Pride Month: Nike’s Jarvis Sam On the Importance of Queer & Black Representation in the Workplace

For Pride Month, FN is spotlighting LGBTQIA+ executives, entrepreneurs and designers as part of its ongoing commitment to champion diversity across all areas of the footwear business.

Representation matters, and at Nike, Jarvis Sam is finding opportunity in his role as VP of diversity and inclusion to create change for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“There is an opportunity for me to be a visual for other queer Black men who are in industry right now, who are in college, who may be struggling with identity, in a world where it can often seem like Black men are the most targeted in so many ways,” Sam told FN. “I hope that my example and experience can show them that it is truly possible to show up authentically yourself.”

For Sam, who joined Nike in 2018, LGBTQIA+ inclusion goes beyond Pride Month and beyond corporate strategy — rather it’s deeply personal.

“The concept of intersectionality often comes up when I talk about my experiences because we are often faced with challenges of racism in LGBTQ+ spaces with homophobia and transphobia in black communities,” Sam explained. “So the coming out experiences for for queer-identifying Black folks can be even more challenging.”

In past roles, Sam didn’t feel as comfortable being his true queer self and candidly expressing who he was in the workplace. It wasn’t until he joined Nike last year where he was out and shared his sexual orientation. He said the environment and company culture makes a difference, and Nike has provided that safe space.

“Creating a focus where companies not only promote concepts of acceptance, but rather actually celebrate what it means to have varying sexual orientation identity or different gender identities, and challenging the norms of things like gender binary, create an environment where we can actually all thrive,” he said.

By being authentically himself, the exec has been able to in turn amplify the voices of marginalized communities knowing the challenges firsthand. And that’s where real impact is created.

In many corporations, conversations about religion, race, politics and sexuality have been frowned upon. At Nike, education has been a  key pillar for Jarvis in his role.

“Education is such a critical nuance for getting folks who may not understand the differences between trans-identities and cis-identities,” said Sam, noting that the use of pronouns play a critical role.

“It creates permission to enable real-talk conversations that gender is not just binary and that social constructs that we create around race, gender and sexual orientation don’t have to be so finite or distinct but rather can be open and debatable,” he explained.

Using pronouns is an exercise in relearning and retooling as well. It creates standards of accountability for companies who support and stand by their employees.

This month at Nike, for example, a resource for internal gender identity and transition guidelines have been launched, in partnership with a variety of different LGBTQ-supporting organizations, from the Human Rights Campaign to GLAAD and GLSEN, to help communicate change.

While much progress has been made for the LGBTQ community, it needs to not just occur one month a year but every day, and it must be more expansive, according to Sam.

“There remains so much more of an opportunity for the LGBTQ community to recognize elements of a racially motivated hate crimes and racism that continues to exist,” Sam said, adding that society must stand up for and stand behind Black transgender women and transgender women of color more broadly. “There are Black-identified counterparts and so many other dimensions of diversity. So there is still so much more to do to make the right type of impact.”

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