The Office of Diversity and Inclusion at WMU recruited an all-star panel of members and advocates of the LGBTQ+ community in Michigan of all different ages and professions to speak about employment and career advancement. These eight panelists were tasked with sharing their experiences in the workplace and answering questions from the audience.
Lindsey Palar, the director of diversity training/education at WMU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, kicked off the night and the 2019-2020 Real Talk Diversity Series by introducing the audience to a few simple community guidelines. These guidelines encouraged audience and panel members alike to embrace discomfort, try to use “I” statements, welcome multiple viewpoints, and be present in the moment. Another guideline emphasized the importance of confidentiality, and for that reason, the names of the panelists are anonymous.
According to the panelists, there are a few things an LGBTQ+ person should consider before applying for a job. The panelists agreed that it is important to assess the cultural fit by asking potential employers questions like: Are there gender neutral bathrooms here? Are there benefits like trans inclusive health insurance and parental leave? What are your non-discrimination policies and procedures?
“Do your homework about the organization or company… See what they are doing and how you could contribute but also if they have contributed to the LGBTQ community in any way,” said a director of LBGT student services at WMU. “Learn as much as you can about inclusivity laws and things of that nature for the town, city, or state you might be employed in before you ever even apply.”
Another panelist recommended always taking a closer look at a company’s non-discriminaton statement and policy, which is usually available online. “If it only lists the bare minimum, which is required by law, it might not be the best place for an LGBTQ+ person. If it does have great inclusionary language surrounding sexual identities and gender identities, that would be a lot better,” she said.
One member of the panel reminded those in the audience of the importance of applying to a company with your legal name and to always consider the status of your name-change process if that is applicable.
“If you desire to have your name changed, I would strongly encourage you to look into doing that. However, you need to apply to a company with your legal name. Companies must verify that you are legally authorized to work in the U.S. and you are who you say you are,” she said.
This panelist also reminded those in attendance that you are never required to answer the notorious “gender questions” on a job application.
The panelists also tackled the question of whether or not it would be harmful to disclose sexual orientation before or during an interview with an employer or hiring manager. For those in the LGBTQ+ community, it can be a complicated process figuring out how or if they will be fully transparent with a potential employer.
“You are in the interview process and oftentimes you end up talking about things like family. So you have to decide right there in that moment whether you want to disclose or keep it a secret. Are you going to say my spouse or my wife?” a member of the panel asked.
A panelist and manager from Stryker Instruments stepped in to explain that employers are obligated to hire candidates based off of credentials and experience and that sexual orientation should have no bearing on whether you get the position or not.
“If you want to bring it up because perhaps you are relocating and you would like to know if this is a safe community for me as a LGBTQ+ person or if you would like to ask some questions about the culture, you can. However, I certainly would not do it because you think the employer needs to know,” she explained. “If it comes up naturally or is something you have general concerns about, feel free to bring that up. It should not hinder or help you in anyway.”
The panelists were also asked if they had any advice on general interview attire for those who do not conform to a specific gender or like to normally express themselves through their clothing.
“It depends on what you are interviewing for in the first place...but wear something you feel good in,” said a panelist from a local non-profit organization focused on supporting the LGBTQ+ community in Southwest Michigan. “If dressing a certain way makes you feel very comfortable, then that is you and you always want to bring yourself to the table.”
Another panelist stressed the importance of paying attention to detail in the business world. “It doesn't matter what you wear as long as you look professional, your attire is appropriate for the role, and you pay attention to details. Don’t come in with your shirt half buttoned, or your collar stuck up. It’s the effort that you put into it that matters,” added a different panelist.
Towards the end of the night, the panel came together to explain what makes a good LGBTQ+ advocate and what the best ways to get involved are.
“When I was an undergraduate, you would not catch me dead in an LGBTQ+ office. Now I run one,” one panelist shared. “If you want to be an LGBTQ+ advocate, do not box yourself into any one field or experience especially when you are still young.”
The panelists seemed to agree that although advocacy is not always easy, it can be extremely rewarding. Several panel members reminded the audience that to get involved, you just have to get out and do it. Whether it is going to a pride event, volunteering, or advocating for a co-workers rights in the workplace, all it takes is that first step.
“I think one of the most important things to remember is that if you are trying to get into advocacy, you will never stop learning,” another panelist mentioned. “There are always things happening. Our community is always changing, evolving, and talking about new things.”
A panelist from Kellogg explained that employers love to see prospective employees that have experience volunteering in advocacy work for underserved groups and giving back to the community.
“You might want to consider your volunteer work being broader than just the LGBTQ+ community. There is a lot of great work around racial equality or gender equality out there. You will find a lot of commonalities among groups that are underserved and you will grow as a person by volunteering in some of those spaces as well,” she explained.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Real Talk Diversity Series continues on October 21st where the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation will be discussed.