In Q1 2017, I had the honor of attending the Texas Diversity Council’s Inaugural Gulf Coast LGBTA Diversity Summit on behalf of Capgemini. This was a half day conference devoted to all things LGBT.
There was a wonderful opening keynote by Kara Boling, Senior VP and COO at VALIC (AIG). Kara is also the executive sponsor for AIG’s Houston chapter of the LGBT and Allies Employee Resource Group (ERG). She shared a powerful quote about her personal journey to growth and authenticity in the D&I space: “If I’m not growing then I’m not living.” With that sentiment, she challenges each of us to constantly shift paradigms and engage with people who have different experiences.
Most of the Summit centered around a panel discussion on “Best Practices for Driving LGBT Initiatives.” There was an “The ABCs of LGBT” breakout session and the closing keynote was delivered by former Houston Mayor, Annise Parker.
Panel Discussion: Best Practices for Driving LGBT Initiatives
The panel focused on being an advocate, transgender issues, and challenges facing the LGBT community. I will give you a few highlights from each sections.
Being an Advocate
There is a spectrum of advocacy and we should help people to advance from passive to active advocates in the workplace. This means that any one at any level can get involved by educating themselves and others, participating in initiatives, and sharing their story. (No big fancy VP title necessary) It is often difficult to promote a cause that you do not fully understand so educating yourself is vital!
Transgender employees often face unusual challenges. In many jurisdictions they lack the legal protections most of us have. We can temporarily address this problem with our own inclusive policies and behaviors. The experience of every transgender is unique and leadership can make a transition successful by being supportive and tailoring the process to how the employee wants to approach it.
Challenges Facing the LGBT Community
Not-So-Fun Fact 1: Only 55% of all Americans live in a state with LGBT employment protections on the books, and depending on where the majority of employees are located that number per company can drop below 20%.
Not-so-Fun Fact #2: Anti-LGBT legislation is on the rise in legislatures across the nation, including Texas Senate Bill 6 which is very similar to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 that made national headlines in 2016
Making a difference in your organization and community can be a challenge but education allies and garnering their support will make you more effective. Thankfully organizations offer web resources to educate allies: 10 Ways to Be an Ally or HRC Allies Resources. Getting support from senior leadership can also be a challenge but focusing on ROI can quantitatively show the gains that diversity and inclusion provide to the business. Be sure to consider local cultural and legal barriers in foreign countries when attempting to spread initiatives globally.
The ABCs of LGBT
This breakout session was informative as it addressed the alphabet soup that is used to describe the LGBT community and some faux pas to avoid. OUTfront hopes to host a virtual training that covers this same material later in 2017 so be on the lookout for that!
Lunch Keynote with Annise Parker
Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker focused on the distinction between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ during her lunch keynote. An interesting statement she shared was, “You can’t make assumptions about what people think, or how people feel, or how people will react to you.” This was important to me because I know I am guilty of assuming what people’s reaction will be to certain situations and I am definitely not always correct. Parker said that diversity is a step to a goal and not the entire goal. What we are really trying to accomplish is inclusion. She used the following analogy to illustrate that point, “Diversity is making sure that everyone gets invited to the ball. Inclusion is making sure that everyone has a partner that doesn’t look like them, talk like them, or think like them. True acceptance is making sure that your partner takes you home at the end of the night.”
My Challenge to You!
If you are like me then you see the diversity that we have at Capgemini all the time. There are different genders, races, nationality, religions, sexual orientation, veteran status, etc. Yet we still tend to be pretty homogenous when it comes to who we talk to and share a table with at big events. We can reduce this by breaking barriers and getting involved with ERGs that we may not necessarily directly identify with. That is what they are there for! I challenge each and every one of you to try a new ERG in 2017 and actively work to be a more inclusive individual!
This article was contributed by Dmitri LaCour, a Senior Data Analytics consultant at Capgemini based in Dallas, TX. He is the Dallas lead for Capgemini’s LGBT ERG, OUTfront. He has two dogs and enjoys spending his spare time exploring the outside with them.