Out & Equal 2013 Trip Report

October 27-November 1 Minneapolis, MN (Workshops October 29-October 31)

I attended the Out & Equal Workplace Advocates Summit which took place at the Minneapolis convention center in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the week of October 27th, 2013.  Approximately 2,000 people from 41 states and 27 countries attended.  I was one of 15 people from the Merck Rainbow Alliance Employee Business Resource Group (EBRG) to attend.

On October 28th the MRA had its opening dinner at the Skywater Restaurant.  Members of the MRA which came from all divisions of the corporation, including field sales introduced themselves and explained what their job is with the company.  For the first time we had representatives from Corporate Recruiting who participated in staffing the booth we had in the exposition hall.

On October 29th, the summit opened with the first plenary.  First to speak was Selisse Berry, the founder and CEO of the Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.  Her remarks focused on encouraging equality in the workplace for LGBT employees in all companies as well as passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  Following her remarks, Robert Hanson, the CEO of American Eagle Outfitters discussed his coming out experience both personally and professionally.  The third speaker at the plenary was Janet Mock, the editor-in-chief of the online version of People Magazine.  She discussed what it was like to be a transgender person in the corporate world.  The plenary’s entertainment was from Steve Grand who performed his hit, “All American Boy.”

After the plenary I attended a screening of “Out of The Shadows,” a documentary produced in 1970 by KNBC.  The workshop was sponsored by NBC Universal corporate parent, Comcast.  The workshop started with a brief video about being gay at Comcast/NBC Universal.  The video highlighted some of the shows and movies with LGBT themes as well as other groundbreaking shows featuring diversity (e.g. Nat King Cole special in the 1960s).  It also highlighted shows from Friends, The Office, etc. that had firsts when it came to portraying aspects of LGBT life (e.g. “Friends” was the first program to show a same-sex wedding).  It also showed members from NBC Universal and Comcast’s EBRGs, Out@Comcast and Out@NBCUniversal.  The panel explained that NBC Universal was the first major media company to provide domestic partner benefits and Employment non-discrimination in 1992.  They then showed a trailer for their upcoming movie, “Dallas Buyers Club” starring Matthew McConaughey which is about an HIV+ individual who smuggled non-FDA approved drugs in to the US to help people with HIV/AIDS (based on a true story).  The one hour documentary examined the gay subculture in 1970’s Los Angeles.  Topics included gay marriage (as a farce of hetero marriage).  It contained profiles of both male and female same-sex couples in committed relationships.  The documentary covered the many gay bars that existed at the time in Los Angeles and how LA was the “capitol” of the gay community.  Regarding the transgender community it explained how the laws were changed in the early 70’s to allow men to dress as women provided that no other laws were broken.  The discussion afterwards focused on the difference in attitudes of the 1970’s, the inaccuracies and some of the prejudices that existed in the documentary.

The second workshop I attended was part of a global series sponsored by the presenting sponsors (IBM, Disney and Thomson Reuters).  The workshop was called, “Virtual ERGs–Connect Your Global Membership Using Social Media.”  The session started with a video of employees from Thomson Reuters discussing what being part of their EBRG (called Pride At Work) means to them.  The panel consisted of members of the organization from around the world.  One member is the Intranet lead whose role is to make sure members are using all of the IT tools to engage the membership worldwide.  They explained the evolution of their corporate portal and the missteps they made along the way.  The Corporate portal started with a site called “The Link” in which Pride At Work was a sub-site.  The portal was a link farm, similar to MyMerck.  It was very hard to find content and the search was too broad.  It was also very difficult to add content to the site.  The ability to update content was restricted to a small number of people and information was outdated quickly.  Also the information tended to be very specific to region of the editors who created the content.  To address some of these issues a newsletter was created alongside “The Link.”  The newsletter improved discoverability but everyone was a publisher and lead to information overload and people didn’t read it.  To address these issues, like Merck, Yammer was used.   The problem with Yammer is it is text based and has limited features.  An additional concern with Yammer is concern over control of the content and off-loading it to someone else’s server.   The replacement to all of this was something called “The Hub.”  With “The Hub” you have a group (similar to a Team Space).  The Hub consists of blog posts from various members.  Anyone can post stories to the site.  Readers can “like” the posts similar to Facebook as well as add comments, similar to Merck’s communities.  Posting comments lets you tag other individuals, similar like you can do in Facebook comments.  The technology allows you to share photos and videos.  You can create streams to follow different groups in The Hub.  New features planned for The Hub–push notifications and something called “gamification.”  Gamification is rewarding people for participation with things like badges for a person’s profile (similar to Foursquare).  Winning a badge could be for getting a lot of likes for a post or for participation.  People can even earn badges for being members of EBRGs.  If a thread gets a lot of hits on a sub-part of the hub, it gets auto-promoted to the home page of the corporate portal.  This allows for awareness of the EBRG and the topics and permits greater employee engagement and membership in the EBRG.  As a result of these “engagement enablers,” the content was updated daily and their group has seen year over year membership growth of 23%.  The Hub platform is powered by a system called Jive and the team is around 5 people.  The Intranet team is part of Corporate Communications.

