12-year-old Out & Equal brings its annual summit to Dallas, home of workplace equality advocacy legend Louise Young
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
To Out & Equal Executive Director Selisse Berry, Dallas activist Louise Young is a workplace equality advocacy legend.
Young worked at Texas Instruments and helped found the employee resource group at that company. Texas Instruments added benefits for its gay and lesbian employees commensurate with its straight employees and nondiscrimination became a way of life at the company, due in no small part to Young’s efforts.
Then Texas Instruments sold the division in which Young and a number of other LGBT employees worked to Raytheon, a company that did not have the LGBT-related policies and benefits that TI had.
So Young made an appointment with top Raytheon executives. She explained to them that she worked hard to gain her equality in the workplace, and that former TI employees now moving to Raytheon would expect the same at their new company.
And she did it all long before Out & Equal was ever created.
Raytheon GLBTA Global President Gib Murray said, “They were very receptive to having an inclusive workplace, allowing employees to be their complete self and recruit and retain the best and brightest.”
And he said that the company was pretty thorough when it looked at employee benefits.
“It’s just kind of handled,” Murray said. “When a situation comes up, it’s addressed.”
He said that once Raytheon embraced diversity, it jumped to the head of the pack to become the first defense contractor to receive a 100 percent rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
Out & Equal’s mission
Equality has become the norm at large U.S. corporations, despite one very large local exception — ExxonMobil. But even in a category like defense contracting, Raytheon is no longer alone in ensuring equality.
Northrup Grumman also rates 100 percent and its CEO will speak in Dallas next week at the national Out & Equal Workplace Summit being held at the Hilton Anatole Hotel.
Out & Equal is the national organization committed to ending workplace discrimination for LGBT employees. It works with employee resource groups, or ERGs, from major corporations to encourage best workplace practices for all LGBT employees. The Oct. 25-28 conference will be the largest LGBT meeting Dallas has ever hosted, with 2,500 people expected to attend.
Max Rippetoe of JC Penney Pride said ERGs have three purposes — to attract and retain the best talent, to get the most out of those who are here and to reach out to the community.
At his company, he said having the Pride group may attract a designer that wouldn’t go to a cross-town, upscale rival — Neiman Marcus, which scored 30 percent in the CEI guide — that doesn’t have a similar group. He said having the group was simply good for business.
LGBT customers feel welcome shopping at a place that maintains its 100 percent rating with HRC, Rippetoe said.
When the Out & Equal Workplace Summit comes to Dallas, JC Penney will be a “titanium sponsor.” The company will present a fashion show, and retiring CEO Mike Ullman and Liz Sweney, executive vice president, senior general merchandise manager and the executive sponsor of JC Penney’s Pride, will participate as plenary speakers.
Daphne Avila is a JC Penney company spokesperson and a member of Pride. She said, “Since this is the first time Out & Equal is coming to Dallas and this is our home base, it made sense for us to sponsor.”
She said that she was proud of how the company has transformed internally.
“The company made inclusion and diversity part of our turnaround,” Avila said, crediting Ullman with the company’s commitment to diversity.
Ullman himself has disabilities and has adopted two daughters with disabilities. The Penney’s group for associates with disabilities is one of the most dynamic of the company’s ERGs, Avila said.
Over the past few years, Avila said, associate participation in resource groups at JC Penney has grown. The groups contribute to “training programs that keep store employees cognizant of diverse customer needs.”
LEAGUE@AT&T, created in the late 1980s, will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, according to its president, Theresa Bates-McLemore, who called her group the original employee resource group.
She said that her company encourages its employees to come out, because staying in the closet at work takes up too much time and energy and is counterproductive to a healthy work environment.
She said that Gary Fraundorfer, vice president of human resources, is so committed to ending workplace discrimination that he recently joined the board of Resource Center Dallas. Because the current AT&T is made up of various phone companies that have merged, Fraundorfer is currently reviewing policies inherited from each entity to make sure that there is no discrimination company-wide.
