While celebrating Coming Out Day, four of Chicago's top companies recently sent a clear signal that they intend to take a lead in reversing the inordinate discrimination experienced by transgender individuals trying to secure and keep a job.
Global human-resources giant Aon partnered with the world's largest public relations firm, Edelman, alongside international audit, tax and advisory network KPMG and commercial real estate/investment-management advisors JLL in a two-hour discussion centered upon the challenges and successes for transgender inclusion in the workplace.
President and Founder of Lori Fox Business/ Diversity & Inclusion Counseling and Out & Equal board member Lori Fox served as both keynote speaker and moderator of the panel held at Aon's Indiana Room.
The panelists included the Chief Operating Officer for the Orlando-based Earl of Sandwich Marisa Sandlin, Aon Calc Engine Specialist Karen Thomas-Ortiz, cultural-competency educator Dr. Oliver Blumer, DC, and Human Resources Consultant Jannelle Dietz.
Also weighing in on the topic were Aon Pride Alliance Chicagoland President Kevin Bishop, KPMG Principal and Network of Women ( KNOW ) Lead Amanda Rigby, Edelman President Jay Porter and both JLL and Aon's Directors of Diversion and Inclusion, Grant Clarke and Nichole Barnes-Marshall.
"If you identify as gay or lesbian and you think about your coming out journey, think about someone who has struggled with gender identity and has to come out," Fox said. "There's not a choice."
To that end, Fox, Sandlin and Thomas-Ortiz each shared their own profound experiences coming out as transgenderstories they were each able to look back upon with sometimes with as much humor as heartbreak.
"When you can truly be yourself, you bring a peace and a joy to your life that you may not have had," Sandlin stated.
"For me, what really helped was the support that I got not just from [Aon] but friends and colleagues," Thomas-Ortiz said. "I feel like everything I accomplished since coming out has been because of that support."
Blumer noted that he came out to his parents as a "practicing lesbian" first. "I'm more of a feminist now than I was as a lesbian," he said. "What was interesting was after 35-years in Dallas, once I transitioned and people knew about it, we [my wife and I] no longer get calls from our friends that we knew for years. They just cut us off. We developed a whole new group of friends from that."
For Thomas-Ortiz, Aon's supportive policies already on the books for its transgender employees proved invaluable in her journey. "All of my managers and several of my colleagues were very congratulatory and supportive. I've had a very smooth ride compared to some."
"The messages that an organization sends out are very powerful," Fox said. "If I'm going to meet with a company, the first thing I do is look at the organization's website. Are there inclusive messages on the website?"
Regarding the training she provides to companies on transgender employment practices, Fox stressed that a strategic plan should always be in place. "There needs to be a communications plan, there needs to be training because the individual who is transitioning is not the only one. It's all of your colleagues."
In closing, Barnes-Marshall said that such an experience in the workplace can be as transformative as it is miraculous.
"There's that moment when you find out why you're here, who your truly are that makes the difference not only for you but everyone else around you," she said. "As we think about our workforce and all the things we have to accomplish, imagine how much more is possible when we can bring our full authentic selves to that work. If we're not encumbered by 'how are they looking at me or what bathroom should I go in or how am I going to be treated?' then you are able to focus on delivering your absolute best. The workforce and the marketplaces you are in have a great experience and ultimately the businesses get to profit."
For more information about Out & Equal, visit www.outandequal.org .