BY AJ TRAGER
DEARBORN – Thirty-seven corporate leaders of Michigan’s top businesses, including the State Department, came together in the first LGBTQ&A Career Fair hosted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Hundreds of job seekers attended the LGBT Career Fair held March 5 by Affirmations, the Detroit LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Out & Equal Detroit Affiliate, Pride Source Media Group and the university. Many of them were seeking accepting and progressive attitudes in future employers in a state known for its anti-LGBT measures. LGBT activists have pushed for a change in the statewide non-discrimination act for years with no success but are staying positive as more and more companies are “coming out” as LGBT allied.
Lashiya Kennedy, 21, has a long history working in customer service and is actively looking to expand her career opportunities in that field once she graduates from Schoolcraft College in 2016. While at the fair, she spoke with Sprint, Enterprise, Herman Miller, Blue Cross and automotive companies.
“I like making sure that everybody has good quality service wherever they go,” Kennedy said after making her rounds. “I have a certain guarantee interview with Sprint and Verizon as well. I am really focusing on those two because they are big on customer service, sales and technology. Those two would be perfect places for me.”
Working in an inclusive environment is important to Kennedy who, like many who attended the career fair, has been let go from a job due to her sexual orientation.
“I would like to feel comfortable and equal as everyone else. I don’t want to be discriminated against because I like the same gender. If I were straight this wouldn’t be an issue, so why because I like girls?”
“Tolerance and appreciation of diversity, providing the basic rights like the right to marry and love who you want — those are messages that we as a state need to send,” said John Austin, president of the Michigan Board of Education. “It is painful for me to watch and see people who have a choice choose not to be in Michigan because of our somewhat reactionary public policies that are repellant, not attractive, for people when they are LGBTQ&A. This is a celebration here today. This is so much what we need to do.”
Austin gave the keynote address at the luncheon provided by the University of Michigan-Dearborn for the participating companies. He believes that many negative messages exist in the job market against the LGBT community, conveying that LGBT identities aren’t valued and aren’t equal.
“There is nothing more important to our economy and the ability of the state that provides economic opportunity, provides jobs and creates jobs, than if we are sending a clear and unambiguous message that we not only welcome, but we also keep and support, all of our wonderful talented people,” Austin said.
Big companies like Ford, Chrysler, Blue Cross Blue Shield, EY, Comerica Bank, DTE Energy, Quicken Loans, the CIA and the U.S. Department of State were also in attendance at the four hour networking event. Many of Michigan’s top grossing companies being in attendance proves that businesses and organizations are ready for LGBT inclusions, even if the state is not ready for full equality.
Looking For Talent
The Henry Ford Health System employs thousands of people, from medical professionals to administrative staff, and is constantly looking for new talent. Shannon Marzolf, the talent selection college coordinator and John Poma, who represents the Henry Ford Macomb Campus, came to the career fair because the health system’s mission statement values diversity and lists that quality as one of the main standards of excellence for the company.
“I feel that a diverse candidate pool and diverse workforce fosters great ideas and it isn’t all just cut and dry,” Marzolf said. “Everybody sees things from a different angle. I think it’s important to have diversity and a different make-up of the workforce. That’s one of our strong initiatives to be out in the community looking to get the best employees for Henry Ford Health System.”
Herman Miller also attended the event. As a major office supply manufacturer based out of Zeeland, they have received a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for a few years in a row. The company is committed to maintaining a workforce that includes all people and takes personality into account, encouraging employees to be true to who they are at work.
“Our founders really believed in bringing the whole person to work and not just saying ‘OK, you are an engineer,'” Julie Smith, senior talent management consultant, noted. “We have a really strong LGBT community at Herman Miller.”
Companies like Herman Miller and the Henry Ford Health System are paving the way for smaller companies to change their policies and practices to be more LGBT aware and accepting.
Process Development Corporation, a small engineering and manufacturing firm out of Canton, attended the career fair represented by Ara Hachigian, the executive manager of human resources. Hachigian set a goal for PDC to have a HRC CEI score by the end of 18 months. The family owned company has been around for 30 years and has an international presence. Hachigian is a member of the LGBT community himself and says this is the first time that the company has had a member of the community in an executive role.
“For me, it’s that personality difference in someone who has experienced many different things,” Hachigian said. “Someone who knows what inclusion means. We are a community that is often times excluded. We know what exclusion looks like and what inclusion looks like. That’s how I look at the value of having members of our community in our workplace.”
Hachigian says that the automotive industry is still male dominated. The big three (GM, Chrysler and Ford) have made huge strides including LGBT protections and benefits for employees, but he says it would be great to have more of the LGBT community in highly skilled and specialized roles.
“Smart businesses are diversified. You are stupid to not leverage our community — in my opinion. It’s bad business to not have same-sex marriage, for the economy in the state, for all the businesses that support the state, for all the people that pay taxes,” Hachigian said.
He currently has a trans candidate from Lawrence Tech looking to go into design engineering. The company hasn’t really focused on employee diversity until now, Hachigian says. That isn’t to say it isn’t diverse, but more so that PDC is now actively looking for new, exciting minds to fill the gaps in employment.
Twenty-five years ago, Jan Stevenson, publisher of Between The Lines and a co-organizer of the LGBT Career Fair, decided to quit her job working as a commercial loan officer at a well known bank after a superior showcased his blatant homophobia. Since then, she has been a full time activist for LGBT inclusion.
“In a span of nearly three decades of work, we’ve seen a sea change in how the corporate workplace addresses LGBT issues,” Stevenson said. “Study after study has found that a workforce that is inclusive of LGBT people is more productive, creative and responsive to their customers’ demands. And the LGBT consumer market is now recognized as a major economic force.”
Dr. Ann Lampkin-Williams, senior advisor to the chancellor for inclusion and special projects at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, joined the luncheon before the start of the career fair. On behalf of the university, Lampkin-Williams expressed gratitude for all the hard work that made the Career Fair so successful and hopes that the event continues on in subsequent years.
“This is a pivotal turning point for these universities and who we are and what we believe in. Know that if you want this to be a tradition on campus, the office of the chancellor wants this to be a tradition.”
For more career coverage, check out LGBTQ Careers.
See the list of recruiters below or click here to download a master list of LGBT-friendly job recruiters.