If a job applicant described as “curious and adventurous, creative, smart, articulate, cheerful, a wonderful easygoing personality …” were knocking on your human resources department door, certainly that person would be given careful consideration. After all, those are qualities that would be a perfect fit in many workplace teams.
To round out the description of this college-age person, let’s add “always has a smile on their face, and a gifted violinist.” (In fact, this person could play the violin while riding a unicycle.)
Today, when a severe shortage of qualified and appropriately trained employees causes millions of jobs to go unfilled, most hiring executives would scramble for such a person.
But alas, this particular person, whose name is Tyler, is not available to be hired. Read on to learn why.
Last July at the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Power of Diversity Breakfast, I was seated next to a gentleman responsible for business development at a firm that offered back-office HR services to small companies. When I said I worked for Heartland Men’s Chorus, Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, he asked why there was such an emphasis on creating a workplace that welcomed LGBT employees when gay folks make up such a small percentage of the population.
Biting my tongue, I reminded him that a diverse workforce, which includes LGBT employees, better reflects the community as a whole. In a follow-up email I introduced him to the HRC Corporate Equality Index, explaining how corporations devote a great number of resources to score high on the index because it’s good for business in so many ways.
As it happened, one of the panelists at the breakfast was Don Hall Jr., CEO of Hallmark Cards. His topic was the Castro Project, an undertaking that enabled Hallmark to keep its good name on the shelves of the Walgreens store in the Castro District in San Francisco, a neighborhood that has a high density of LGBT citizens, businesses and tourists. By working with focus groups here in Kansas City, which included numerous members of our chorus, Hallmark created a line of greeting cards that reflected the emotions and expressive needs of LGBT folks. The result: double-digit sales increases for Hallmark in that store.
Karen Cox, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Children’s Mercy Hospital, was also on that breakfast panel. At her hospital they need to expand their services for transgender youth because of such high demand. There is also a pediatrics group north of the river that is starting up such a program. She and Don were also joined by Kori Carew, director of strategic diversity initiatives at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a law firm that consistently scores 100 percent on the aforementioned Corporate Equality Index.
It all sounds like Kansas City gets it when it comes to LGBT workplace issues, yet there was the gentleman seated next to me who apparently didn’t get the memo. And I suspect there are many more who don’t understand why or how to ensure a safe and welcoming workplace environment for everyone.
So why isn’t Tyler available to be hired? This young man, Tyler Clementi, was a freshman at Rutgers University when he was cyberbullied by his roommate for being gay. Tyler couldn’t handle the pressure and embarrassment and chose to take his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
Tyler’s mom, Jane Clementi, started the Tyler Clementi Foundation in memory of her talented son to battle bullying in all its forms. She will be a guest of Heartland Men’s Chorus on March 25 and 26 at the Folly Theater as we offer our concert “Identify,” in which we explore through music and narration the importance of being true to oneself and to others. She will also be part of a pre-concert panel aimed at high school and college students to help them navigate life and hopefully become future hires to share their unique skills as part of a thriving and inclusive workforce.
I’ll be sure to invite my seatmate from the Power of Diversity Breakfast to the show.
Cliff Schiappa is director of development at Heartland Men’s Chorus.