Out & Equal 2012 Trip Report

October 29-November 2, 2012

    From October 29-November 2 I attended the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Baltimore, Maryland at the Baltimore convention center. Despite hurricane Sandy the summit proceeded with a modified schedule. Approximately 2,000 people were able to attend under these circumstances.

    On October 29th I attended Merck Safe Space “train the trainer” training conducted by Reese Levine. The training covered the history of the Merck Safe Space program and what it is about as well as how to provide training and education on Merck’s Safe Space program to other organizations within Merck.

    Day 1 of the Summit on October 30th was modified due to the weather. We had an opening plenary lunch. The keynote speaker of that day was Harry van Dorenmalen who is the Chairman of IBM Europe. The main point in his speech is that every moment is a moment to speak out for equality and said that we should consider that “good policy isn’t just paying lip service; culture is something you do when no one is looking.” After the plenary in lieu of the regularly scheduled workshops they had moderated discussions. I attended an Employee Resource Group (ERG) discussion that discussed the strengths and weaknesses of individual ERGs at various companies. With the MRA one of our strengths is community engagement (AIDS Walk, Garden State Equality, etc.) where one of our opportunities for improvement is in the area of membership engagement.

    Wednesday’s first workshop was entitled, “A Rainbow of Generations: Career Strategies for Different GLBT Generations.” The workshop focused on overcoming the differences between generations and the typical stereotype each generation (baby boomer, generation x, generation y, millennial). The panel of speakers was from Dow Chemical and Ernst & Young. The speakers first covered the topics of how the different generations work. The “older” generations (baby boomer, x) usually pick up the phone while the “younger” generations use texting, e-mail and IM, even if the person they were conversing with is sitting right next to them. Additionally, the younger generation does not understand the value of meetings and further explanation or discussion may need to take place to understand the point of the meeting. Additionally they sometimes fail to understand what should and should not be shared outside of their company. The panel then covered what expectations of the employer about an employee’s sexual orientation. With the baby boomers and generation X, there is a fear of a negative impact on your career. With the younger generations it was never thought of so drastically. The panel then explained that you typically have a lower employee turnover rate in more inclusive companies.

The Wednesday lunch plenary featured an interview of Beth Brooke, who is the Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young by Cris Crespo, who is the Director of Inclusiveness at Ernst & Young. Beth has been on the Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list for the past five years. She discussed how coming out has had no impact on her career or being on the list. Ben Jealous, president/CEO of the NAACP spoke about equality for the GLBT community. He discussed that all communities seeking equality must work together to achieve our goal of equal rights, regardless of gender, orientation, ethnicity or race.

After the plenary, I attended a workshop titled, “From Basement To Boardroom: The Evolution of a Fortune 100 ERG.” This workshop focused on how MassMutual created their ERG and how they tie it to the business. Every year they develop metrics to measure their performance based on enrollment, community involvement and employee participation. One thing that they do is develop an annual report that is similar to a typical annual report you would get from a company where you own stock. They also develop a business plan in which a formal document is created in conjunction with their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) office.

    On Thursday, the first workshop I went to was entitled, “Intersections of Ability, Orientation and Identity.” Nadine Vogel, Brian McNaught, Cris Crespo and Merck’s Chief Diversity Officer, Deb Dagit, conducted this panel discussion.

Figure 1: Nadine Vogel, Brian McNaught, Cris Crespo and Merck’s Deb Dagit

The panel members first discussed their backgrounds. Nadine Vogel has an “invisible disability” in that she has a foot deformity that has on two occasions confined her to a wheelchair. In Deb’s case, she had a cousin who came out as gay and was thrown out of the house. He later died from AIDS at age 29 before it was a treatable disease. Also as part of Deb’s background she explained that she did not adopt in the US because there have been a lot of instances where the adoptive parents took the kids back because they didn’t want them raised by people with disabilities. Deb adopted her three kids from Russia but the issues persisted there as well where the parents spit on Deb and her husband. The judge asked Deb and her husband why they wanted to adopt “freaks” (the children are differently abled). They explained that awareness training at an early age is important to educate people to not use terms such as “that’s retarded” or “that’s so gay” and likewise any other words that would seem insensitive to those with disabilities because there can be those with hidden disabilities. People with disabilities may have a lot of legal protections but there is still a stigma when it comes to social circles. People are ok with a GLBT friend but may not feel comfortable with someone with a disability. The GLBT community needs to share their experience with pride with the differently abled community so that they can gain the same level of acceptance.

The final workshop I attended was titled, “International Corporations: The Invisible Benefits for GLBT Employees.” Maryland has some employer protections for GLBT employees, while VA doesn’t. GLBT rights can vary depending on location, even when locations are very close to one another. For example, DC has marriage equality, MD may depending on voter approval and in VA does not. In VA same-sex marriage and civil unions are both unconstitutional. DC & MD has discrimination laws covering sexual orientation. VA does not, which is why it is important for corporations to have policies covering sexual orientation discrimination. In 2012, 190 businesses achieved a top score of 100 percent on the HRC index. There are two types of benefits: visible and invisible. A visible benefit would be something like healthcare. Invisible benefits: professional networking, relocation, community, social networking, adoption assistance, etc. HRC’s Corporate Equality Index shows that 69% of employers polled have benefit parity. International companies often allow for employees to voluntarily transfer internationally between offices–Individual employees seeking larger GLBT communities for example. Israel recognizes gay marriage and is one country where people in a civil union/marriage can go to if they need to relocate. This is key for bi-national same-sex couples where one has a US visa with an expiration date. Relocation benefits: Many companies support employee relocation by assisting opposite-sex and same-sex couples and their families during the transfer period. This includes visa and work permit assistance for employees and dependent family, relocation expense and reimbursement as well as buying/selling a home.

The summit concluded with a gala dinner. The dinner, as has in the past, had comedian Kate Clinton as the Master of Ceremonies. The keynote speaker was Brigadier General Dr. Tammy Smith, who is the highest-ranking openly gay member of the U.S. military.

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