It’s been a whirlwind three weeks, with trips back and forth to Los Angeles for three very different professional events relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) professionals in the workplace. Or as I like to call them, the Big Gay Conferences.
I’m so jetlagged and mentally overloaded that I find myself losing track of what day it is, but it’s all been worth it.
First, I had the opportunity to join fellow LGBT teammates at a meeting of very senior executives focused on Diversity & Inclusion within our company. Partnering with the fine folks at Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, we developed a 90 minute presentation that included facts, figures, and practical answers about what it means to be LGBT in Corporate America, and we facilitated an open forum discussion with college students and employees who were either LGBT or identify as a straight ally to their LGBT colleagues.
I’m confident in saying that many of the executives present learned a lot from the materials and the discussion. We certainly didn’t solve the plight of homophobia and unequal treatment in the workplace, but we did open some eyes and help some very, very senior executives consider new perspectives.
A week later, back out to Los Angeles for the 2010 Out & Equal Workplace Summit. This annual event hosts thousands of executives, Human Resources and Diversity professionals, and LGBT employee group leaders from around the country (and indeed, around the world!) to a four-day summit to learn from one another and continue our efforts to improve the workplace experience of LGBT professionals. Over a hundred workshops, seminars, and panel discussions were available, and of course there was plenty of opportunity to meet with colleagues from other companies and learn from one another as well.
My company had about 45 people there, including some local Los Angeles employees and folks from as far away as the United Kingdom. It was a terrific opportunity for us to learn about corporate best practices in the field of Diversity & Inclusion, while spending a few together as a team and building (or strengthening) professional relationships with each other.
It’s like summer camp, for gays in business attire.
And now, this weekend I’m back in Los Angeles for the annual Reaching Out MBA conference. Organized and run by MBA students, all of whom are either LGBT or straight allies, this event brings together over a thousand students and professionals to help prepare LGBT MBA students for post-graduate careers. Naturally, the career fair on Friday afternoon is a big draw, with lots of companies sending recruiters to help woo the best and brightest of tomorrow’s LGBT leaders to their companies. There are also several different workshops, panel discussions, etc. along the lines of Out & Equal’s programming.
These conferences are educational, inspiring, and motivating… But on a personal note, I have to say the best part about them is the ability to meet new LGBT people, from all different backgrounds, ranging from those preparing for their first real “adult job” to those who’ve had successful careers spanning decades. We have varying perspectives, experiences, and goals and objectives, but we’re all here because we want to see a world where people can authentically bring their wholes selves to work and focus on doing a good job without having to hide who they are.
What’s particularly wonderful about these new professional relationships is the common bond that ties us together. Having attended O&E twice and ROMBA three times, I see a lot of familiar faces, and it becomes an annual reunion of likeminded professionals and leaders. There are hugs all around, enthusiastic questions about each others’ careers and lives, and fascinating dialogue about the political, professional, and personal events that affect us all.
If I sound like I’m getting a little teary-eyed, it’s because these events can make you feel like part of a family… A great big suit-and-tie gay family that cares for and supports one another, works together for the common good, and offers genuine friendship that I expect to last long after I stop attending these conferences.
Of course, I’ll probably be that creepy old guy that still attends events like this 20 years after he’s stopped being relevant at them. But most of my friends probably already knew that.
Thank you, Out & Equal and Reaching Out MBA, for a wonderful couple of weeks. I hope to see the family again next year.