BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
ROYAL OAK – The boardroom and the water cooler can be intimidating spots for LGBT people.
Will your chances of becoming a senior executive be thwarted if people knew you were gay? Should you put your partner’s picture on your desk? What if he or she came to the corporate spouses’ luncheon?
The choices can be equally scary for those working on the assembly line.
You don’t have to meet these challenges alone.
LGBT Employee Resource Groups are one way gays and lesbians can help each other gain acceptance and build understanding on the job and at the same time help their firms flourish.
Last week, members of the newly created Michigan Employee Resource Group Education network joined with a representative from Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center to talk to workers thinking about starting their own ERGs.
West Bloomfield resident Christopher Frith, 42, helped organize MERGE.
“It’s intended to be a networking organization for people involved in LGBT employee groups at their company,” said Frith, a principal at the Detroit public accounting firm KPMG.
ERGs offer a forum for lesbians and gays to meet and talk about work issues and to get a sense of community on the job, he said.
Businesses benefit from ERG’s in a number of ways.
They promote an inclusive environment that helps firms to hire and retain top-flight employees, he said.
They also help companies reach out to gay customers, improving their bottom line.
Arana Long, 40, who is straight, is co-chair of DaimlerChrysler’s ERG, People of Diversity.
“I guess I see straight allies as being a bridge to the straight community,” said Long, an Oxford resident. “There are still a lot of people that aren’t accepting and open-minded.”
Long said she joined the group to help make a difference in the workplace.
Straight people often feel more comfortable asking her questions they wouldn’t ask a gay colleague, she said.
Some want to know why she supports the group.
She’s even been asked if “they” are trying to convert her.
“They believe it’s a choice,” she said.
Long hopes to help others take a step in a more positive direction.
“I’d like to at least make them stop and think and consider a different perspective,” she said.
More than a dozen people came to the event and listened to speakers, like Long and Frith talk about their experiences founding and working with an ERG.
Royal Oak resident Michelle Walters, 50, a manager at DaimlerChrysler, said her biggest joy at People of Diversity comes from helping people who don’t know where to turn.
“Part of it is knowing where they’re coming from,” she said. “Part of it is feeling I’m making a difference in people’s lives.”
If you would like to learn more about creating an Employee Resource Group at your company, contact Affirmations’ Development Director Michael Mirto at 248-398-7105, ext. 17, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., or email him at [email protected].