I had just come out, I wasn’t super confident in myself, and I was also in a work environment that wasn’t super supportive. However, we also have to remember that it was a different time and era.
I feel it is really important for people to show up as allies when they hold power, as I believe their allyship is magnified by that power.
I was also very fortunate to have spent most of my time in California. California is unlike the rest of the world, and San Francisco in particular is a bit of a bubble, if you will, and has always had a very progressive and inclusive culture. So, I have been very fortunate that I have not faced any overt discrimination—at least not visible to me. I felt supported in my journey for the most part. Or, to put it another way, I felt more supported than discriminated against.
This question reminds me of the importance of having moments of allyship, especially when it comes from someone senior in an organisation. I feel it is really important for people to show up as allies when they hold power, as I believe their allyship is magnified by that power.
I had a couple of folks on my journey who were great allies to me. They really helped push me forward and gave me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. So for me, it is super important to be an ally, even in other areas where I can use my “privileged position,” if you will, to help other people, and give them an opportunity for their voice to be heard. This is not the only definition of allyship, but I do think it is a vital part of it.
Employers around the world today are striving to create a more inclusive workplace. Do you think there is a connection between diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and employee experience (EX)?
Morris: Oh definitely, there is. I think DEI is a very important component of the employee experience. For anyone from an underrepresented group coming into an organisation, if it is very evident that the employer is not only supportive but really demonstrates how they walk the walk and talk the talk, it really makes for a much better experience for the employees who are there. This might seem very basic and obvious, but it is fundamental for employers to recognise and implement inclusivity in their organisational culture.
In the same vein (and with your CMO hat on), how vital is having a robust internal culture around DEI and having a strong brand?
It is super important! I did a fireside chat recently with our Pride employee community (EC) at Zendesk and we talked about DEI in the workplace. One of the things I stressed during that discussion was how important it is, at a company level, to have a strong DEI presence, program, and strategy, but where it really makes a difference is when DEI is embedded in the individual organisations.
Within the marketing organisation, we have a specific DEI strategy, plan, and metrics for marketing that I, as the CMO, feel very accountable for, and can hold my marketing team leaders and my direct reports accountable for. Together, we can really make demonstrable progress within the marketing organisation. It feels more personal when the program is specifically for the marketing team. I also want every employee at Zendesk to be ambassadors for our brand, and as much as DEI can show up as part of that brand, the better.
Zendesk has been a trailblazer in many ways when it comes to DEI in the workplace and supporting our Pride communities. As the Executive Sponsor of our Pride employee community (EC), what role do you feel Zendesk ECs play in amplifying the message of DEI in the workplace?
Morris: One thing ECs can do is highlight individual stories across the broader organisation, lifting up those voices in a way that individuals would not be able to do on their own. For example, as part of our Pride EC programming at Zendesk this year, one of our employees and her 14 year old trans son will be sharing their experience in a Zendesk event focused on LGBTQIA+ families. It is really powerful to be able to share and amplify those personal stories throughout the organisation. This is just one example of how ECs are really able to shine a light on these stories. Our Mosaic EC, which brings together people of colour and their allies at Zendesk to embrace and celebrate their differences, has lots of such great examples. So do all our other ECs at Zendesk.
Zendesk has a rich program of events planned to celebrate and honour global Pride month, any particular ones you are looking forward to? I think you already mentioned the LGBTQIA+ families event one above that we all are very excited about.
Morris: Yes, that’s right. I’m also looking forward to our chat with award-winning author, journalist, activist, and queer culture historian Channing Gerard Joseph to discuss the community events and stories that have shaped LGBTQIA+ history, as well as the continued mission to create a world where everyone can live and love out loud. And, of course, the many Pride celebrations in our offices around the world.
Last but not the least, the global Pride community has innumerable stories of courage and resilience. Is there a story that inspired you and shaped your journey in some way?
Morris: Being from San Francisco, the story of Harvey Milk has always been really powerful to me, given that Harvey was one of the first publicly elected officials who was openly gay and went on to be on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At a time when it was not very common—even in San Francisco—to be that visible, the way he stood up on a national and global stage and gave back to the community, it is a really powerful and inspiring story of resilience and courage that has always resonated with me.