This story is part of QnotesCarolinas’ special project “OUTlook: Finding Solutions for LGBTQ Labor and Workplace Equality." It is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.
To learn more about solutions journalism, visit solutionsjournalism.org.
It’s Saturday afternoon, but the Zooms don’t stop for college students and job seekers trying to open doors. On this day, a group of Point Foundation scholars are listening to Alan Cruz share his story of how networking has been instrumental in taking him from high school organizer to becoming a first-generation college student to most recently an Out in Tech mentee and Senate legislative intern.
As with every cyclical societal gain for marginalized communities, conservative politicians are creating laws to bar LGBTQ individuals, especially transgender people, from access to healthcare to sports to education. Corporations like society at large are more progressive. They are recruiting LGBTQ individuals as new hires. It’s the next evolution after corporations started adding non-discrimination policies and inclusive benefits.
This surge in interest to hire LGBTQ individuals is leading more LGBTQ organizations to offer job readiness programming. The trainings aren’t necessarily the hard skills necessary to perform their duties. Instead, these programs offer the soft skills to help LGBTQ individuals get, retain and flourish in their chosen workplaces.
Cruz’s presentation was part of the Point Foundation’s, the nation’s largest non-profit scholarship granting organization for LGBTQ students, recent Community College Spring Conference – Resume Writing, Interviewing & Networking virtual retreat. It’s just one example of this effort.
“Our fastest growing group of funders are corporate funders, and they really want to talk to scholars about how their company is inclusive,” said Margaux Cowden, Point Foundation’s Chief Program Officer.
This year, Point added job readiness programming support for their scholars.
Depending on the scholarship track, programs include an understanding of individual purpose and drive personal strengths, and how to communicate those strengths and/or networking. There are also more traditional subjects such as leadership development, resume writing and interviewing skills.
Cruz shared tips on how to network, but most importantly stressed understanding your personal worth and talking to people and companies that align with your values.
“It really is who you know that can help you get in these doors to things that may seem inaccessible to you,” Cruz told the Zoom participants on Saturday.
The skills being taught aren’t new, but LGBTQ students have less role models than cis-gendered students which makes it hard for them to see themselves in certain careers. The Point Foundation is preparing students to make use of the same connections that straight cis white men have been using for decades, Cowden said.
Students at four-year institutions have career services and many of those students have sought those services but are still having trouble figuring out how to move forward.
According to Human Rights Campaign, businesses are increasingly participating in professional recruiting events for LGBTQ+ students and professionals such as the annual Lavender Law conference, Reaching Out MBA career expo, and other professional job fairs. An increasing number of LGBTQ organizations focused on issues such as housing and healthcare have added workforce development and job readiness to their programming to fit the growing demand for these services.
The need for workforce training
In Charlotte, the Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce also added a workforce training component to its services. In the past, the Chamber was known for its work with entrepreneurs, but that shifted after the pandemic.
About one third of the Charlotte LGBTQ Chamber membership is working professionals not business owners. After COVID, the Chamber asked members what they needed most, and participants responded that they need help getting to the next point in their careers. The organization also determined that transgender people and people of color tended to need the most workforce training to get a job, advance or change jobs, said Chamber president Chad Turner.
Organizations such as Transcend Charlotte, Charlotte Black Gay Pride, Time Out Youth, and Regional AIDS Interfaith Network started asking for assistance to help clients who were chronically unemployed. Some clients didn’t have job skills or needed a new skill set because their job is no longer in demand, he said. There was a realization from people in the service industry that they needed employment that was more sustainable and stable. The post-pandemic realities were also a wake-up call for the Chamber that their members were not just small business owners.
The Chamber partnered with other organizations to assist people changing their careers, find a job and/or get IT certifications. The Chamber also offers lunch and learn training events and will begin working with partners to provide HVAC and electrician certification for individuals. These trainings are provided at low cost, or no cost and the Chamber provides letters of support, Turner said.
“The days of just providing networking events and referrals was no longer enough after the pandemic,” he said.
The Chamber is also seeing more 25 to 40-year-olds not making the money they used to make or getting pushed out of their career path as the work changes, Turner said. Industries are downsizing or right-sizing, he said and that’s left some individuals with antiquated skills.
In April, Out in Tech Charlotte is partnering with the Chamber and other organizations to host Let’s Have A Resume Kiki. “The focus is LGBTQ+ professional development and preparing the LGBTQ+ community to be more confident and discoverable to potential employers,” said Zach Anderson, chapter head of Out in Tech Carolinas.
At a recent job fair co-hosted by Campus Pride, the Chamber offered resume building, LinkedIn audits and headshots. Later this Spring, the Chamber will be working with corporate partners to help individuals who are looking to make a career change successfully make the transition, Turner said.
Trans individuals face a unique challenge regarding documentation and presentation. Plus hiring managers must also be trained on how to ensure that LGBTQ individuals are placed into a welcoming work culture.
Beck Bailey, Accenture’s Global Chief Diversity Officer, echoes the importance of creating a welcoming workplace. Prior to joining Accenture, Bailey ran the Human Rights Campaign’s workforce equality program to help make companies more LGBTQ inclusive. Employees are concerned about how they will be treated when they show up at a new job. Companies understand the business case for LGBTQ inclusion, and they’ve taken steps to become more inclusive in their policies and practices, Bailey said.
“They want to attract and retain the best talent and that includes LGBTQ people,” Bailey said.
At Accenture, compliance training equates misgendering to sexually harassing women, he said. Policies and practices are important, but real interventions are equally important. Accenture tries to make LGBTQ inclusion the same as all of the other things we’re doing, Bailey said.
A common theme among all the organizations focused on LGBTQ job readiness is trust and confidence for the employer and the employee. There’s the confidence needed for LGBTQ individuals to step into new opportunities as their authentic selves and the trust that employers offer a workplace that embraces that authenticity. It’s going to take time, but this is a seismic and long overdue shift from the “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality of the ‘90s.