Updated: Apr 29
We interviewed Jason Rae, President of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce to hear about what he and the Chamber do. During our conversation, we chatted about the best ways for companies to show their support for the LGBT community all year round. Read on to learn about the ways you can engage your company!
What is the LGBT Chamber?
Our business organization is made of almost 700 LGBTQ and allied owned businesses, and we’re really focused on, “how do we create that welcoming, inclusive business environment?” It’s through a number of different programs and initiatives that we do.
One of the things the Chamber offers is an online job board where employers can post open positions and recruit diverse talent.
There was a study from the Human Rights Campaign done in 2018 that showed that
“46% LGBT employees were not out at work.”
That’s a sobering number, so we’re looking at how to recruit diverse talent. One program we’re supporting at 45 different corporations are corporate LGBT employee resource groups, sometimes called business resource groups.
Companies who are investing resources actively are really important in building an inclusive workplace culture through their business resource group. We advise the 4 C’s that the business resources should focus on. Career: How are you supporting professional development of your employees? Culture: How do you create a more healthy culture within that company? Community: how do you give back to the community? Commerce: How is this going to drive new business for the company?
Do you have a good example of how a company has recently implemented a business resource group? How can other companies look at this as an example?
Absolutely! There are a number of business resource groups that have either recently launched or have been around for a while. Northwestern Mutual has a really active employee resource group. Other places like Johnson Controls, Kohl’s and Kohler Company have been really instrumental in multiple ways within their companies, whether it was putting new policies in place for transitioning employees, or looking at advertising and asking, “how can we diversify our ads and make sure that LGBTQ individuals are represented in our marketing efforts for product development?”
You can look at Kohl’s at a huge pride store, and that was a result of some of their business resource group work. So we’re really seeing those employee resource groups empowered to help create that. And, we’re seeing it from people who are looking for employment saying, “Do you have ways for me to connect and grow as professional within my company?” One of those ways is by looking and asking the question of, “are you actively supporting a resource group internally?”
Who are the people that should be responsible at a company for making steps towards inclusivity? Or who are the best people to begin that charge?
I think something like that requires everyone in the company to be involved in it. But it starts on an executive level.
“Executives need to mirror the behavior of what they expect of their employees.”
When the CEO talks about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, when the CEO demonstrates that through action through attendance at different events. that the company may be doing around diversity work, it sets the tone for everyone. People realize that it isn’t just lip service, but a corporate value.
After that, it really requires everyone to be engaged and involved in this work. I was doing a training the other day for a company, and we were talking about the use of pronouns, gender neutral language, and not assume gender for someone. At one point they said, “Oh, we always train our managers, but we never trained our front of house staff on this. We really need to train those who are directly engaging with customers on a day to day basis and make sure that they know how to address folks in a in a welcoming way.” So I think it really is a top to bottom approach that a company needs.
As the sort of executive level employees get towards enacting these initiatives, are there common challenges you’ve seen? How they’ve been able to maneuver around these things that continue to encourage that inclusive environment?
For executives, it’s not necessarily obstacles in their way, but rather just making sure that it is done in an intentional, intersectional, and inclusive way. I heard a phrase the other day called “rainbow washing.” What you don’t want is to just change your logo in June to the bright colors and call it good. How do you actually display that all year round? I think that’s one obstacle, ensuring that what they’re saying is put into action.
Do you see rainbow washing as a common thing that companies should work on? How can a company be more conscious in voiding that?
I don’t see it too often. I tend to see a lot of companies really making meaningful investments and I think you’re always going to have some who will always just make the statement during pride or will make a statement during Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month, and won’t really invest the effort and resources into putting policies and procedures in place that really welcome all people.
But I think particularly now in a global economy, as a result of COVID in particular, people can work anywhere for the most part. Companies need to put words into action. And I think I don’t see rainbow washing as a huge problem. There’s some that will do it. But I see companies really knowing that if they want the best and brightest, they need to have the workplace environment that will attract those individuals.
Say someone isn’t an executive employee at a company, but they’re still looking to get involved with changing their company’s environment to become more inclusive. What are the best ways for them to do that?
I think number one is concerned on the personal level, and it’s continuing to educate themselves around diversity, equity and inclusion work.
“I encourage folks to be advocates, and really think about themselves on an individual level.”
How can they continue to advocate for change, whether that’s speaking up when they hear something inappropriate in the workplace or when they’re seeing injustice that can be changed.
Then, I think it’s just helping continue to push their company in a variety of different ways. By joining the resource group whether you’re a member of that community or not, but want to be a part of that to show support. By encouraging your business to use diverse suppliers in your supply chain. By doing a variety of other pieces that can really help showcase that you’re committed to this work.
Is there anything else that the LGBT Chamber of Commerce has for companies that would be especially helpful for companies to show their dedication to creating a more inclusive environment?
We’re always willing to chamber to go into educational sessions with corporate partners and with interested corporations. We look at policies, procedures, and do consultation with them to help make sure they’re as inclusive as possible. But what I would really encourage companies to do is to be engaged, show up in diverse spaces, and join diverse organizations, whether it’s the LGBT Chamber or other ethnic and diverse chambers. Really show that investment in the community. I think it will go a tremendous way in helping build them a safer, more accepting workplace for all.
Thanks so much to Jason Rae, President of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce for sharing his resources and insight. To learn more about the LGBT Chamber, visit https://wislgbtchamber.com/.