Read the online article about Pat Baillie’s presentation at the Evansville-Area Human Resource Association’s annual Diversity and Worklife Summit, published by the Evansville Courier, here.
by Pat Baillie | Yesterday I was in Evansville, Indiana to speak to a Society of HR Management (SHRM) chapter at their annual conference. The picture below was the view from outside my hotel and yes, that is corn! I had dinner with some of the organizers and sponsors on Wednesday night and found them passionate about their college basketball and diversity.
Thursday morning, almost 100 attendees filled the meeting room at the Southern Indiana Career and Technical Center which has students learning a trade in such areas as culinary and car repair. As I walked in, the first thing I heard was a series of 5 tones followed by a PA announcement throughout the school to please stand and join in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was an interesting juxtaposition knowing that freedom and the values of this country were held so high that the Pledge of Allegiance was part of their school day, and yet there were so few protections or awareness of what it was like to live in Indiana and be LGBT. It just served to remind me that our coastal cultures are sometimes very, very different from the heartland and we need to continue to outreach and educate all across the country on LGBT workplace equality.
The attendees represented a wide spectrum of businesses in the area include Toyota Motors, several health care & pharmaceutical companies, Alcoa, Old National Bank, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Shoe Carnival, AT&T, Atlas Van Line and Trailer Brothers. These were the national headquarter level for the most part but local and regional companies working on diversity in Indiana and Kentucky. Most of the audience were HR representatives along other job duties since their companies were so small. Awards were the first order of business and there were three winners based on the company size in the areas of Diversity and Health/Benefits for Employees. Fifth 3rd Bank won D&I at the 250-500 employee level, AT&T won at the 501-1250 employee level and Vectron won in the 1251+ employees. In the Health/Benefits division, Trailer Brothers won in the 100-250 employees level, Atlas Van Lines for the 251-1250 level and Old National Bank which had just added domestic partner benefits won at the 1251+ level. Many were making the first steps into incorporating diversity into their corporate values and each group cheered wildly to have won the award. I wonder if the first Outie Awards from Out & Equal were received in the same way as the first steps to LGBT workplace equality were made.
There were four sessions and a keynote. The sessions covered our own Building Bridges Executive Overview that I presented, Flexibility Strategies for an Inclusive Workplace, Recruitment and Retention for the Latino Workforce and Faith@Work – Religious Diversity Panel Discussion. The keynote was first up, and Sonya Aranza spoke on Achieving Personal and Professional Excellence Through Diversity. She is a strong and entertaining Filipino woman with a powerful message on seeing others through our lens of experience. She stressed using your story and getting to know who you are, what you value and then stepping back and letting others experience the world from their perspective. She emphasized that we could know all the facts, figures and theories but change only happened when we took action and experienced the moment and each other as human.
I was up next and many of the participants had taken the time to come up to me at breakfast to say they had come just to hear me and were excited to learn about an area they had little experience in. They had apparently not had LGBT topics over the previous year and many participants were pleasantly surprised that the conference was tacking LGBT employees as an emerging minority. Indiana is not one of the states we hold up as a model of LGBT diversity but here were HR folks ready to take on the challenge and new experience. The presentation went well with the audience engaged and taking notes. They even had a local reporter who was there to do a story on the conference and especially on my session. The feedback was positive and questions came up about how to move LGBT workplace equality forward if you weren’t the boss and how to start an LGBT ERG. Many participants realized that they were looking through the lens of heterosexism and how difficult it was for LGBT employees. Sharing my story helped them to see the human side of the impact and they were ready to take the new ideas back to their companies.
After the session, I grabbed some lunch and got a chance to talk to some of the attendees. Several came up and quietly let me know they were LGBT and were so excited to hear about what might be possible for them in their workplaces. They were amazed at how receptive the audience really was. Just as I was ready to leave, one woman came up to me and asked if she could talk to me about a more personal issue. She related her story and shared she would soon wed a man with a gay son who appeared to be in his 20’s. She was worried about the son and genuinely wanted some resources she could recommend to him. Then she told me that her soon to be husband was involved in their upcoming Love Won Out event. This was one of those moments when diversity instructor ran right into political activist. We talked some more and I decided I had to address with her how the LGBT community perceives the Love Won Out events and how that might be part of the issue. We talked a bit more and her reaction was not one trying to save the son but trying to see the world through a different lens and make those two worlds meet. This was one of those times when we talked about diversity work outside the workplace. I am not sure what impact I had but I admired her willingness to come and talk and learn. I told the activist part to take a deep breath and go for slow steps. She now has one more data point about who LGBT are and I hope that helps her in the supporting her soon-to-be son.
These trips help me keep the perspective of what is left to do. With the Summit coming up and so many amazing companies championing LGBT rights, I sometimes feel like that is where everyone should be. Stepping back and seeing those first steps for a company or a community means the work that Out & Equal is doing continues to reach out to not just Fortune 500 companies and government agencies but to all workplaces. I met a great group of folks in Evansville and we might not see them at the Summit this year but I think there are more that corn seeds growing in Indiana tonight!