The Importance Of Safe Spaces

A Conversation With Members Of Wayfair Europe’s LGBTQIA+ ERG

Alexis Oddos, Senior Analyst in the European Promotions department, joined Wayfair in 2020 and leads the LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group (ERG) WayOut. Gary Yang, Manager in Wayfair's European Finance team, joined the organization a year later–roughly at the same time as Senior Recruiter Francoise de Sutter. As diverse as their professional backgrounds may seem, there is one thing they have in common: All three are part of Wayfair Europe's WayOut ERG, which aims to foster an environment where members of the LGBTQIA+ community can happily and safely bring their full, authentic selves to work every day.

In honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, the three WayOut members spoke about the importance of safe spaces – in and outside work. In a heartfelt and open conversation, they share their experiences and advice as members and allies of the queer community at Wayfair.

Francoise, Gary, and Alexis thank you for your willingness to share your story and experience with us. Please tell us, what does the term 'safe space' mean to you personally?

Wayfair 2023, Alexis Oddos
Alexis Oddos, Senior Analyst EU Promotions at Wayfair and site-lead of the WayOut ERG
© Sophia Emmerich

Alexis: A safe space to me personally is more than just a physical environment. It's a place where I feel completely at ease and comfortable being my authentic self. In a safe space, I can let my guard down without worrying about being judged or micro-analyzed. It's a space where I can truly relax and be free from discomfort or unease. Feeling uncomfortable can create barriers in your mind and drain your energy, so having a safe space is crucial for maintaining a positive mindset and overall well-being.

Francoise: I couldn't agree more. For me, a safe space is where I can fully let go and be myself without fear of judgment or scrutiny. It's about relaxing and not constantly second-guessing my actions or words. In a safe space, I feel accepted and valued for who I truly am. It's liberating to express myself authentically without worrying about conforming to societal norms or expectations. It's an environment that encourages openness, understanding, and respect for diverse identities and experiences.

Gary: Absolutely; a safe space is about experiencing freedom in its purest and fullest form. It's about being able to be yourself without the fear of being judged or criticized. The key factor in creating a safe space is the people that surround you. When you have colleagues and peers who are accepting, supportive, and inclusive, it makes all the difference. It's about having a community of individuals who celebrate diversity and respect each other's unique perspectives and backgrounds. Having that kind of support system enables us to thrive personally and professionally.

What does it take for a workplace to be a safe place?

Alexis: When it comes to making a safe workplace, it's essential to foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable and free to be themselves. It starts with having colleagues who are open-minded and aware of the diverse experiences that exist. Simple actions like asking about preferred pronouns and avoiding assumptions can make a huge difference in creating a safe space. During job interviews, I always advise listening to your gut feeling and assessing how open-minded the people in the interview process are. At Wayfair, I was overwhelmed by open-mindedness and the existence of various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) on a global company level. It's a testament that this commitment to inclusivity is not just lip service but a lived reality throughout the company.

Gary: In my previous experiences working in industries known for lacking diversity, such as finance and consulting, I often felt pressured to conform or hide aspects of my identity. However, at Wayfair, I've been fortunate to find a workplace that embraces openness and tolerance. There is a significant presence of female and queer leaders, further reinforcing the company's inclusivity. I've never felt the need to compromise my true self or hide any aspect of my identity. My worth at Wayfair is solely measured by the quality of my work, rather than my self-expression or who I love. It's a place where authenticity thrives, and judgment is left at the door.

Wayfair 2023, Francoise de Sutter
Francoise de Sutter, Senior Recruiter at Wayfair
© Sophia Emmerich

What can an employer do to enable you to create a safe space for you and others?

Francoise: It's important to recognize that creating a safe space is not solely the responsibility of the employees. It's the company's responsibility to foster a respective atmosphere. Internal initiatives, like Employee Resource Groups, play a vital role in nurturing a safe space. At Wayfair, I've witnessed the support and encouragement from the leadership towards these groups, enabling them to do their work effectively and educating others about the importance of inclusion. It's amazing to see the positive impact these ERGs have in creating a more diverse and accepting work environment.

Alexis: Alongside fostering open dialogues, educating people is also crucial in creating a safe space. At Wayfair, I've seen leadership and colleagues actively engaging in workshops on pronouns, recognizing and avoiding biased decisions, and taking actions initiated mainly by the ERGs. It shows that Wayfair understands the value of different perspectives and the importance of community building. In addition to internal initiatives, Wayfair supports external charity work and matches employee donations for the selected charity, doubling the impact. This sense of belonging and giving back to the local community contributes to the overall comfort and well-being of employees.

Wayfair 2023, Gary Yang
Gary Yang, Manager EU Finance at Wayfair
© Sophia Emmerich

One goal of the WayOut ERG is to create an environment where you can bring all of yourself to work -  how does that help you thrive?

Gary: It gives me so much more mental headspace actually to work. As queer people, especially those that grew up in unsupportive environments, we have spent so much of our lives adjusting our outward appearance and conversations to what society wants.

We forget that we are a part of society and that our opinion should also mold our own lives and not just the opinion of others. In doing so, we take up processing space in our heads with constant self-doubting questions that can and should be free.

What is Wayfair actively doing to make you feel comfortable working here?

Francoise: Wayfair has implemented numerous changes based on the feedback and initiatives driven by ERGs. For example, they introduced an extended paid bereavement leave for members of chosen families and after miscarriages, as well as providing monetary support for fertility benefits. These actions demonstrate that Wayfair actively listens to its employees, fosters open dialogue, and implements meaningful changes. That's why I'm proud to be a part of multiple ERGs at Wayfair, including Latin-Exs, WayOut, Accessibility@Wayfair, and Wayfair Caregiver. These ERGs not only align with my focus on diversity but also have a measurable impact. They create connections, host events, and provide a platform for making our voices heard. Being organized in an ERG allows us to contribute to a more inclusive workplace and connect with individuals with similar backgrounds and interests.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the people surrounding us. Wayfair's commitment to creating a safe space is reflected in the supportive and accepting community they have cultivated. By fostering a culture of inclusivity and providing resources for employees to be their authentic selves, Wayfair actively contributes to our comfort and overall success.

Thank you all for sharing your stories.