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Panel talks LGBT politics and the workplace
2017-06-16

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Price Waterhouse Cooper ( PWC ) and Center on Halsted, on June 15, presented a panel on LGBT politics in the workplace.

Panelists included Kim Fountain, the Center's chief operating officer; Mike Ziri, Equality Illinois' public policy director; Alexis Paige, a legal assistant at Lambda Legal; and Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose officer for PWC.

Fountain opened by noting that, for LGBT individuals on the job, "For us to just talk about what we do everyday is a political act."

LGBT persons can be in a precarious position in the workplace, she explained. Just speaking about their partners, families or weekend plans might sometimes be construed by co-workers as injecting "politics" there.

Schuyler said that employees must not shy away from reporting perceived inequities, and that employers must not shy away from addressing them. She reported on a daylong company-wide PWC initiative on diversity. Having the event take place on the same day reminded employees in smaller towns that diversity-related rights and responsibilities applied to them as well, not just employees in larger cities.

"Higher-ups need to generate the conversation," Schuyler said.

Fountain added that diversity trainings should not just be "one-offs." Employers and trainers need to carefully consider how the trainings' materials can be integrated into the business' culture and whether data can be generated to measure their success.

"We're asking them to see the shift in their culture," she said.

All the panelists agreed that organizations need to be proactive, and not wait for an employee complaint or a specific event that must be addressed—such as the Pulse shooting or Indiana's "religious freedom" bill—in determining positions and policies. Furthermore, employers need to reach out to employees while those policies are being determined, not after they are published

"We have to move beyond just being reactionary," said Paige. "You have to not wait for it to be a problem and have someone think, 'This could be a problem,' instead."

Schuyler further acknowledged that, at a time when social media drives so much public discourse, not saying anything can be just as problematic as having the 'wrong' stance on an issue. "Silence has so much meaning attached to it," she added, noting that commentators will move to fill in that silence with their own perceptions about the company.

The panelists were asked what to do if clients did not share a company's views on diversity or inclusivity. Schuyler said she suspected that clients would be reluctant to come forward with such views in most cases, but added that companies must be prepared to lose those clients. She further emphasized that companies can and publicly say that their actions on diversity and inclusivity will have a positive impact on their bottom line.

Indeed, Ziri cited circumstances in Indiana and North Carolina where companies have come out against anti-LGBT discrimination and delivered an impact.

"The business community in the last several years has proven to be a powerful voice for change for LGBTQ Americans," he said.

The panel was one of June's Citywide Pride events and planned in part by Out & Equal Chicagoland.


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