Out & Equal 2011

I didn’t want this blog to turn into a “Mike’s illness” blog, so I figure I’d post the trip report I had sent to my management from this year’s Out & Equal 2011 Workplace Summit.  The trip report is below this video album I created (a very talented member of the Merck Rainbow Alliance took the photos) featuring some of my fellow attendees from the MRA, plenary speakers and one or two from Eli Lilly (mostly because they had Merck alumnus, Kar-Chan “Casey” Choong) are included as well.  If you want to find out more about employee diversity at Merck, check out this link.



Out & Equal 2011 Trip Report
October 24-28, 2011

From October 24, 2011-October 28, 2011 I attended the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Dallas, TX at the Hilton Anatole.  There were over 2,600 attendees representing the majority of the Fortune 100 companies.  Merck had its largest representation yet with 23 members, including two from the sales force and one from TeleRX.  While there, I attended several workshops such as, “Coming out in Faith:  Four generations’ Experiences”, “The Impact of Healthcare Reform On The LGBT Community”, “Who is LGBT? and how do we measure the closet?”, “LGBT Support in the fight against HIV/AIDS”, “Identifying, building and developing an LGBT pipeline of rising stars” and “Understanding the New Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Coming to the Internet, Including .Gay.”  This year, our executive sponsor, Mike Thien (SVP Global Science) attended the last two days of the conference.

On October 25th, the opening plenary featured Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy who discussed President Obama’s policy advances for not only the LGBTQ community, but for those with disabilities.  After Ms. Martinez, Sander van’t Noordende who is the Group Chief Executive of Accenture spoke about coming out at work.  One takeaway from his speech is to find a mentor to connect with, take a risk at least once a week, but go at your own pace.  He also reminded everyone that diversity and equality go together.  Next Andy Cohen who does the programming at Bravo TV discussed the growing number of characters who are LGBTQ as well as the many actors who are comfortable with whom they are.  Andy then interviewed Candis Cayne, one of the first transgender actors to come out and discuss her transition.  She then sang I Am A Woman (I recorded a small snippet found at http://youtu.be/Q-bA_NCpLKg).  I then attended a workshop, “Coming out in Faith:  Four generations’ Experiences” conducted by Dr. Susan Gore.  The workshop examined how different generations dealt with coming out as LGBTQ or as an Ally.  Participants from the four generations (Baby Boomer, Generation X, Generation Y and Millennial) discussed their experience.  Dr. Gore also discussed the “movable middle” which may initially be against the idea of equality and rights for LGBTQ until better educated on the issue.  The next seminar I attended was, “The Impact of Healthcare Reform On The LGBT Community.”  This seminar basically reviewed the national healthcare plan and briefly discussed that it is still legal in twenty-nine states to fire someone because of their sexual orientation.  They also mentioned that due to a reluctance to answer research questions about same-sex sexual behavior, it is hard to get an understanding of the health needs of the LGBTQ population.  That evening Merck, Pfizer, Genentech and Bristol-Meyers Squibb sponsored a well-attended pharmaceutical networking event at the Radisson.  This event allowed for a cross-pollination of how the different pharmaceuticals operate their ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) in an informal setting.

October 26th, the plenary featured Rick Welts, who is the president of the Golden State Warriors.  Rick discussed what it was like to come out in a field that is generally hostile to those who are LGBTQ.  He explained that he was very surprised at the positive response he got from his co-workers before the story broke in the New York Times.  After Rick’s speech, actress Meredith Baxter (from “Family Ties”) spoke.  She discussed what it was like to come out on national television on the Today Show.  After the plenary I attended two seminars.  The first, entitled, “Who is LGBT? And how do we measure the closet?”  This was a panel discussion featuring Masen Davis from the Transgender Law Center, Gary Gates who is a Williams Distinguished Scholar and Brian McNaught who is an author and corporate diversity trainer focusing on LGBTQ issues.  The panel discussed that we will never really know the true percentage of LGBTQ people because there are a lot of places such as Iran who would never feel comfortable coming forth to tell.  Based on surveys and other research, the general consensus is that between 5-10% of the population is LGBTQ, however, the average American thinks that 25% of the population is LGBTQ.  The estimated population is somewhere between 9-26 million Americans.  Age eleven is the mean age of recognition for sexual orientation awareness.  Orientation, behavior, and identity are the three components of sexuality.  Homosexuality exists in every species of mammal.  The panel then proceeded to go over a lot of other statistics based on surveys and research.  I then attended, “LGBT Support in the fight against HIV/AIDS” which was conducted by four people in which two of them were from Merck (Mike Perillo, HR Leader, Finance and Kevin Fannin, Manager, Portfolio Management MRL).  The panel discussed the “four pillars” which are perspective, power, purpose, and people.  This was an interactive workshop in which statements were put up on the walls and you picked one and explained how the four pillars affected you.  The one I picked had to do with that HIV/AIDS was no longer a concern since it’s not in the news.  With my recent diagnosis, I explained how my perspective has changed as recently as a few weeks ago.  This workshop was probably the one I got the most out of and led me to post a very personal entry on my personal blog and Facebook (using the pillar of audience “power”), which can be classified under the “purpose and people” pillars in the hopes that it changes the perspective of others (you can find the posting at http://starthan.net/blog/index.php/2011/10/28/how-we-have-progressed/).  I wrote this post while still at Out & Equal.

