Out at work and #proudtobe authentically inclusive

Canva Product Designer, Hugo Welke, shares the importance of fostering an ‘authentically inclusive’ environment for the LGBTQI+ community to ensure a happier and ultimately more productive workforce and a greater sense of belonging organization-wide. We all have an elemental need to belong – to one another, to our friends and families, our communities, and the […]

Canva Product Designer, Hugo Welke, shares the importance of fostering an ‘authentically inclusive’ environment for the LGBTQI+ community to ensure a happier and ultimately more productive workforce and a greater sense of belonging organization-wide.

We all have an elemental need to belong – to one another, to our friends and families, our communities, and the workplace. In fact, outside of the home, the workplace is where individuals feel the strongest sense of belonging, it’s where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours.

With all that 2020 has thrown at us thus far, the level of disruption and anxiety felt by individuals everywhere is being reported at an all-time high. From a pandemic that has forced each and every one of us to change the way we work, learn and socialize, to the additional barriers for LGBTQ people – especially those coming from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds who face further levels of marginalization, and more recently the ‘dystopian spectacle’ in the US putting racial inequality again on everyone’s radar. Alongside this heightened sense of disruption, some countries have even been reporting an increase in homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, a sense that the world as we know it is on shaky ground. Acknowledging that sense of unease, the question should be asked, what can we do to ensure we create a workplace environment that offers peace of mind for now and long into the future, to ensure all our people feel confident and comfortable enough to be their true selves?

This is not simply about having and ticking off a ‘diversity and inclusion’ checklist, it goes far beyond that. We want our people to enjoy coming to work or logging on, and bringing their best selves to the team. That sense of belonging regardless of age, race, sexuality, or gender is embedded in how we create an authentically inclusive environment, how we operate as a work family, and how we live out our values.

So, what does it mean to be authentically inclusive?

Genuine. Sincere. Truly what something is said to be; all definitions of authentic, and an apt description of how we strive to be inclusive in the workplace. This is not a set-and-forget exercise, we are constantly evolving to ensure we walk the talk every day and are proactively championing inclusion and building diverse teams. Yes it is the right thing to do and it will pay dividends to our business – as individuals are 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential – but we truly believe in being a force for good and we want to take the lead and inspire and empower change in our communities.

To create a thriving team and a business, ensuring an inclusive workplace culture is a must. To provide a platform where employees feel welcome in every sense creates a mutual investment, trust, and desire to succeed together.

From my perspective, as a proud member of the LGBTQI+ community, I know a good portion of the LGBTQI+ community that has not ‘come out’ at work for fear of discrimination, being unwelcome, and risking potential career opportunities. It takes a lot of mental energy to hide who you are and it can lead to serious health issues.

Making changes for inclusion can seem like an enormous undertaking, but all it takes is to start, one step to light the journey for growth and change.

WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE INSIDE – how is Canva being authentically inclusive?

At Canva, we’re in an incredible position to make change possible in the world around us. Over the last eight years, we have created a platform that gives people a voice to speak against injustices and inequality. As one of the many people behind the scenes, we all have a responsibility to embody the goodness that we’re empowering our users to bring to the world and to be a good human.

To that end, we strive to live and breathe diversity and inclusion in how we work every day. No matter who you are, your skin color, your gender, whatever you’re attracted to, everyone deserves to be treated with respect. With one of our core corporate values ‘being a force for good’ means we are actively working towards a world that isn’t just good for a small few, but one that’s good for everyone.

We believe deeply in bringing together the diversity of thoughts, perspectives and expression, as it is critical to our ability to build the best product for our equally diverse community.

Internal video highlighting how we’re striving to live and breathe inclusion every day.

Change can start with language

Body language. Written language. Spoken language. It’s how we communicate, and at its core determines our ability to form lasting bonds with one another, however, it’s equally liable for creating barriers and impacting someone’s sense of belonging. Therefore it is so critical to audit ALL forms of language used within an organization to ensure it’s inclusive and removes any unconscious bias, slang, or expressions that discriminate.

“Communication is not what you say, but how it’s heard. Making changes to use more inclusive language offers us a chance to grow and become better communicators while also caring for those we’re communicating with.” – Niel de la Rouviere, Buffer.

