Building a Vibrant LGBTQ+ Community at F5

Published June 24, 2024

The F5 Pride Employee Inclusion Group (EIG) supports F5’s LGBTQ+ employees and allies, with a focus on building community and a commitment to advocacy and education. The Pride EIG has been active since 2016, and is the second largest of the F5 EIGs, with over 520 members across the globe.

While F5 is firmly committed to LGBTQ+ inclusion and creating a workplace free from discrimination, the LGBTQ+ community is broad and ever-evolving, and education and inclusion remain an ongoing responsibility for the Pride EIG.

F5 is committed to LGBTQ+ inclusion

Fostering greater understanding of LGBTQ+ communities

“F5ers are comfortable with and support their LGBTQ+ colleagues, but there are many identities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella that even our allies might not know about,” says Hugh Gilmore (he/him), global co-chair of the F5 Pride EIG and Brand Strategist at F5. “The Pride EIG does its best to focus on the most vulnerable parts of our community and continues to educate everyone that our community includes multiple identities.”

Julia High (they/them), Content Marketing Manager III on the F5 Content Studio team, says creating an inclusive workplace environment is dependent on open-mindedness, but there will always be barriers to break down. “Perceptions about the LGBTQ+ community have changed a lot since I was young 20 years ago, and it does take a certain amount of mental effort to understand what being inclusive means today,” they say. “Convincing people that it’s worthwhile to change their minds and be more open-minded is one of the roles that F5 Pride EIG can play.”

High says we are all still learning how to make sure we are treating people in a way this is respectful and let them do their work without needing to defend their identity. As a kid, High says they never met a transgender or non-binary person and didn’t know any of the words they now use to describe themself. “It’s very likely that we’ll discover new identities that people will feel to their core being and that we will need to understand and respect. These people will need to have somebody in their corner to make sure they can feel safe in the workplace and do good work.

Gilmore says it’s critical that we apply a lens to the identities that are not necessarily as known or understood. “If you’re an ally, you need to be one for this entire community, and we at the Pride EIG take it as our responsibility to enable that.”

Evolving communities and commitments

High has been a member of the Pride EIG for about five years. “One of the biggest changes I’ve seen during this time is the amount of energy and action that has gone into supporting the trans community,” they say. 

In recent years, news stories about trans people and anti-trans policies have become overwhelmingly negative. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in the United States 2021 was worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history, with 17 anti-LGBTQ bills enacted by state legislatures.

“We realized that we needed to focus on this specific segment of our population because they were in the greatest danger,” says High.

“I think for some LGBQT+ people and their allies here in Seattle, it’s easy to believe that the hard work regarding rights and nondiscrimination has been done,” says Gilmore, “but from state to state and in different regions the reality is very different.” 

In 2023, the F5 Pride EIG approached F5 HR and advocated for policies to protect transgender, non-binary, and gender fluid F5 employees from direct or indirect discrimination. They also advocated for a welcoming and supportive environment for F5 employees who want to transition while working at F5.

Today, both U.S. and the UK F5 workplaces are guided by transitioning at work policies which extend communication support, leave during transition, access to gender-affirming medical care, and the ability to change names and/or genders at work and update pronouns in work tools. 

In addition, the Pride EIG advocated for and helped write inclusive language guidelines for the official F5 Editorial and Style Guide. These guidelines include support of the singular “they” in formal documents and discourage the use of unnecessarily gendered language.

Outreach to new employees

The Pride EIG is also involved in outreach to LGBTQ+ prospective employees. This includes hosting a recent all-day event at F5 Tower with the Seattle Out in Tech community, part of a global network of LGBTQ+ tech leaders of all ages. “At our event, we focused on building websites for non-profits that didn’t have access to professional web development skills,” says Gilmore. “Because a lot of local job seekers attend these events, we also had a recruiter on site to make connections, answer questions, and facilitate future job opportunities.” 

The Pride EIG created a video of the Out in Tech event. The corporate F5 social media account posted it globally and it’s still available for viewing in the employee advocacy tool and on YouTube. “What better way to show that F5 not only accepts but really values people with LGBTQ+ identities,” says Gilmore. 

