By Rob Farmer
Director, Landis Communications, Inc.
Chicago is my kind of town. It’s big, but not overwhelming. It’s friendly, but not annoyingly so. It has, in the not-so-humble opinion of this armchair architecture critic, the best buildings in the U.S. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to spend three days in the Windy City recently to attend a business development conference hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).
LCI is a proud certified NGLCC business enterprise. Our agency has been certified for about two years, but gay-owned for 22. Attending the conference – as LCI’s ambassador and as a straight man – was as eye-opening as it was rewarding. The city of Chicago played a surprising second fiddle to the dynamism of “Certify Your Success” conference.
More than 500 people attended the conference – held at the ultra chic Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel – each ready to make connections and grow their respective businesses. Opportunity was everywhere. More than 130 corporate partners were also in attendance, representing some of the top-tier of corporate America: FedEx, AllState, Capitol One,Wells Fargo, UPS, IBM, American Airlines, Ernst & Young, MetLife, American Express, Target, Chevron and many others. To see such a show of strength from corporate America at the NGLCC conference was uplifting on many levels.
Let’s first be frank. It’s corporate America. So it’s not surprising to find them operating in areas where there’s an opportunity to reach new audiences and, in turn, make more money. The larger point is the LGBTQ community, long marginalized by mainstream corporate circles, has now firmly secured a seat at the corporate table. And, in many respects, they’re now running the meeting.
The conference was filled with anecdotal evidence of how important the LGBTQ community is to corporate America. One particularly poignant moment came at a general session luncheon, whose keynote speaker was Ernst & Young Global Chairman and CEO Jim Turley. He was introduced to the audience by Ernst & Young’s Chris Crespo, who first acknowledged her wife and two children sitting in the crowd. As Turley got up to speak, a transgender woman at my table, who had worked years ago at E&Y, said, “I never thought I’d see the day where the Ernst & Young CEO would be attending an event like this …much less speaking at it …much less not wearing a tie!”
Corporate America, for all its button-down white-bread tradition, has opened up its mind along with its collar. As the Certify Your Success conference made clear, diversity – in all of its forms – is the new business as usual.As the straight attaché from LCI, it was a privilege to attend the NGLCC conference to build relationships and develop business for our agency. I made many connections and began productive conversations that may someday blossom into business partnerships. Living in San Francisco, it’s easy to assume everybody is accepting of pretty much everything (except maybe poor parking jobs). But it’s just not the case. Not yet. Especially socially, there remains
work ahead. There are still barriers to break. There is still business to do. My hat is off to NGLCC and its members for leading the charge.
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