HBCU Panelist on Entering the Workforce as an LGBT Young Adult
October 31, 2013 by Guest contributor
My name is Kandice Fields and I am queer, genderqueer and transmasculine. My first full-time foray into the workforce was a summer internship after my sophomore year of college. The internship was across the country, so my interview was over the phone. After I was offered the internship, it dawned on me that I'd need to figure out what to wear. Most of the advice on “dressing for success” I had received up to this point was very gendered and cis-normative.
As a result, I brought mostly gender-conforming professional attire, and saved my regular masculine clothes for when I was off the clock. Needless to say, I was self-conscious, awkward, and generally uncomfortable in the clothes that hid my gender expression. The few times I felt comfortable at work were Casual Fridays when I could just wear jeans and a polo shirt. Luckily, I did feel like I could be myself outside of work with the other interns and went on to enjoy my summer as a result. I do wonder how much better things would have gone had I not spent so much energy on masking my gender expression and sexual orientation at work.
After that experience, I decided that I needed to find professional attire that I could feel like myself in. I got more masculine suits, shirts, shoes, cufflinks, and learned how to tie a tie. I wore the professional clothes that allowed me to feel confident and focus on my interviews and landed a summer internship at a different company than the previous year. I went on to have a successful summer internship, being able to bring my whole self to work. I went on to have two more summer internships and got hired on full-time after graduation. I also learned that the company I worked for covered gender identity and expression in their non-discrimination policy and had an LGBT employee affinity group, which made me feel like diversity was something the company proactively integrated into their culture instead of just talking about it.
When HRC first launched the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) in 2002, 40% of rated companies had an LGBT Employee Resource Group. The 2013 Corporate Equality Index revealed that number had more than doubled in the last 11 years. Likewise, the 2013 CEI found that 84% of rated companies prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity while 99% prohibit sexual orientation-based discrimination.
This does not mean that LGBT people, especially LGBT people of color, are safe from discrimination, but it does show that the tide is turning in favor of LGBT equality in the corporate workforce.
To learn more about entering the workforce as a young LGBT person, visit http://www.hrc.org/hbcu. You can also join the conversation on November 4 at 12PM EST for HRC’s Entering the Workforce Twitter Townhall by tweeting with the hashtag #HRCatWork.
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