Language substitutions

In relation to the LGBTQI+, it is also important we educate ourselves on the different categories and terms used within that community. While the definitions shared won’t fully describe the diversity of the LGBTQI+ spectrum, the below gives insight into the words and meaning to help make conversations with anyone in the community easier and more comfortable.



Different terms used within the LGBTQI+ community. Image resources can be found here.


Storytelling is a fundamental human experience that unites people. With subject matters that may be foreign to the audience, it is a wonderful way to explain a situation, a concept, a point of view, and presents a great opportunity to deepen connections with one another.

When people feel more comfortable sharing their stories, it makes it easier for their peers to understand and connect.

We strongly encourage forums, from our internal newsletters, team meetings and specially organized fireside chats where our people can share their stories in a safe place and help educate everyone on a variety of topics. We celebrate the uniqueness that every person brings to the team, built upon respect, acceptance and kindness. For example, in our recent June internal e-newsletter we featured a Pride section with a collection of articles including a story from one of our LGBTQI+ Manila team member’s who has two dads, and a showcase of the artwork created by our people in celebration of Pride Month.


Born This Way by Che Bantayan. “I drew this while listening to a pride playlist; so if you’re feeling it at the moment, queue up these songs and dance with me! (Born This Way, Believe, Dancing On My Own, I’m Coming Out, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, All Things-Betty Who)”


Is it emptiness or just longing? by Sean Philip Olalo / Instagram: @mynegativefeelings. A queer artist originally from Cebu, he uses film photography as a medium to dabble in queer feelings that he hopes to express through his art. “I want my subjects to feel free and comfortable in their own skin. I use butterfly origamis and different types of flowers to explore vulnerability and the fleetingness of being queer.”


Pride Flag by Cha Tacang. The iconic rainbow flag has long been a symbol of Pride, ever since it was first unfurled in San Francisco in 1979. Decades later, Gilbert Baker’s most recognizable symbol of LGBTQI+ unity and pride still brings joy and a sense of belonging to members of the community who march under it. Since then, other flags for other sexualities in the queer spectrum have also surfaced as symbols to rally around. “I made this Pride Flag sticker set to celebrate the truth that this community is made up of people of all shapes and colors — and what better way to be loud and proud about it than with stickers. More than being symbolic decor, I have also included the number 4982 to the design to raise awareness about HB No. 4982 or the SOGIE Equality Bill that is currently pending in the House of Representatives. I have also used these stickers to raise funds for the Metro Manila Pride for the past couple of years.”


Commissioned artwork, by our very own Landlee Fernandez, to support Pride Month.

I am also really proud of a panel led discussion titled ‘Out At Work’ we held recently. Four of our team shared their experience of ‘coming out and being out in the workplace’. It was a useful tool to support those within not just the LGBTQI+ community, but the broader employee base from two perspectives; one, those who may be struggling with their identity, and two, those who can’t relate, but want to know how to support their colleagues, friends and family.

One thing I must mention, which was rightfully brought to the fore by an editor at the NPR, is the expectation for an LGBTQI+ person to represent the community as a whole, and answer endless questions about why we do ‘this or that’; that is not what we’re striving for here at Canva. Our hope is by bringing people together, not only do we create a culture of inclusion and openness, we empower others to educate themselves about the LGBTQI+ community, its history – the good, bad and the ugly – to inspire them to want to genuinely learn more, rather than be satiated by a couple a Q&A’s.

At the end of the day, we hope by building awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion, and providing a safe place to speak about it, a library of resources for further education and a platform for knowledge sharing, we encourage healthy conversations that create positive and lasting change.

Social clubs

The creation of social clubs is another way Canva strives to heighten our employees’ sense of belonging, at last count we had over 360 different groups within the organization. Being socially connected at work helps buffer against any negative aspects of working, such as the stress of deadlines, and helps work become a little less ‘work’ and more enjoyable. The brains behind each of our social groups work incredibly hard to ensure our clubs provide the perfect platform for our people to connect, share knowledge, keep engaged, build strong long-lasting relationships and become vested in the organization’s culture.

With over 900+ employees around the world, with offices in Sydney, Manila, Beijing and Austin, establishing clubs has been an invaluable asset in maintaining our internal culture.