October 27th began with our seminar sessions.  The first seminar I attended was, “Identifying, building and developing an LGBT pipeline of rising stars” which discussed recruiting diverse employees into your organization.  One point made is that you want to have a social environment to attract members, but it has to be a good mix, not just centered on bars and drinking.  You should have family friendly events so that you can have more inclusive events.  Another suggestion was that coming out day could also be about coming out as an ally. One thing that can be done is passing out cards in coffee rooms and break rooms about coming out as an ally.  With support and sustainability, you have to understand the culture and needs of the individual, business and ERGs. Rewards should be optimized in all of their forms.  Another thing to keep in mind is that not everyone is out in every circumstance.  You may be out at work, but not necessarily with a client.  The final seminar I attended was, “Understanding the New Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Coming to the Internet, Including .Gay.”  The discussion focused on the many new TLDs that are being created (an example of a TLD is .com or .edu) and .gay is in the review process by ICANN.  There are approximately 300-500 new TLDs coming in the next few months.  The company who will own the .gay domain, is a for-profit company, however, 67% of the profits will go back to the GLBT community.  One of the hurdles in getting the domain is religious groups objecting.  As part of the “objection” process, there is a fee of $15,000 for both the objector and the defendant.  There will be clear guidelines as far as who can use the .gay domain.  For example, anti-gay groups will not be allowed to use it nor will adult sites.  The idea behind the domain is to give the community a unified voice on the internet.  Large corporations would also benefit from the domain because they can use it for targeted web sites and marketing that would be focused on the community (think crixivan.merck.gay), which can allow for more accurate metrics for the products or message that they are trying to convey.  The domains themselves would be inexpensive at $100 a year.  The afternoon plenary featured the outgoing chairman of JC Penney who discussed the importance of diversity within his organization.  Following him, Donna Brazille, who is one of the leaders of the Democratic party, spoke on how things have changed but how you need to continue to defend those changes since there are those who wish to turn back the clock on change.  On the evening of the 27th was the gala awards dinner.  It started off with a fashion show from JC Penney.  The dinner’s Master of Ceremonies was comedienne Kate Clinton.  Among the speakers that evening was Wes Bush, the CEO of Northrop Grumman and Ft. Worth City Councilman, Joel Burns.  Prior to dinner, a highlight video, which featured some Merck people, was played on the big convention monitors (video can be found at the following link and I can be found at 0:19 and 0:22–http://youtu.be/OcwADtdeffQ).  Following dinner, comedienne Margaret Cho performed as did actor Wilson Cruz.

Our final day in Dallas, October 28th featured a morning MRA meeting on the 27th floor of the Hilton.  In attendance was Mike Thien, our executive sponsor.  Topics discussed were our “It Gets Better” video, how the Steering Committee can better engage its membership and how our executive sponsor can be a better liaison between the ERG and the company as well as be a voice in the business justification of the MRA.

Like last year, I found the convention to be both educational and enlightening.  What I enjoyed the most was talking to individuals from other companies and getting their viewpoints and how their ERGs operate.  Since this year I was fortunate to meet some individuals from our sales force, it allowed me to further develop a greater non-IT network of Merck people, plus catch up with people whom I may have not spoken to in over a year.

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