LGBT+ employment fair receives warm welcome

First annual Professionals with Pride goes on without a hitch

Riley Simko, Staff Reporter

The Case Western Reserve University LGBT Center hosted its first annual Professionals with Pride event on Friday, Oct. 5.

Kent State University (KSU), Cleveland State University (CSU), John Carroll University, Baldwin Wallace and Lorain County Community College also participated in Professionals with Pride: Northeast Ohio Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Collegiate Career Fair. Pre-sessions for resume preparation were held at KSU and CSU to help students prepare for the event.

The LGBT Center collaborated with several parts of the CWRU community for Professionals with Pride, including the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, the Alumni Association, the Social Justice Institute, the Office for Inclusion Diversity and Equal Opportunity and the Center for International Affairs.

Last Friday’s event also boasted several Fortune 500 companies, such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric and Dominion Energy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, City Year, AXA Advisors, Eaton and many more employers with gender and sexuality-inclusive non-discrimination policies also attended.

In addition to hours of networking opportunities, Professionals with Pride hosted several breakout sessions for employers and students to attend. Gwen Stembridge led a breakout discussion called “Laws Impacting LGBTQ Employees.” Stembridge is the Northeast Ohio Coordinator for Equality Ohio, which is a legal and social advocacy group for LGBT+ Ohioans, founded in 2005.

Though this was the inaugural year for the event, feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Students, faculty and employers were encouraged to wear pronoun buttons and name tags, as well as to take a conversation sheet that might jump start the conversation on LGBT+ protections offered at their companies.

Angie Pohlman from Plexus: Chamber of Commerce for LGBT Community and Allies, one of the employers at Professionals with Pride, said, “I found it to be a terrific event because I got to meet some really fascinating students and I also got to network with some other organizations that are supporting the LGBT community at large.”

“It’s amazing that we had an event that acknowledges the difficulties that LGBT+ students face,” Adrian Hattan, a third-year student, said. “It’s helpful to see LGBT+ professionals because there is such a lack of role modeling in the community.”

That lack of LGBT+ representation may be due to discriminatory employment practices. Two weeks ago, the Cuyahoga County Council passed a non-discrimination policy to protect LGBT+ employees. This policy is not new to Cleveland, but it established a Commission on Human Rights with the power to oversee and settle cases on employment discrimination.

In most states and even in the counties around Cuyahoga County, these protections do not exist. That means openly gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender and otherwise LGBT-identified individuals could be fired for expressing their gender or sexual orientation. The companies invited to Professionals with Pride, however, actively work with LGBT+ employees through an Employee Resource Group and/or have non-discrimination policies in their employment framework.

Oliver Page, a third-year student at the Cleveland Institute of Art, spoke up about those practices and the environment they create for LGBT+ people in the workforce.

“There are so many negative experiences you could have as an LGBT person in the workplace, and it’s awesome to know that at these companies, someone’s looking out for you,” said Page. He added, “This is a really positive experience and a great opportunity for employers who are open to all people to find employees and interns. It’s comforting to know that everyone here represents a space that will be welcoming, and policies that enable people to not be persecuted.”

Professionals with Pride was a break from the norm for many other reasons, including the one-on-one interactions students were able to have with employers. Lines were short and faces were friendly. Many students were able to have extensive conversations about resumes and application processes and also to get to know the employers themselves.

Fourth-year student Ashley Chan said she did not initially plan on attending the event but decided to stop by and was struck by the positive atmosphere it conveyed.

“I’m surprised that this is the first time that this is happening because I think it’s very effective at helping students actually express themselves,” she said. “At a career fair, you may not get the opportunity to have a conversation with the other person. It’s really important to interview the other person to find out if this company is a good fit and is going to help you learn and grow. This shows people that networking doesn’t have to be intense and stressful.”

For more information about the companies present at Professionals with Pride, their hiring policies and upcoming events, visit the CWRU LGBT Center’s website or send them an email.