This weekend, I had the opportunity of attending the Out for Undergrad Conference (O4U) in New York City, hosted by Goldman Sachs. To say the least, it was incredible.
In one weekend, you’ll explore ambitious career options, encounter opportunities, learn to be a more authentic person, and build a network of LGBTQ friends and supporters in your industry of choice.
– O4U Website
Walking into the three day conference, I didn’t know what to expect. What were the people going to be like? Was I going to stand out as a Canadian? Was I “gay enough” to be going to an LGBTQ conference? Hindsight being 20/20, I now realize how baseless my worries were, as I met some of the most genuine, outgoing, and diverse people in the LGBTQ community.
I’ll be honest, as an LGBTQ student myself, I never saw much need for people “flaunting their sexuality” in the workplace. My sexuality is something that is personal to me, and I didn’t think it was something my employer had any business knowing. However, the conference made me realize something very important; I come from a place of privilege in saying my sexual orientation is personal. For many, especially the transgender community, there isn’t a choice in keeping their personal lives personal as people play a gender guessing game behind their backs.
I was moved to tears when Peter Staley, an AIDS Activist (among many other things), spoke about his life on the frontlines of the push for AIDS research funding. Hearing Sally Susman of Pfizer made me realize the answer to “…and what does your husband/wife do?” can represent a moral dilemma for the LGB community who choose not to out themselves, but also want to remain true to their values. Finally, seeing my LGBTQ peers from across the country who are some of the most accomplished in their field was both a push and inspiration for my future aspirations.
The list of sponsors for this event read as a “who’s who” of the business world. As a student, it represented a commitment on the part of these organizations to hiring diverse candidates, something that should be celebrated and appreciated. In addition, nearly all of the organization in attendance had Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to support diverse individuals in their organizations — an especially relevant factor in making employees feel included in their workplaces.
At the same time, there are still many opportunities for progress. From focusing on hiring LGBTQ people of colour to LGBTQ women, it is important to remember the LGBTQ community is far more than me (a gay, white, male). As we continue to make the push for equality in organizations, it is important to remember that diversity now defines the success of a business. Diverse experiences, perspectives, and opinions are the new competitive advantage for 21st century companies.