May is Small Business Month! We can’t wait to share stories from local businesses around our region, and highlight the impact these leaders having on our community. Join us at Open for Business all month long for stories, inspiration, and connections!
We know that regional prosperity for all can’t be achieved without equitably and inclusively creating and celebrating diversity in our community. Join us for an honest conversation below, as we talk with Loki Mills, founder of Gothic Gayiety, an organization that focuses on Foundational Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for local businesses.
Tell us the Gothic Gayiety story! How did your organization come to be and what do you do?
It may surprise people, but Gothic Gayiety started off as an online gothic clothing retail shop in Spring 2022 but I wasn’t able to secure the funding. Potential funding sources wanted to see social equity and I honestly didn’t have the money to secure the inventory without their aid. I hit a low point and ended up chatting with my mentor, Ellen Yin, over the course of a week. She told me to take 3 days and do nothing but focus on what I’ve always done, no matter where I worked or who I worked with.
I did and found I’ve always done what I’ve come to call Foundational Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work. In September 2022, I pivoted and relaunched Gothic Gayiety as a diversity, equity and inclusion business, pulling on my 23 years of experience doing Foundational DEI for both nonprofit and for-profit businesses. For an incredibly brief primer, Foundational DEI is the attention to the “small” things that help employees, customers and volunteers feel seen, heard and validated.
How does your organization approach DEI Training? What is unique about Gothic Gayiety’s approach?
Gothic Gayiety focuses primarily on Foundational Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). This means that we take the “big” topics such as race, gender, LGBTQIA+, privilege, and unconscious bias and we shelve them until the team is stable. We focus on things that build inclusion first. When the focus is on inclusion, diversity and equity naturally follow. Manageable things such as knowing if there are left-handed employees, having left-handed scissors for them and having a step stool that will support up to 300 pounds are part of Foundational DEI.
We sit down with businesses, asking them what they want to focus on: employee/volunteer retention, customer retention, or revenue. Then, we develop a plan tailored to their business and have them track their progress so they can see the results in real time. This is crucial to long term efforts. One retail shop I worked with in the past saw a $30,000 revenue gain in 2 weeks. That gain sustained itself for over 2.5 years, not just spiking for a single month. If there’s no positive changes happening, we re-evaluate. It’s a collaborative effort because the owners and managers are the experts in their business, not us. We’re the Foundational DEI experts.
Chambers of Commerce are all about pulling together the business community to support a strong local economy. You’ve mentioned your work with the Eugene Chamber Greeters. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and how it’s helped your business?
I love the time I’ve spent with the Eugene Chamber Greeters! My role, at first, was purely to attend the Greeters meetings on Friday mornings, either in person or via Zoom. The Zoom meetings make things far more accessible, not only for myself but for others in the community as well. I’ve seen people grow during the months I’ve been there, often making changes of their own accord like asking for permission for hugs.
The amount of support and encouragement that I’ve received from the community there continues to uplift and surprise me. I’ve had people whom I’ve never met reach out to Gothic Gayiety, asking for my input on topics and challenges they’re facing. Making that call can be terrifying. Even if they feel like nothing changes during the first call, I stress that they’re already making an effort. Sustainable change does not happen overnight.
Pride Month and Juneteenth are just around the corner! What are some ways local businesses can get involved to recognize these important days?
To be completely honest, the best ways local businesses can support the communities are to do things all year long. I know it’s not what many may want to hear, but there’s a term in the LGBTQIA+ Community called “Rainbow Capitalism”. It basically means that businesses don’t care about the LGBTQIA+ Community unless it’s June when they can make money off the Pride merch. It leaves a lot of resentment and bitterness when the companies don’t continue during the rest of the year, resulting in lost revenue long term.
I want to be completely clear: whatever the business chooses to do does not have to be huge.
Reach out to local groups who are experts in those fields. Ask what they want to have happen and let them take the lead. Having something displaying African American people of note, like Valerie Thomas (inventor) and Octavia Butler (author) can help lift the communities and increase visibility. Even a “Person of Note” paragraph or two in a newsletter is something year round.
For the LGBTQIA+ Community, the biggest thing I want businesses to realize is how truly life-saving it is to know what businesses are safe to shop at. We gossip like old church ladies! Once we know a business is safe, we throw our money at it! Support doesn’t have to be all rainbows and glitter. We know glitter gets everywhere! Instead, color coded displays that mimic the flags can help and utilize things the business already has. For example, the bisexual flag is deep blue, purple and a dark pink. That would be super easy for a business to make a display from during any time of year.