Extending allyship to friends and family

“While the Pride EIG definitely works to foster a sense of belonging among LGBTQ+ F5ers and make F5 a desirable place to work for LGBTQ+ candidates,” says Gilmore, “we are also trying to have broader impact beyond F5 by extending allyship to our employees’ family and friends.”

Positive role models are still really critical. “It’s important to signal to the people around you that you’re a safe person to talk to and count on. That can really have profound impact to a young LGBTQ+ individual,” says Gilmore. 

F5 employees are often related to or know other young adults who have recently come out or are starting to transition, says Gilmore, and for these young people having someone in their environment who can signal allyship is potentially life changing—or even life saving. “The friends and family lens is critically important because young LGBTQ+ people are still exponentially more likely to commit acts of self-harm than other youths. We believe that there’s an opportunity to provide F5 employees with materials and resources to help them connect with and support the young LGBTQ+ people in their lives,” says Gilmore.

New resources and opportunities

An important resource for both F5ers and their friends and families is the GenderCool Project, a youth-led group that that focuses on giving people a chance to connect with trans and non-binary teens and young adults. As part of F5’s partnership with GenderCool, all F5 employees have access to the GenderCool Experience Portal, which provides multimedia learning resources for LGBTQ+ F5ers as well as for family and friends. F5 is also involved in a reverse mentorship program with GenderCool that pairs a GenderCool Champion (a young person aged 13 to 21) with an F5 mentor, providing an opportunity to learn more from each other, promote new ways of working, and build a more inclusive and diverse workforce.

“F5ers are also invited to a quarterly intercompany virtual hangout, where family and friends from multiple companies can get together under the GenderCool umbrella and share ideas and experiences,” says Gilmore.

High says that what’s great about the GenderCool Project is that it allows people to experience happy, cool, and dynamic transgender kids. “They are just regular kids, and they are going to be the future workers of America. The reverse mentoring program and other GenderCool resources help businesses make sure that their environments set everyone up for success, including trans and non-binary people,” they say.   

F5 Pride EIG around the world

F5 has active Pride EIG chapters in North America, India, EMEA, and Mexico, and members in over a dozen countries. “Culturally, the F5 Pride EIG looks a little different in every theater and in every region,” says Gilmore. The India chapter is very active, he says, and has a strong focus on allyship and understanding LGBTQ+ identities, and the chapter in Mexico is the newest, established just last year.

“I’ve been particularly impressed with the India Pride EIG,” says High. “They have done a really lovely job of focusing on creating positive experiences and moments to open up interactions with queer F5 employees in India.” Getting to know that LGBTQ+ people are friendly and nice is the first bit of work to do, they say. “Then the big change can happen. In the photos published on their Teams’ Pride EIG channel, the group looks really, genuinely happy to be hanging out with each other. And I think that’s just great.” 

Gilmore says that all the Pride EIG chapters are aligned to the same group of goals, but how that looks locally is up to the regional leaders. “We put a lot of faith in the local groups to decide their own programming, how their budget is spent, and how they engage their audiences. I think there’s a way to engage in every single region, but we rely on the leadership on the ground to bring that to life,” he says. 

The India chapter of F5 Pride EIG

A safer, more inclusive workplace

The F5 Pride EIG is passionate about the positive impacts it has made and will continue to make within the F5 workplace, while creating an emotional bridge to more vulnerable members of our communities. “For us, Pride is an action,” says Gilmore. “We lead by example, celebrating LGBTQ+ individuals and their contribution to F5 and the broader community. With our allies, we are striving to create a more diverse and inclusive company culture that we can all be proud of.”

High says the primary lesson is that anyone can be an ally. “You can start where you are today even if you’re not good at it and your ideas are outdated. You can start today and get a little better.” Anytime anyone makes even a small step toward being more welcoming, it makes the world better, they say. “And it’s going to keep on changing and evolving, and that’s the thrill of it: A whole new world is opening up.”