It was the final question for Jerome Harper, a vice president and senior consultant in Northern Trust’s corporate social responsibility practice, as his lunchtime listeners sipped coffee inside the Corinthian-columned, gray square building that’s been the Chicago Federal Reserve since the 1920s.
“So, is it harder to be black or gay in corporate America?” the audience member wondered.
Harper, 36, had already spent 60-plus minutes being true to the “authentic self” that he believes has cultivated, not thwarted, promotions in the financial-services industry. That includes several years at what many in the industry consider an old, conservative bank for high-net-worth clients. Harper, himself, considers Northern Trust NTRS, -1.55% to be all those things.
The Fed-sponsored event on the final day of Gay Pride Month in honor of the June 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan made no qualms about the territory it would cover: “Pride Matters: Being Black and Gay in Corporate America.” But the audience participant wondered if there was a notable distinction between the two, at least when it comes to opportunities in the workplace.
Which has been more challenging over the span of his career? “Gay,” Harper said. “All day.”
He explained: Because of appearance, race (less so, ethnicity) introduces itself in professional and personal settings. Harper made it clear he wasn’t dismissing the racial gullies still plaguing the U.S. workplace, but race is often (not always) pretty obvious. No matter what happens next, race differences are out in the open. Sexual orientation — in part complicated by navigating the “rules” around sharing personal information at work in the first place — is a disclosure under the control of the individual. And how the individual handles that disclosure, which Harper will advocate is about “living your truth,” can have implications for success and comfort at work, in financial services especially.
Read: These workers earn more than white men in America
The audience appreciated this honesty. In fact, Harper said it’s his honesty that has tended to put co-workers and supervisors at ease and allowed clients to gain trust. For Harper, being “out” is an obligation to himself, his clients and the scores of individuals who still struggle with living openly gay lives.
Harper considers himself a “gay, black male” — always in that order. Worth noting, Harper was clear in the presentation that race issues and sexual orientation can be linked. Harper’s charity work centers on getting gay support services into Chicago’s predominately black neighborhoods because, he said, while Chicago’s East Lake View neighborhood, host to the city’s Gay Pride Parade and home to many rainbow-flag-flying bars and businesses, may appear inclusive, Chicago’s people of color, especially young people, aren’t always made to feel welcome there.
@JayDotHarp “Show up and show out.” I am so grateful for the invitation to attend today’s conversation! Your impact touches so many people!
— Suzanne Mitchell (@SuzyM012480) June 30, 2016
Understanding just where race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and personal and professional success come together was at the heart of Harper’s presentation.
Here are a handful of take-aways:
“Show up and show out.” At the end of the day, workers show up at work to work. Of course, employee support, co-worker camaraderie and general comfort are retention features. But there’s nothing like doing your job well, showing initiative with projects or just generally getting noticed that can make your sexual orientation, skin color or gender a feature that defines you, as it should, but not your work, said Harper.
“Stock that cupboard.” Put valuable advocates in your own “kitchen cupboard” of support. You won’t always be privy to what’s said about you and your career behind closed doors. And, in fact, it’s none of your business what’s said behind that door. What is your business is building a network of support at work early on so that you don’t have to be your only advocate, especially when you’re not in the room. ”Find the people that will wear your T-shirt,” he said.
Have some courage. Workplaces are only culturally evolved if everyone promotes that environment. “Live your truth,” said Harper. Don’t feel compelled to change “he” to “she” and vice-versa if your personal anecdote shared at work is about your same-sex partner or spouse. In fact, doing so undermines workplace security for others. Harper suggests reacting to sometimes subtle discriminatory remarks, which can swell into what he calls “micro aggression,” by bouncing a question right back to the speaker: “Why do you use that word, John?” In addition to questions, use the vocabulary that correctly defines lifestyle choices; it will stick, and it forces others to question their own biases. And, when needed, be prepared to take a stand: “There is no space for that here.” Get involved in transforming a workplace. “Mentor up, mentor down and mentor sideways,” said Harper. Of course, outright signs of discrimination that impede the ability to work or advance at work based on race or sexual orientation are grounds for getting human resources involved.
Need in the marketplace. Finally, whether it is servicing the financial needs of LGBT fundraiser groups or high-net-worth same-sex couples (and offering better service to those clients because your staff socially aligns with them), or understanding Sharia law in handling the financials of practicing families and businesses of the Islamic faith, there is a strong and growing market for culturally sensitive financial products and services that banks, brokerages, asset managers and others would be foolish to ignore.
Courtesy : marketwatch.com