October 30th’s session began with a workshop titled, “Executive Sponsors – Use ’em or Lose ’em.”  The panel consisted of the executive sponsor and chair/president of the LGBT EBRG from Ernst & Young, PepsiCo, Raytheon, and Thomson Reuters as well as a moderator.  The format was that the moderator would ask questions of both the sponsor as well as the EBRG head.  The first question was how did you become the executive sponsor?  In all instances it was a voluntary position, except with E&Y they went through a formal interview process.  Other questions asked were, what your job is for the ERG? What is the most useful strategy in leveraging your sponsors? What are the unique challenges sponsoring a LGBT organization? What is the most rewarding aspect?  The answers to these questions from the respective organizations can be provided if requested.

Following this workshop, we had our plenary power lunch, sponsored by Disney.  It opened with Selisse Berry discussing how we can be married in 14 states, but we can still be fired in 29 states, simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  After Selisse, the mayor of Minneapolis, RT Rybak gave same opening remarks.  The first keynote speaker of the session was Elaine Kaplan who is the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management for the US Government (a Presidential appointment).  After her, was television personality Tabitha Coffey, host of “Tabitha Takes Over” on Bravo who discussed her show as well as her coming out experience which she expected to be easy due to being surrounded by LGBT people growing up but was shocked and surprised by her mother’s reaction when told.

After the plenary I attended, “Getting It Done – Microsoft GLEAM At 20 Years.”  The presenter was Brian Murphy from the Windows Research Group.  His role within Microsoft’s LGBT group, GLEAM, is focused on policy.  He gave a brief history of GLEAM.  In 1993 it became part of Microsoft’s “diversity infrastructure.”  He then discussed the strategy used for a successful EBRG:
Focus on outcomes:  MSFT typically got caught up on the process of implementation without focusing on the end result.  An example of this was implementing benefits for transgender employees.
Be appropriately provocative:  What are the limits of advocacy for change.  Avoid the breaking point where you end up hurting your case.
Sidebar feelings:  Keep emotion out of the discussion.  Focus on the facts when making the case for change.
Don’t get attached:  To an argument, to a strategy, or even to being the driver on an issue.  If you are the person advocating the change but can’t get it to the final step to the finish line, you need to let go and let others complete the accomplishment.
Starting Small is still starting:  Accept less than you hoped since it is at least a beginning.
Bring others along:  What’s good for us is good for others.  Be principled and it will happen naturally.

There were also many lessons learned over the 20 years that the EBRG has been in existence.  There’s no single right answer.  Build organizational intelligence–understand how your organization is structured and how that helps or hurts you in achieving the outcomes you want.  Competitors are allies (e.g. Google)–other organizations in your industry are your best tools to drive change in your organization.  Use disruptive change–opportunities come with disruption, so be ready to use it to your advantage.  It doesn’t stop with success–getting a policy or benefit change is just the beginning.  Once implemented you have to look at the results and course correct where necessary.  Change can be a long game–anything worthwhile takes time so get comfortable, you could be doing this a while; focus on the war, not the battle.

