In the nation’s capital this week as Congress votes on ENDA (Employment Non-discrimination Act), over 2,000 people gathered for the 7th annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit. With sponsors such as CitiBank, Johnson & Johnson, Ernst & Young, Merck, IBM and Northrop Grumman, one has to weigh the rhetoric against the reality.
In reality, many of the attendees were leaders of LGBT professional networks or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) within the companies they worked for. And their presence here highlights their employers’ need to create the impression of inclusiveness. One young man poignantly spoke about his personal experience working at State Farm Insurance—”the number one insurance company of gays and lesbians”—commenting that they still do not offer domestic partnership benefits.
Others promoted more slick public relations, such as Ted Childs former IBM VP, who rattled off a chronology of Big Blues’ groundbreaking policies—from recruiting women and minorities to establishing an LGBT presence in the workplace, all reflecting the company’s aggressiveness in the marketplace. The fledgling LGBT coalition from Campbell’s, a group of approximately 20 members since it was inaugurated two months ago, spoke fondly about redefining the concept of family for the company—the icon of family brands.
Robust dialogues ensued. Seminars and workshops focused on achieving workplace equality though mentoring, developing allies, leveraging Gen Y, being Gay and Gray and building successful LGBT diversity initiatives. Speakers such as Susan Stanton (former city manager for Largo Fla. until she was fired for being transgendered) shared personal experiences, as did performer Toshi Reagon performing with her mother and musical partner Bernice Johnson Reagon (Sweet Honey and the Rock).
Other performers included The Capital Steps, a group of political satirists, The Daksina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company and Kate Clinton who served as MC for the awards dinner.
This was a highly rewarding learning and action-taking
environment despite minimal LBT presence (in descending order). The conference reiterated the obvious, asking “how many of us in the LBT community are actually on the executive level of major corporations?”
As of Sunday’s closing plenary session, it appears that the ENDA compromise excludes the T of LGBT, an action that Out & Equal does not endorse.