LaFawn Davis and Sherise Bright are using their careers to further belonging and inclusivity across America — from corporate culture to legislative action.

When LaFawn Davis was growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, her father advised her that she’d need to speak differently when she was at work and school than she did at home. Today, this exercise is known as codeswitching: when people change or hide certain behaviors and mannerisms to blend in with the people around them. It’s essentially a survival tactic — and for Davis, it became even more necessary when she came out as queer.

LaFawn Davis and Sherise Bright

There weren’t many Black queer women in tech at the time, but Davis excelled in Silicon Valley, working in operational strategy. She discovered her true calling, however, at Google when she became a founding leader of the Black Googler Network in 2006. There, she realized her passion for bolstering belonging in the workplace.

Davis has now been at the forefront of the diversity and inclusion movement in Silicon Valley for more than 15 years, having led efforts at Yahoo, PayPal and Twilio before landing her current role as Indeed’s senior vice president of environmental, social and corporate governance. “What I do is a calling,” she explains. “It’s different from just a job. There’s a personal and profound fulfillment that I get from the work that I do.”

She recently married Sherise Bright, who is a force in her own career. As the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for communications and marketing, she is the public voice of the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group in the United States.

Indeed caught up with this power couple in New York City, where they were attending the Tribeca Film Festival for the second season premiere of Indeed’s Rising Voices, an anthology of 10 short films by BIPOC directors. Against the backdrop of national Pride celebrations overlapping with a concerning number of new anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country, we discussed the ever-evolving meaning of authenticity, belonging and inclusivity in the modern workplace. As Davis says, “There are important shifts happening around me, and I don’t know what it all will mean — but I feel I’m going to change my company for the better. There is still more to be done here.”

Indeed: When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, many assumed LGBTQ+ equality would be a settled issue.

Yet in a 2021 Indeed survey, 39 percent of LGBTQ+ workers choose to remain closeted because they “fear it will be detrimental to their career.” Do you think people — allies in particular — have become complacent?

LaFawn Davis: Many people still don’t understand that this community is not a monolith. There is racism, ableism and transphobia within the LGBTQ+ community. Until everyone has equal rights, our fight never stops. Just because there are a few more Pride parades doesn’t mean we are free. Just because there’s one specific law in place doesn’t mean there aren’t others that prevent us from living.  

Sherise Bright: Yes, 100 percent. There are folks who still walk into their workplaces terrified. To be LGBTQ+ means you don’t just come out once; you have to come out every time you meet new people or enter new environments. That can be scary.

Let’s talk about what has changed for the better.

What are examples of modern policies you had wished for early in your career that might now be taken for granted?

Davis: There used to be this idea of, there’s work and there’s home. You don’t bring home stuff to work. You don’t talk about who you are. But over the past few years, the world has exploded in lots of different ways. As someone who was once told that my braids were “too urban” for my work environment, I would have loved for The Crown Act to have existed when I was younger. [Also known as H.R. 2166, The Crown Act prohibits “discrimination based on an individual’s texture or style of hair”; it is currently under review by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.]

Bright: Securing LGBTQ+-inclusive healthcare benefits, including partner benefits, felt extremely complicated years ago. There are so many folks who fought for years to bring us to where we are now. We’ve come a long way but there’s still work to do. 

What still needs to be done?

Bright: There are still battles to not only maintain LGBTQ+-inclusive benefits but to secure human rights and protections for transgender people. Protecting healthcare for the transgender community is top of mind. There are so many hoops trans folks have to jump through to receive gender-affirming care, and many company policies don’t reflect thoughtfulness and a true understanding of the needs of transgender people. 

I’m excited about strengthening our ability to shed more light on issues impacting Black trans women. There’s simply not enough voices or representation. In my corner of the world, telling their stories helps advance efforts that can protect the most marginalized among us.

And given the chaos of the past couple of years, it seems companies also have these gray areas around mental health support. Mental health services should be readily available for all employees.

Davis: A simpler step companies can take is an internal campaign about the importance of pronouns. There’s a misconception that pronouns are just for trans people, but everyone has pronouns. That misunderstanding stops people from knowing what pronouns are and why we should use them to signal basic respect. But inclusion is more than any one policy. It has everything to do with whether employees feel they can bring their authentic selves to work.

What does authenticity look like to you?

Davis: Not having to hide any parts of ourselves. Feeling excluded really does take a toll on someone mentally and physically. You can feel your chest tighten, you get anxious — all because you can’t be who you are. Pride cannot be once a year, just like Black History Month can’t be once a year. We have to create a culture where it is okay to celebrate ourselves more often than just during an assigned month.

Bright: In order for folks to bring their authentic selves to work, there needs to be an environment of trust. Creating space for vulnerability is incredibly important.

Davis: It’s psychological safety. Otherwise, it’s scary to not know how people may perceive you, and what actions may come out of that. 

Both of you have spoken about the importance of an intersectional approach to workplace inclusion.

As two queer Black women, how difficult is it holding intersecting identities — and helping others understand what that means? 

Davis: Early in my career, I was trying to navigate what that meant. I was often the only Black woman, and there weren’t a lot of LGBTQ+ people that were out around me. Now, when I give talks, I’ll introduce myself and all of my layers, which is how I explain intersectionality to those who don’t understand it. I’m Black, I’m queer, I’m a woman of a seasoned age, I’m a mother of an adult child — and I’m fabulous. Those layers make up who I am. No one has a binary identity. No one is just one thing. We experience everything differently based on our layers. 

Bright: Going against the grain is not comfortable. But the more I’m able to sit in these spaces, the more comfortable I’ve become with being who I am authentically. It is incredibly important that we just be who we are, because that gives others a license to be who they are. 

Davis: It’s important to have support around you. If we fill each other with love, we’ll find that we can operate in lots of environments. We can rise in our careers. We can do powerful things.

I wanted to discuss the concept of Black excellence.

It can be a motivator, but expectations to perform, succeed and break through also weigh down Black professionals. Throughout your careers, have you felt a need to always “get it right”? 

Bright: Yes. I feel a responsibility to my ancestors, to my elders and to folks at the organization who are looking to me to be a voice. And yes, maybe I can be a workaholic—

Davis: Maybe?

Bright: …but I’m learning that I don’t have to do everything all at once to deserve to be here. 

Davis: I was taught you have to work twice as hard to go half as far, especially if you’re “the only one” on a team. You worry if you don’t succeed, it’s going to be the downfall of the entire community. But I’ve learned in my career that one person of any community cannot speak for the entire community. I can’t speak for all Black people, all queer people, all women — we have different experiences. And though I fight for all in the work that I do, I certainly cannot be the spokesperson for everything. So I let go of the pressure a little bit. 

Let’s end by discussing one of the main tenets of Pride: love.

How does your love for each other show up in your careers? How do you make each other better?

Davis: I hype up Sherise because she’s incredibly smart and creative. Sometimes she has felt very closed in by the environments that she’s been in. And I tell her, “You better let all that out. That genius is just waiting to explode.”

Bright: I am incredibly inspired by my wife, just from being in her presence and watching how she navigates different things. I really enjoy watching her work and witnessing how comfortable she is in her skin. She’s inspired me to be more comfortable in my skin and go for the things that I want. 

Davis: We’re conscious of each other’s strengths and how we are very different. We’re able to lean into those differences, and that helps us support each other in our careers. And that’s a pretty cool thing to be able to share with your spouse.