October 31st began with a workshop that was very important to me called “Breaking Down Barriers – Creating A Thriving Workplace For Employees With HIV.”  The panel consisted of Bonnie Rossow (Minnesota AIDS Project), Sarah Fryberger (Project for Pride In Living) and Robert Menk, who is a volunteer HIV educator.  The workshop discussed some key facts regarding HIV.  According to the Center For Disease Control, 20% of the people with HIV do not know that they have it.  HIV can only be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.  It cannot be transmitted from saliva or casual contact with the above fluids if they are outside of the body.  HIV dies outside of the body within two minutes.  The three most common ways of getting infected are sharing needles (syringe type only), unprotected sex, and mother-to-child transmission.  With mother-to-child there is only a 25% chance of transmission.  It is a less than 1% chance of transmission if the mother is taking treatment.  The presentation continued with a series of quiz questions.  Such as, “true or false:  People with HIV can live long and productive lives.”  This of course is true, studies show that if someone is on medication, they have a life span of 40 years after infection.  Being adherent to HIV medications can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others, provided that they are 95% adherent to their treatment (1-2 missed doses per month).  When someone is adherent, they are 96% less likely to transmit the virus to another person.  There are two medications that can prevent HIV infection.  Truvada is one of them and is part of Pre Exposure Prophylaxis.  The other is called Post Exposure Prophylaxis which contains a one month HIV treatment regimen.  This information was presented by Rossow and Fryberger.  The discussion concluded with Robert Menk’s story in which there are a couple of parallels to my own.  Like myself, his career is in Information Technology (as a project manager).  He was diagnosed in October 2011 (I was diagnosed one month earlier). Robert may have been infected for over five years.  He was in a monogamous relationship and was safe 99% of the time, the lesson is to be tested.  In his case, the cause of infection was a blood clot.  His lowest T-cell count was 31 at time of diagnosis (mine was much higher).  Typical range is 800-1500 for a healthy person.  His peak viral load was at 800,000 per cubic ML (mine was at around 20,000).  Uninfected person should have 0.  As a result of getting HIV, either directly or indirectly he lost his job at finance company.  He took a year off and teamed up with the MN AIDS Project.  After 14 months he got a job as a project manager in the healthcare field just as his unemployment insurance and COBRA were running out.

The final workshop was part of the Global Series, this one sponsored by IBM entitled, “From Russia, With or Without Love.”  This workshop focused on the conditions in Russia regarding legalized discrimination as well as how those laws can affect the upcoming Winter Olympics.  The discussion began with a brief history of modern, post-Soviet Russia.  Under pressure from the US, Boris Yeltsin de-criminalized same-sex relationships.  Subsequently Putin overturned those laws via the anti-propaganda bill.  One presenter was the former US Ambassador to Romania (2001-2004).  He discussed his concern about the vagueness of the anti-LGBT laws in Russia and how that will affect LGBT athletes at the Olympics. The US Olympic committee is working with the International Olympic Committee to make sure LGBT athletes are protected in Russia during the games in Sochi.  He believes the IOC has dropped the ball when addressing the anti-LGBT laws in Russia.  He feels that the IOC is tarnishing the charter, particularly article 6 banning discrimination.  As a diplomat, he feels that boycotting does not resolve anything and serves no purpose.  The focus goes beyond the games and there is added focus from the U.S. government to pressure Russia to remove these anti-LGBT laws.  Russia’s contention is that the laws have to do with propaganda to children, however, that the law vs. the actual implementation is very different.  In September in St. Petersburg there was a “Queer Festival.”  The organizers got a permit, the police looked and then left and the festival was able to continue.

The summit concluded with its final plenary, the gala dinner.  Comedian Kate Clinton was the M.C. for the event and was as funny as ever.  As part of O & E’s fundraising activities there was an auction that consisted of such things as a one of a kind rainbow mixer from Whirlpool and cruises from Disney.  R&B singer Thelma Houston performed “Don’t Leave Me” and other classic hits.  The highlight of the evening was the keynote speech by comedic actress, Kathy Najimy, which was videotaped by me.  I also made a 91 second trailer of video and pictures from the Merck rainbow Alliance which can be viewed via this link.

In conclusion, I found the summit both entertaining and insightful.  For me, the workshop that had the most personal impact was the one regarding HIV in the workplace.  The one that had the most professional impact was the social networking one since it identified some of the challenges Merck currently faces with its own social networking strategy.


Notes From Out & Equal 2013

View this posting as I update my notes from the workshops I will be attending at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota from October 29-31st.  Click the OneNote embed below to see my updates during the event.  Look for a full trip report posted to my blog sometime after the event.

View the Out & Equal Summit book via this embed:

MRA From Out & Equal 2012

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.