While finding a job can be difficult for anyone, individuals in the LGBTQ community might have a more difficult time finding workplaces that accept them and make them feel comfortable.
That’s why there have been new initiatives in Hampton Roads and the Peninsula to provide the community with resources and information to help them when searching for employment.
This March, Old Dominion University will host its second annual LGBTQ Career Week and Expo, “OutWork757,” that will provide opportunities for LGBTQ individuals to interact with potential employers seeking a diverse workplace.
Cathleen Rhodes, a senior lecturer on Women’s Studies with ODU, said that while employers want to find the best and brightest candidates, they can be missing out on an entire pool of potential employees by not reaching out to the LGBTQ community.
“What happened in the past is [employers] thought they were asking for everyone to apply, but [they] weren’t,” Rhodes said. “[They] turned people away in obvious and subtle ways and when you want a wide range of options to choose from, diversity is important.”
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Jonathan Zur, president and CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, said the inclusivity of LGBTQ people also benefits companies overall because they’re able to market and sell to a more diverse range of individuals.
“It’s important to have employees that have those lived experiences so companies can benefit from having diversity of thought, identity and lived experience,” he said. “When all of that is leveraged well, you have a company that is innovative and representing the communities they are serving.”
She said the Career Week and Expo are a way for members of the LGBTQ community to find employers that will create a workplace of acceptance for them, which can be difficult to find when searching for a job.
A study from the Human Rights Campaign showed in 2018, 46 percent of LGBTQ workers were closeted at their place of employment and 50 percent of non-LGBTQ workers reported there were no openly LGBTQ employees at their organization.
Rhodes said for those who are not “out” in the workplace, making personal and professional relationships can be a struggle because they might not feel comfortable discussing their partners or lifestyles. That’s why having something such as a career expo is important so people can find jobs where they know they’re safe to come to work and live their identities.
Zur said inclusivity doesn’t only mean creating an office of diversity, but it also providing a more productive work space for LGBTQ employees through inclusive workforce culture.
“If an employee doesn’t feel safe in the workplace, or if they have to hide a part of who they are and are worried about the bias they might face, then that’s distracting them and taking time from doing the work they were hired to do,” he said.
Rhodes said LGBTQ people’s unique experiences help them connect with individuals in the workplace in various ways. In the past, she said, people who identified as LGBTQ were seen as a challenge to overcome but now employers are starting to embrace the “fullness” of LGBTQ identities.
Zur said there are now more opportunities, such as the event at ODU, for businesses to be more explicit about their values in the workplace.
“Even if an organization has nice language about inclusivity on their website, it says something else for them to demonstrate their commitment to inclusion by actually showing up,” he said.
He added that businesses can also go the extra mile by considering how their benefits programs impacts LGBTQ individuals. For example, what are benefits for transgender employees and what amenities, such as bathrooms, are available in the workplace.
In the past few decades, the culture has slowly been shifting to accommodate not only more diversity but specifically LGBTQ communities, Zur said.
“I think there is certainly more visibility among people who identify as LGBTQ,” he said. “So where we were in the country 15 years ago compare to now, there’s a difference in people feeling comfortable sharing who they are.”
The second annual Hampton Roads’ LGBTQ Career Week will be from March 17-21 and the Expo will be in the Big Blue Room at ODU’s Chartway Arena from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit OutWork757 online.