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MLB encouraging workplace allyship during Pride Month

'Lunch and Learn' program welcomes PFLAG, focuses on bullying prevention
June 8, 2019

NEW YORK -- With Pride Month now underway across the country and around the globe, Major League Baseball has ramped up its annual efforts to show support for the LGBTQ community. On Friday afternoon at the Office of the Commissioner, MLB PRIDE -- one of the company’s nine Business Resource

NEW YORK -- With Pride Month now underway across the country and around the globe, Major League Baseball has ramped up its annual efforts to show support for the LGBTQ community. On Friday afternoon at the Office of the Commissioner, MLB PRIDE -- one of the company’s nine Business Resource Groups dedicated to diversity and inclusion within the sports industry -- held a Lunch & Learn seminar in partnership with PFLAG entitled “From the Classroom to the Boardroom: Addressing Bullying Behaviors.”

As a longtime supporter of PFLAG -- the nation’s first and largest organization committed to advancing equality for LGBTQ individuals -- and their initiatives, MLB has conducted a number of events -- both at its NYC headquarters and with its clubs across the country -- that are tailored toward equipping employees with the tools they need to be allies. The partnership between the two organizations began four years ago when Wendy Lewis, MLB’s former senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances, saw a potential match between PFLAG’s advocacy approach and MLB’s inclusion journey.

Jean-Marie Navetta, PFLAG’s director of learning and inclusion, noted that the common thread was “recognizing that change, that getting people to acceptance, that getting people to understanding, takes time and it looks different for people.”

Navetta, who led Friday’s seminar, spoke to a group of over 30 employees from various departments across the company about the similarities and differences between school bullying and workplace harassment, especially for LGBTQ individuals who are frequently subjected to a heightened level of intimidation in their everyday lives.

Her presentation, formatted as both a lecture and a discussion, delved into the ways in which internal policies and codes of conduct don’t provide enough of a buffer against workplace harassment unless they are enforced by fellow employees, particularly those in positions of power. She emphasized how individual change leads to organizational change, dispelling the notion that company culture can only be dictated top-to-bottom.

“Culture change is not a big boom and all of a sudden it’s done,” Navetta said. “Culture change is that slow drip, drip, drip. And I think all of those little drip, drip, drips -- they lead to the big stuff. We need to recognize that it’s those little actions that all roll up into something important.”

MLB employees were encouraged to engage in the conversation, drawing from their own experiences to come up with effective strategies for confronting workplace bullying. By discussing the telltale signs that someone is a victim of bullying, the specific behaviors that distinguish a bully and the precautionary methods that “bullyproof” a workplace, employees came away with a stronger understanding of their own role as allies for their fellow coworkers.

Allyship is a central component of diversity and inclusion efforts around the LGBTQ community, and it requires that people take ownership of their ability to shape the spaces they occupy.

As Navetta made clear, “Ally is not an identity. It’s something you do. It’s active.”

Whether that means calling out insensitive jokes and gender policing in public or listening sympathetically and validating feelings in private, employees can send the message that exclusion is wrong.

“I always think if somebody sitting in this class remembers one or two ways to address a situation differently, that’s a win,” Navetta said. “Because that time that they actually put those tools into action can be a complete game changer for the person they’re supporting.”

For MLB, these learning sessions are evidence of the company’s commitment to putting inclusivity into practice at all levels. Ernesto Hernandez, who works in MLB’s international baseball operations department and is the president of MLB PRIDE, stressed that employees are encouraged to take these lessons back to their respective departments and spread the message throughout the organization.

As the only major men’s sports league whose regular-season games fall during Pride Month, Major League Baseball has a unique opportunity to rally around the LGBTQ community, one that the company doesn’t take lightly.

“We understand the impact and responsibility that we have,” Hernandez said. “Inclusion is something we take pride in. We want to show everyone that there is a place for them in baseball.”

While these seminars are only one example of MLB’s growing list of diversity and inclusion efforts, they exemplify how the message of acceptance and equality is at the core of the company -- in boardrooms as well as ballparks.