During the early 1980s, I was a teaching assistant, helping students navigate their first introductory accounting class. All of the teaching assistants shared a drafty “office” on the third floor of an old castle-like building at a mid-sized, Midwestern university. In our spare time, we were each applying for accounting jobs with “the big eight” accounting firms, and the office was often filled with talk of job interviews and workplace expectations. Back then, interviews with these firms required a somewhat meticulous adherence to a set of prescriptive dress rules; they were like fraternal organizations with their own admission rush and pledge traditions.
Each candidate wore a suit in light gray, medium gray, or dark gray. Shoes could not have sling-back heels as those were considered too risqué. Skirts (and they had to be skirts) had to cover the knee. Hose needed to be a neutral color that would not draw attention to the leg. I was concurrently a TA in the new Women’s Studies program, so I had some difficulty fitting my new sense of self into a corporate dress code. Thus, I elected to pass over the public accounting experience and focus on manufacturing and industrial firms. For the next twenty-five years I worked in a variety of industries for several companies. Here I could slip into real work clothes and get close to the noise, grit, and energy of the manufacturing process.
Fast forward to 2007 when I had the opportunity to attend the Out and Equal Annual Summit in Washington, D.C. Out and Equal is a national organization devoted to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in the workplace.
At their Annual Summit, several thousand attendees participated in workshops and caucuses all designed to create an inclusive workplace. Here I encountered hundreds of employees from the largest accounting firms (no longer the big eight). Now public accountants came in all sizes, colors, and gender variations. I attended lectures given by transgender audit managers and reveled in the creativity, authenticity, and confidence of these out professionals. What a journey this profession has traveled!
As we learned in the Corporate Diversity Index, Madison workplaces have a few more miles to travel. There is no reason why the Madison area can’t become a leading community for LGBT diversity and, in turn, move our local economy forward. For example, there are just a few local Madison area companies that have put all of the policies in place to achieve a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Equality Index. But oddly enough, some local corporations fall short because they do not include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies. I don’t understand why an organization wouldn’t include gender identity in its nondiscrimination policy when gender identity discrimination is banned by city ordinance. Once nondiscrimination is covered in the law, it shouldn’t be a stretch to include it in the company’s nondiscrimination statement. Companies that want to be real allies to the LGBT community can take additional steps, starting with developing gender transition guidelines. After all, the best auditor, attorney, contractor, or employee may be a transgender individual. In addition, your company may have employees, potential employees, customers, and suppliers who are allies and look closely at the corporate policies and HRC scores. If you are an LGBT employee or ally, let your company know that these issues matter to you. Changes like this are well within our reach.
Sometimes we get discouraged with the state of our workplaces and the lack of emotional intelligence and understanding we sometimes encounter, but we should be encouraged by changes in many large companies. If we can make these kinds of changes in a 20-year span, just imagine where the future will take us. We can learn from the organizations that have stepped forward into the future and use that understanding to help the organizations that have more changes to make. This is a destination worthy of our collective efforts.
Resources for Learning About Workplace Advocacy
More information about Out and Equal Workplace advocates is available at:
More information about preparing for the HRC index is available at:
More information about transgender inclusion in the workplace at:
For more information about OPEN,the Out Professional and Executive Network, e-mail: [email protected]