Incoming LEAGUE@AT&T President John Cramer said that if a situation comes up, being a member of LEAGUE helps, since the group has direct access to top management.
He added that employees can’t get domestic partner benefits if the company doesn’t know about the partner.
Paul von Wupperfeld is a member of TI’s employee resource group and heads the local Out & Equal regional affiliate. Many companies are beginning to address transgender discrimination and benefits. He said the biggest argument against adding those benefits is cost.
“But no company was ever bankrupted by gender reassignment surgery,” von Wupperfield said.
Adding that benefit, he said, “sends a powerful message that they care about employees’ well-being.”
Von Wupperfield said that other area companies are working with is benefits equality.
A company may offer health insurance for domestic partners just as it is offered to married spouses. However, the federal government taxes the benefit given to a same-sex partner, but not toa heterosexually married spouse — even in states that have marriage equality.
“We’d rather see it fixed at the government level,” he said, but some companies have begun paying employees the amount they owe in extra taxes. Bank of America announced this month that it would pay that differential to its gay and lesbian employees.
TI is looking into this form of compensation as well, he said.
Von Wupperfeld said that the ERGs at his company work well together.
“No employee resource group can exist in opposition to any other,” he said.
So when the Christian Values Initiative formed, his group made a point of working with them.
This summer the two groups were among the co-sponsors of an exhibit on Nazi treatment of gays at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. Members of the Christian group were at the museum when the exhibit arrived in crates, helping to unpack and assemble the displays.
Selise Berry said the Workplace Summit is inspiring. In little more than a decade, Out & Equal has grown into one of the largest LGBT organizations in the country.
A graduate of University of North Texas, Berry was a teacher in Dallas before moving to the San Francisco Bay area to attend Presbyterian Seminary. Because she was lesbian, she could not be ordained, so she went to work for non-profits and did diversity training.
In 1999, Berry created Out & Equal, pulling together the various employee resource groups around the country and regional groups of groups.
For three years she worked alone. Today, Out & Equal has 17 regional affiliates, including ones in Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston.
The Workplace Summit is the organization’s big annual event, but the staff of 20 works throughout the year to create resources for healthcare providers, nonprofits and corporations of all sizes that do not have their own ERGs.
Berry said that one of the themes at this year’s conference is taking LGBT benefits global. Among the issues is whether a company would take a contract in a country where its LGBT employees would not be safe, and if it does, how does it deal with that discrimination.
Out & Equal is becoming an international organization. Among the attendees at this year’s conference are people from a number of companies around the world.
One measure of Out & Equal’s success is the lineup for the conference.
“It took us a number of years before a CEO agreed to speak,” she said. “This year we have two.”
The conference will feature 140 different workshops and a number of featured panels. CNN’s LZ Gunderson will interview Golden State Warriors President and CEO Rick Welts, the highest-ranking person in professional sports management to come out. Entertainers such as Meredith Baxter, Margaret Cho and Kate Clinton will attend.
Dallas will contribute to the entertainment with Turtle Creek Chorale, Dallas Black Dance Theater and Ballet Folklorico performing.
Online registration has closed but registration will be accepted at the door beginning Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 8 a.m. at the Hilton Anatole. Three-day registration is $1,195. One-day rate is $400.
The Collin County-based AIDS education group C.U.R.E. will display 18 blocks from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Dallas this weekend. In addition, there will be a signature panel for people who have viewed the quilt to sign.
Group founder Roseann Rosetti said many of the panels are in memory of people from Dallas.
The quilts will be on display at the Hilton Anatole in the Tower Building in the hall and rotunda and outside the Trinity Ballroom where the lunches and dinners for the conference take place. Rosetti said everyone is welcome to come view the panels.
— David Taffet
For a list of celebrities appearing at the
Out & Equal summit, Oct. 25-28 in Dallas, CLICK HERE.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.