We interviewed Jason Rae, President of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce to hear about how LGBT students can navigate the professional workplace, and what resources are out there to provide support.
Are there best practices for somebody who’s just getting into college or just getting into their job search for understanding how to do that?
Absolutely. I think this is so important. We hear this from students all the time. One of the programs that we have managed for the past several years at the Chamber is our Emerging Leaders Program, which pairs LGBTQ college students with core professionals, small business owners, and others.
These students are extremely talented, smart, out leaders on their college campuses.
“But when they start thinking about going into the workplace, they have a fear about having to go back into the closet.”
And there’s a fear that they can’t bring their full, authentic self to work. So for students and those entering the workforce, just start looking for companies by looking at their values. Go to company websites and see if they have a page that talks about diversity, equity, and business resource groups. Are they making investments in the community in nonprofits and philanthropic efforts? Are they really going above and beyond?
We’ve also got a job board on our website. Last year, we had over 3000 folks on our job board. People can take a look at our online business directory to find companies that might match them.
We have another program as well that we launched with the Chamber Workforce Development Initiative in June ’22 called the IRIS program which stands for Inclusive Refinement of Individual Skills. It’s an entirely online module that includes videos from members of the community and others, talking about everything from writing your resume to networking. We encourage folks to look at programs like IRIS to help prepare themselves for that job search process that they’re trying to navigate and understand what it means to be LGBTQ and in the workplace.
For someone still unsure about bringing their entire selves into the workplace or is building that confidence, do you have any recommendations?
We know that individuals’ coming out stories can be so unique and so different depending upon their own lived experiences. It’s hard to just say, “here’s some great examples,” but when you’re looking for these companies, look for ones that you see active and engaged in supporting the community. It’s your first telltale sign.
Ask questions during the interview process about the company if it’s a place where you can be your full, authentic self. I know that can be scary for many because they’re afraid of what they might say, but you’ll know from their responses and how they approach it whether it is somewhere that will value you for the person you are.
Are there other common challenges you’ve seen students face in their job search, and there good ways to help alleviate these challenges?
You know, I don’t know that there are many LGBT specific challenges. But it’s taken a lot, and we’re not done yet. We continue to see trans youth attacked on a regular basis and other young people become victims of harassment and discrimination.
I think it will be really incumbent upon companies and employers to really invest in making an inclusive space that’s as welcoming for all people as possible.
And, companies need to be willing to stand up for that. To be able to look at pieces of legislation like what we’re seeing in Florida and Texas, and other places, even some introduced to Wisconsin. People want to see companies stand up and say anti-LGBT bills are wrong, that trans bills are wrong. Students are going to pay attention to that.
And I think for companies, they need to realize that students have an opportunity. We were working with a few the other day who can go anywhere they want and our commitment to our partners was to keep that talent here. Companies need to continue to make that investment and show their support. There’s always work to be done.
So, as a LGBTQ student comes into college and is looking for ways to tap into the community and build that support system, are there opportunities within the Chamber that they should look out for?
I would say first, our [Emerging Leaders Program]( https://wislgbtchamber.com/emergingleaders/#:~:text=Each year%2C the Wisconsin LGBT,LGBTQ%2B professionals and business owners.) that helps to find a mentor for an informational interview with someone that was in the field they were going into, so definitely be on a lookout for that.
Also, all of our events for the most part are open to the public, and we’ve got a number that focus specifically on business development and business education. We have great networking events as well for those students who feel comfortable and are are able to join and attend those networking events.
“Whether it’s our coffee connection or our evening networking social, feel free to come and build relationships with other businesses.”
And then the third thing is if you are doing an internship with the company, what we really want people to do is to seek out their LGBTQ employee resource groups when you get there. Sign up for membership, volunteer, and participate in this activity. It was really great the other day to work with Alliant Energy in Madison. We spoke on a panel with their Queer Alliance Business Resource Group, and they invited their interns in for it. And their intern said, “we’re signing up to be a part of this group. We want to be engaged.” That’s a really great way for individuals to build their professional networks before they ever graduate and also to just experience what what goes on in the workplace outside of just the day to day jobs.
Are there any other ways that you feel are great opportunities for students to take advantage of at the Chamber?
As you’re in your campus or as you’re coming home for the summer and you want to support diverse businesses, check out our online business directory to find places to support. That coffee shop to go to, the bookstore you may want to visit, or something like that local restaurant. Check that out and show support for the community.
But be on the lookout for other programs that we offer. We are just wrapping up our first cohort of our Entrepreneur Boot Camp, which was an eight week series, helping folks who want to start their own business. We help build that business plan from ideation to business structure. And if you’ve got that passion idea now, I encourage students and others to follow that passion and go for it. There’s no time like the present! If you want to start a business we can help guide you through. Or you can also sign up for we do one on one technical assistance sessions too. They go over some business ideation and startups as well.
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/.
See our industry-specific programs with the links below.
Accounting pre-internship programs here →
Marketing pre-internship programs here →
Cybersecurity pre-internship programs here →
Software development pre-internship programs here →
See all programs here →