June is Pride Month. For the second year in a row, Gresham Smith is a VIP sponsor of the annual Nashville Pride Festival & Parade. The firm is also a sponsor of Atlanta Pride for the first time this year. Just as our sponsorship has grown, so has our LGBTQ+ Alliance Employee Resource Network (ERN). To help celebrate Pride Month, we sat down with Alicia Fligg, co-chair of Gresham Smith’s LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN, to learn more about the group, how Gresham Smith supports their efforts, and what it means to be a part of Pride.
Gresham Smith’s LGBTQ+ Alliance Employee Resource Network was recently honored by the Tennessee Pride Chamber with the 2023 Business Resource Group of the Year award at the organization’s 10th Annual Pride in Business Awards. What does this recognition mean to you personally, and what does it mean for Gresham Smith?
Alicia Fligg: The Tennessee Pride Chamber is doing some amazing work to advance and support the LGBTQ+ business community here in Tennessee. To me, this recognition really solidified the work that my co-chair, Brandon Salas, and I are doing as leaders, and it showed us that we are making a difference, especially as the award stems from a public vote. It was an acknowledgment that our actions, initiatives and commitment as an Employee Resource Network are seen and appreciated.
I also think it reflects positively on Gresham Smith, as a company, from an external standpoint—in that we are being seen and are able to be seen in the community as our whole selves. And not just within the architecture/engineering [A/E] community, but across a very diverse community in general.
“It reflects positively on Gresham Smith, as a company, from an external standpoint—in that we are being seen and are able to be seen in the community as our whole selves.”
Tell us about the inception of the firm’s LGBTQ+ Alliance Resource Network
Alicia: The LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN is one of Gresham Smith’s original Employee Resource Networks that were founded in 2020. Our other ERNs were IMAGE [Inclusive Multiculturalism for Advancement, Growth and Equity]; Women’s; and Parent/Caregiver. The overarching goal for all of the ERNs is to support and promote the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging of our employees. It speaks volumes to me that, when Gresham Smith decided to put together our ERNs, the LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN was included right off the bat.
Brandon and I were among the first to join, and I’m tremendously proud of how far we’ve come since those early days. For example, our membership has grown in leaps and bounds from 20 employees when we first founded the group to 90 employees at last count. And, that number not only represents members of the LGBTQ+ community, but also allies like myself.
I’m also proud that we’re continuing to engage new people, and that we’re always coming up with new ideas of how to bring people to the table to have these harder conversations in a safe space. We wouldn’t be able to achieve any of that if we didn’t have Gresham Smith supporting us and giving us the time and budget to create a space for education and empowerment.
In what ways does Gresham Smith support the LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN?
Alicia: The firm shows its support in many ways, including their 100% contribution to our budget. Where some companies have their employees pay membership dues to join an ERN group, there is zero burden associated with being a member of an Employee Resource Network at Gresham Smith. And, it’s something they have chosen to do. Another key way Gresham Smith is showing support is through our VIP sponsorship of the Nashville Pride Festival & Parade, and I am proud that we were the first architecture/engineering firm to sponsor the event.
What does the firm’s support mean to the LGBTQ+ ERN?
Alicia: It means everything. With Nashville Pride, for example, the firm’s VIP sponsorship shows the LGBTQ+ community and the Nashville community that Gresham Smith stands with us. When you enter the festival, you see our name on the jumbotron and the banners, and on all of the signage at our booth and in the parade. And we’re making all-important connections within the community through that support.
Seeing our employer’s name big and bold and bright tells us that you are welcome and that you belong here. It allows us to proudly say: This is us, knowing we have the firm’s wholehearted support. Conversely, an LGBTQ+ person or ally who works at another firm may not get to experience that same support, and I can’t help but wonder how that makes them feel.
What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Nashville Pride?
Alicia: As an ally, I look forward to seeing members of the LGBTQ+ community being their true, authentic selves. And you can see that through their self-expression—through their clothes, their makeup, their energy. It’s a beautiful thing to support. And by Gresham Smith stepping up as a VIP sponsor, they’re showing their employees that they can do just that.
It’s so important to have LGBTQ+ representation in engineering, architecture and interior design. And it’s crucial to recognize that not every A/E firm is willing to walk the walk like Gresham Smith. Because there are still barriers that limit our voice in this industry and beyond, our hope is that when we talk about A/E representation at festivals like Nashville Pride, other folks will think: “If Gresham Smith can do it, then we can do it, too.”
What other community-focused activities does the LGBTQ+ ERN have on the immediate horizon?
Alicia: This year, our ERN is looking to expand our impact in our local communities. We’ve been working in partnership with the community engagement leaders at our Nashville, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Richmond, Dallas, Louisville and Charlotte offices to find volunteer opportunities that our staff can participate in. Some of the charitable organizations we’ll be donating our time to include the Oasis Center in Nashville, Lost-N-Found Youth in Atlanta, the JASMYN organization in Jacksonville, Richmond’s Marsha & Marian’s Neighbors, Louisville’s Sweet Evening Breeze, Charlotte’s “The Relatives” On Ramp Resource Center, and Dallas Hope Center.
The activities we’ll be participating in range from collecting clothes, food and household items for the various organizations to making bagged lunches for the Oasis Center’s summer camp program. We’re also excited that we are sponsoring Atlanta Pride for the first time, as I mentioned before, which takes place in October to coincide with LGBT History Month.
Why did you become an LGBTQ+ ally, what does it mean to you, and what would you say to someone who’s considering becoming an ally to that community?
Alicia: I have quite a few friends who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and it was simply a matter of wanting to support them. Earlier this year, while I was at Brandi Carlile’s “Girls Just Wanna Weekend” concert event in Mexico, I heard a story about an older lesbian couple that really hit home when I think about some of the trials the LGBTQ+ community faces. The couple were able to hold hands for the first time ever in public at the event because they had never felt safe enough or secure enough to do that anywhere else in the world. Their story serves as a reminder of my privilege as an ally and the fact that I don’t have to go through those struggles at a concert, in the workplace or when I go to the store.
“Part of what draws me to my passion for being an ally is that I have the ability to do so much. Being an ally requires action; it’s not a passive position.”
Part of what draws me to my passion for being an ally is that I have the ability to do so much. Being an ally requires action; it’s not a passive position. I want to do my part in educating people, creating safe spaces to learn and have uncomfortable conversations, opening opportunities for people to change hearts and minds—and always learning and growing myself. I also want to tell their stories, and I want to uplift my LGBTQ+ friends and family and show them that I’m there for them.
I’d tell anybody who’s considering becoming an ally—and not just an LGBTQ+ ally, but an ally to any group that finds itself marginalized—that it only takes one person to make a difference. It doesn’t take an army. Every little thing you do for your friends or for your small, local community truly counts. If we all do a little bit, those small, but meaningful, actions have a ripple effect that eventually adds up to a lot. And that’s when really big changes can happen.