As a mom, Erin Uritus, the new, D.C.-based CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, knows first-hand how important it is for companies to support their queer parent employees in starting families and finding work-life balance.
Uritus comes to Out & Equal, the leading worldwide nonprofit dedicated to LGBT workplace equality, after senior positions at management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and the education nonprofit International School Services. She also spent several years in the Middle East, where she supported a major government in restructuring and modernizing during the Arab Spring.
Uritus first became involved with Out & Equal as the leader of the LGBT employee resource group at Booz Allen, which sent her to the organization’s annual summit in 2002. She later joined the Out & Equal board, co-founded its chapter in Washington and co-chaired its summit here in 2007.
In the Middle East, however, Uritus, who identifies as bisexual, met and married her now ex-husband, and they had two girls. She and the girls moved back to D.C. just a few months before Donald Trump was elected president, a move that brought both concern and joy. As the mother of Arab-American children notes her biography at the Out & Equal site, she stood with them in front of a police barricade at Trump Tower to protest the president’s first attempted Muslim ban, but also found delight in bringing them to the D.C. Pride celebration.
Although she shares custody, her ex-husband is living and working overseas, “so for all intents and purposes I’m a single mom,” she said in a phone interview shortly after she started as CEO in January. She appreciates connecting with other parents.
Her vision for Out & Equal encompasses the idea of community. The organization’s focus, she says, “is all workplace issues and making sure that individuals in the community and our families are protected. Moving forward, we are really going to plug in to people’s stories and experiences.”
That includes the experiences of parents.
“More and more LGBTQ people are having families, and I think people don’t often understand what an impact that has, not in theory but on your everyday life,” she says.
Uritas has felt the everyday tension of work-family balance herself. In a previous job, she worked from a home office.
“I sometimes I felt I had to hide my identity about being a single mom. Depending on who I was talking to, I might not mention that, ‘Oh, I have to run out to pick the kids up from school.’”
It’s a “constant struggle,” she says, for both single and partnered parents. Alleviating that struggle, she says, gets back to the idea of telling our stories.
“If we find the courage to share our stories, we are going to connect with people who may look different or have different family situations, but where we can find commonality,” she says. This can lead to building community and sharing resources, which can provide not only emotional support, but also “tips and tricks” on managing specific challenges.
But Out & Equal’s work goes beyond networking and storytelling. Just as many corporations led the way in offering benefits to same-sex couples before marriage equality became law, Uritus feels that companies can pick up some of the slack as the current federal administration threatens LGBT progress.
“To leverage corporate ties and best practices and supporting companies to do the right thing, that’s really at the heart of what we do. I want change to be sustained over the long haul, so we want to work all the angles.”
Among other things, she hopes to showcase the corporate leaders who are helping LGBT parents to “be happy and fulfilled employees as well as parents.” She explained that doing so “incentivizes and recognizes” companies’ actions so that others can follow their example.”
And Out & Equal is addressing challenges right at the heart of the federal government as well. After the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in January that it would be forming a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, widely seen as a pathway for LGBT discrimination, Uritus released an open letter to federal agency employees telling them, “We have your back. We understand the important role (employee resource group) leaders play in federal agencies. You are often the front-line force against efforts to erase our identities, marginalize our contributions and undermine our progress toward equality.”
Uritus invited them to take part in her “listening tour” of in-person and virtual meetings and an online survey, offering feedback on how Out & Equal can better assist them.
Other initiatives for the organization include expanding support for global diversity leaders, especially young ones, once again connecting people across communities.
“Certain political realities and cultural contexts are really different depending on the region and country,” she says, “but sometimes in managing change there are commonalities and best practices that you can draw upon that cross-cut any country.”
It’s a big agenda, but Uritus seems undaunted.
“I think parenthood and being a cocktail waitress in college is the best preparation for everything. I highly recommend it on both fronts.”
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.