Personally, being an active part of Canva’s LGBTQI+ Pride Club and #diversity-inclusion channel is extremely important to me, and something I do with great pride. I’ve been lucky enough that the work, conversation and recognition to develop an inclusive workforce started well before I commenced working at Canva. I strive to continue that great work by being open about my experiences, who I am and sharing my learnings from other organizations I’ve worked within that also prioritize inclusion.

It’s also equally as important to recognize not everyone will feel as confident or comfortable as I am and therefore we need to appreciate and support them in any way we can; so I say to those people, it’s through our clubs and overarching willingness to embrace all different walks of life (by walking the walk and talking the talk) that we aim to inspire you to have confidence in who you are and feel a strong sense of belonging and camaraderie here at Canva.

I do what I do now so that, one, future generations do not have to justify their existence, and two, everyone feels a sense of belonging regardless of how they might be considered ‘diverse’.

Onboarding newbies

Canva’s onboarding process includes sessions on Diversity and Inclusion as well as Unconscious Bias. These training sessions set the tone of Canva’s culture and also provides our starters with some clarity as to what is expected of them as a member of our team.

Why is this important?

Because we are all different. We are also a global company with an ever-increasing number of personnel; every single soul within Canva is important and as such we are respectful of everyone’s background and point of view.

We are also cognizant of the fact that each of us has learned stereotypes ingrained in us that may unintentionally affect our behavior. For instance, when meeting a colleague and you discover they’re married, you may assume they’re in a heterosexual relationship. Alternatively, if asked to speak to a software engineer, you may assume they’re male. These are all examples of unconscious bias, and while they may seem innocent and easily corrected, problems can arise when it happens on a regular basis, especially in the workplace.

It can lead to awkward outcomes for both parties within the conversation and it’s our goal here to ensure we mitigate that. I firmly believe that education and information is power.

A quick video to help explain what unconscious bias is

Our onboarding sessions help our newbies not only get an understanding of our culture, but also empowers them to call out bad behavior if they see it, and to have a vested interest in the continual growth and evolution of our corporate culture as we grow as a company.

Workplace entitlements

As a reference point, in 2020, 53% of all Fortune 500 companies have domestic partner benefits and 65% have transgender-inclusive benefits.

At Canva, to celebrate the arrival of a newborn (or adoption) the organization provides 16 weeks of fully paid (and 12 months unpaid) parental leave for primary caregivers and 4 weeks (and 12 months unpaid) for non-primary caregivers; this is provided regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

We also allow employees to take family and medical leave to care for domestic partners as well as the children of a domestic partner, regardless of biological or adoptive status.

In addition, we offer every employee two days of paid compassionate leave for each event that occurs. This is a hard time for any team member and we do whatever we can to offer support and our condolences during this time; family, whatever that unit looks like always comes first.

Finally, given the unlimited flexibility in sick and carers leave during the March-June pandemic period, we are working to continue to provide flexibility to everyone until the end of the calendar year. As such, we are in the middle of finalizing a new policy to provide all employees with five additional days of sick and carers leave a year, with the intention to be more flexible with that quota if our people need it.

Internal events

Personally, I love arranging activities to help drive awareness, evolve our culture and further engrain our inclusive nature into the very DNA of the organization. From events through to movie nights and fireside chats, everyone here at Canva loves an opportunity to hang out, regroup, debrief, relax and destress! We’re quite the social bunch.

To help raise awareness and embed the LGBTQI+ community even more into the everyday at Canva, we have planned a number of training sessions about Sexuality and Gender, providing a safe environment for sometimes taboo topics to be discussed. Key talk topics include:

  • The key concepts and definitions of sex, gender and sexuality
  • The common barriers LGBTQI+ people face at work and accessing services
  • What you can do to support LGBTQI+ people interpersonally and professionally

The first session will be held for our team on July 21 2020 and is open to everyone – members and non-members of the LGBTQI+ community in Canva. We do sessions like these because we strongly believe in empowering others, and being good humans through education.

To celebrate the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in February 2020, our Sydney teams developed a whole week of festivities to really hone in on workplace diversity and continue to improve the workplace for everyone.
Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras began in 1978 with a small group of protestors who wanted to contribute to the international Gay Celebrations, however, it resulted in police violence and arrests that not only led to a defining night in Sydney’s LGBTQI+ community but Australia’s cultural heritage.

