This month, Impossible Foods and its first-ever Employee Resource Group, Impossible Pride, are celebrating Pride Month virtually due to the ongoing global pandemic. We’re also celebrating at a time when social justice, equality, and human rights are at the forefront of the conversation following the continued acts of violence and oppression against the Black community, as demonstrated in Minneapolis and countless other incidents throughout the country.
To recognize LGBTQ+ history and bring awareness to important topics including identity, privilege and equality, we invited our awesome Impossible Pride co-chairs, Jared Levan and Edward de Leon, to share more about the Impossible Pride resource group, why employee resource groups are important, and what companies can do to cultivate a culture of allyship both inside and outside of the company.
Edward De Leon (top), and Jared Levan (bottom), co-chairs of Impossible Foods’ “Impossible Pride” Employee Resource Group
Q: How is celebrating Pride Month different this year given the ongoing national and global uprising against police brutality and racial injustice?
A: (Jared) Pride is and always has been about fighting for the right to live our authentic identities and do so without fear of judgement or fear of harm. While the LGBTQ+ community has seen enormous progress over the past 50 years since the riots at Stonewall, the current global uprising against racial injustice reminds us that the struggle to live in one’s identity continues not only for our community, but has afflicted communities of color as well. Reflecting on progress we’ve made and celebrating the battles we have won is a triumph that all mankind should share.
(Edward) Protests are erupting over police brutality just as we commemorate Juneteenth, on June 19 — a date that marks the anniversary of the abolishment of slavery in the United States. This time should not only be reserved for people that identify as LGBTQ+, but for all minorities, especially the African-American community.
We tend to forget that the whole concept of “pride” as we know it today was sparked by two trans women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, during the Stonewall Riots of 1969. These events were triggered by police brutality, transphobia, homophobia, and racism. And I’m afraid not much has changed since then.
Q: Tell us a bit about Impossible Pride. How did you create the ERG and the current charter?
A: (Jared) Impossible Foods empowers employees to make an impact, both in thought and in action. Our goal for Impossible™ Pride was to follow that same lead and ensure diversity and acceptance at all levels of the company. Edward and I created Impossible Pride to provide guidance to the broader organization and to help ensure that everyone — in particular, individuals who identify as a member or ally of the LGBTQ+ community — feels welcomed to be their authentic selves and feels included here at Impossible Foods.
The first step we took in creating Impossible Pride was to find an executive sponsor. We recommend this as a crucial first step to secure support from senior leadership and help ensure progress is made. Our executive co-sponsors, Rachel Konrad and Jessica Appelgren, have been invaluable in helping us get to where we are now. They helped us secure executive buy-in from our founder and CEO, Pat Brown, ultimately leading Pat to sign the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge.
After recruiting executive sponsors, we wanted to create a committee to provide leadership and structure within the group. The committee also allowed for division of labor, since building a new group from scratch can be quite nebulous at times; it also really helps to have a myriad of perspectives in the room.
When it came to building our current charter, we knew we wanted there to be both an internal and external focus for the group. This was to ensure that we were promoting change within the four walls here at Impossible Foods, but also within our communities outside of the workplace.
Q: What is the importance of having an Employee Resource Group for LGBTQ+ employees at work?
A. (Jared) Having an employee resource group for members of the LGBTQ+ community is immensely important for a variety of reasons. First — and I’d argue most important — it provides visibility and awareness to the broader organization that queer people exist at Impossible Foods. Being seen and acknowledged is the first step.
Second, it provides a safe place where members of the community can share their stories and experiences while also encountering the stories and experiences of their fellow employees, queer or not. This builds internal camaraderie and strengthens the Impossible culture, which is step two.
Finally, it provides a place where LGTBQ+ community members and their allies can influence change within the company and within the community at large. This happens through action and through unwavering support… that is step three towards making a difference.
Q: How can we support the LGBTQ+ community year-round?
A. (Jared) Supporting the LGBTQ+ community can translate to actions big and small, and every bit counts! It starts, again with awareness — yes, this is a recurring theme.
What does the community need? Is it volunteering hours to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth have a safe place to sleep or eat? Is the need as simple as acknowledging there is work to be done? We don’t expect everyone to play a part in Impossible Pride, but being aware of the needs of the community or acknowledging that needs exist shows support for our community.
Next comes experiencing the stories and life experiences of your co-workers and by sharing your own narratives. This can be an even more powerful way of showing support than taking actions like volunteering or marching in a parade. Open your ears, listen, learn. You’ll get to know your coworkers on a new level and — chances are — form a more meaningful connection that translates to stronger collaboration at work.
Last but not least, you can take action, like spending time volunteering with any number of queer or queer-adjacent organizations across the Bay Area. The needs for volunteering are always there and we’d love to help those interested find something that works for their skill sets and availability.
Q: What are some challenges LGBTQ+ employees face in the workplace?
A. (Jared) Identity in the workplace can be the most difficult challenge members of our community (or any community for that matter) face and goes far beyond gender or sexual orientation.
The acronym ‘LGBTQ+’ represents only some of the spectrum of identities that anyone may feel comfortable sharing and living within the workplace. Gay. Lesbian. Bisexual. Transgender. Questioning. Gender non-binary…The reality is that the list of identities your colleagues may align with are as diverse and unique as the number of people they represent.
Impossible Pride was founded on the principle that all employees, regardless of identity or combination of identities, should feel safe and confident bringing their authentic selves to work, every day.
Q: Tell us about some Impossible Pride initiatives in the past couple of years?
A. (Edward) Last November, Impossible Pride hosted a one-hour gathering to commemorate Transgender Remembrance Day. We marked the event with a 30 second moment of silence. Being such a young ERG at this point, it was one of our first initiatives! It was a great turn-out, and we hope to have more of them in the future.
While Impossible Foods has a big reputation, in reality we’re still a relatively small venture-funded company without the deep pockets of established companies. So one thing we’ve learned — and this is important for people at other startups — is to look for support in your broader ecosystem. For instance, Impossible investor Google Ventures graciously invited us and a few other companies to join forces in the 2019 SF PRIDE celebration and parade. We hope to one day have our own Impossible Burger Float wheeling down Market Street in a future PRIDE parade.
Q: What vision do you have about Impossible Pride as our company sees rapid growth?
A. (Edward) We aspire for Impossible Foods to be a company that supports and cultivates “diversity for biodiversity.” We envision our ERG to communicate Impossible Foods’ mission and the importance of creating a more sustainable food supply system into broader LGBTQ+ communities around the world.
Q: What advice would you give someone struggling to bring their true authentic selves to work?
A. (Jared & Edward) Talk to someone…talk to us if you feel compelled to! While you may not want to attend an Impossible Pride meeting to share your stories and life experiences, we are personally always here to talk. We’d also encourage you to speak with your manager, mentor, HR business partner or others about the struggle you’re enduring, when the time is right.
In the end, sharing your true, authentic self with the people at Impossible Foods is something you decide on your own terms; when you share it, with whom you share it and how you decide to share it. We host monthly Impossible Pride meetings where we will share what’s happening at Impossible and we hope to even create more opportunities for Impossible Pride community building activities such as at happy hours and workshops as we begin to think about coming back to the office post-COVID.