Over the months that followed, more protests and arrests took place, and again the actions of the authorities were often cited being incredibly violent, so much so, by 1979 the Parliament of New South Wales was forced to repeal the NSW Summary Offences Act legislation that allowed authorities to use such force. 1979 was the first year up to 3,000 people marched in an incident-free parade and it marked the beginning of the internationally renowned Mardi Gras Parade people know and love today.

This year’s Mardi Gras theme was ‘What Matters’ – which formed the focal point on what matters to us as Canvanauts and how we wish to continue developing our organization to be the best it can be, and the most inclusive it can be.

A sneak peek into how we celebrated Pride Week.


One of the very talented members of our #lgbtq-pride-club baked this masterpiece. It tasted every bit as good as it looked!

Cementing (literally) an authentically inclusive approach

Canva’s office is designed as an open plan inclusive environment complete with gender-inclusive bathrooms.

For businesses considering a new office fit-out or building, having gender-inclusive bathrooms removes uncomfortable situations that can occur, especially for a colleague who is transgender or transitioning. Above all else, we want each of our current and future employees to know they’re accepted, no matter their gender/identity/race/sexuality/background, and that they’re free to be their true selves in the workplace every single day.

WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE OUTSIDE – how are we authentically inclusive to our external audience?

One of the great things about working for a forward-thinking company like Canva is being part of the process to design and contribute to the development of products developed to cater to a truly diverse and inclusive world.

For the LGBTQI+ community, we had the honor of permanently revamping the Pexels algorithm for all relationship-based search keywords to deliver more diversity across genders and sexualities, giving presence to all types of relationships. It focused on inclusivity and prioritizing LGBTQI+ imagery, democratizing all images, not requiring a user to delineate between same sex or other descriptors. Search terms like ‘couple’ or ‘holding hands,’ that typically only return images of heterosexual couples, now yield photos representing all races, genders and identities, increasing visibility and encouraging mainstream use.

We’ve also held several Canva Design School sessions for trans activists from Europe and Asia who are part of the TGEU (Transgender Europe); an organization that envisions Europe, Central Asia and the rest of the world free from discrimination, where each person can live according to their gender identity and gender expression without interference and where trans people are respected and valued. They weren’t going to let COVID-19 stop them from advocating for their community’s rights, so they ran a series of online sessions with one of our very own leading a webinar on the Basics of Graphic Design, to further empower trans activists with a way to amplify their voice.

For Pride month this year, our teams developed a dedicated landing page showcasing 200+ new elements and 60+ new templates to help people express and spread the Pride spirit. As mentioned earlier, due to the current environment, it felt even more pertinent and humbling to be a part of this process – to help creatively enhance the voices of my fellow LGBTQI+ community members as we couldn’t do so in person.


The marketing campaign we developed to promote our new assets was equally as fun. This included an animated Pride clip shared across social media and email marketing which was tailored to each global market and was extremely well received. The below ad in Brazil achieved $0.002 per engagement – which is a phenomenal result.

Insta post

The video encourages users to be self expressive with the new Pride assets available on the Canva platform.


An example of the email marketing efforts sent to our database, featuring the Pride assets available on the Canva platform.

Also to celebrate Pride Month, a ‘magical moment’ was added to the user interface. When our users typed pride, gay, lesbian, trans and other Pride-related words, the top bar of our platform transitioned into rainbow.


This magical moment, an ‘easter egg’ of sorts was created to offer a little extra delight to celebrate Pride month and all that it stands for.

This little magical moment was created to reinforce that Canva is aware and proud of our LGBTQI+ users. We know it’s a small gesture and to most, may go unnoticed, but to us, it was to remind our users that we ‘see you’ here and we’re excited and grateful for having you with us.

Finally, we know there’s a long road ahead of us in the evolution to creating a perfectly inclusive and diverse workplace, and by no means do we have it all figured out – it is a constant work in progress, but above all else we believe these things are worthwhile to strive for. Everyone has a right to belong, everyone has a right to be their true selves, and it’s our goal to authentically advocate for and foster an inclusive environment for the greater good of all.

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Out at work and #proudtobe authentically inclusive was originally published by Canva at Product at Canva on July 20, 2020.

Source: Canva