Panel prepares LGBTQ+ students for the workforce

The Cahill Career Center teamed up with the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services to host a panel titled Working While LGBTQ+. Four local LGBTQ+ identifying workers with varying careers served as the panelists, and the discussion was moderated by Career Advisor Alex Corsillo and Coordinator of the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services Alex Woods. 

The panelists included Donnalee Corrieri, the chief communications and marketing officer at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, Gus Penaranda, the executive director at New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce, Deb Spell, the revenue integrity investigator at PSEG, and Anthony Torres, the founder of Bergen County LGBTQ+ Alliance. Each shared their personal experiences of being queer in the workplace and gave advice on how emerging workers can better navigate their identity in professional environments.

“If the company looks like us, supports communities that we’re all part of, then most likely you will feel comfortable working there and going to work there.”

– Gus Penaranda

A tip everyone spoke about was researching the companies you are interested in. Look to see if the leadership boards at the company and divisions you wish to work for have or lack diversity. You should also research what they stand for. All companies should have Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategies, and within that, some offer further titles, including Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). 

ERGs deal with all forms of diversity and can help you figure out if the company is worth applying to or being out at, depending on a company’s stances on inclusion. It is important to note that these are not things you will find in Human Resources. ERGs “are independent groups that are run by the employees that are supported by the executive,” Penaranda said. 

“If the company looks like us, supports communities that we’re all part of, then most likely you will feel comfortable working there and going to work there,” he said. 

A large discussion topic was allyship. Having allies in the workplace is very important, as well as having a company that enforces equal opportunities and does not tolerate discrimination or mistreatment. 

In an effort to be completely honest, the panelists warned students that, especially for companies with thousands of employees, not everyone in the company is going to follow or support that. It is difficult to monitor everyone and change their opinions, so having a completely accepting workplace can be hard to sustain. However, there are companies out there that do value all employees. 

“It’s important that people understand that allyship is a verb. It’s an active thing that you constantly have to do, and we have to also understand that we’re all allies,” Torres said. “We’re all not everything, [so] we’re all allies, and what we’re really doing is fighting for a better future.”

Being a panel of an older queer generation, they were able to provide insight into the struggles they had gone through in their lifetime and the growth they have seen in being openly queer in the workspace. They also spoke about the growth in allyship. 

Corrieri shared that she was fired from a very high-paying job when her company found out she married her wife. Penaranda shared that he already dealt with discrimination for being Hispanic, but once he began to embrace being a gay man in his late twenties, he dealt with racism and homophobia, including being called slurs. 

Now, the panelists have worked with others who stand up for them and purposely try to make a safer, inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community. They also are valued and recognized for their work more than their differences. However, they all see challenges and understand there is still a long way to go. 

“You have to continue to tell your stories… if you don’t, the people behind you are never going to remember… [Those against us] are trying to wipe out our country’s history, you don’t think they want to wipe out the LGBTQIA+ history?” Penaranda said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re actually getting bigger because we’re having the conversations and telling our stories, [both] allies and LGBTQIA individuals.”

“Find a way to tell your story. That’s the only way it’s going to continue on,” he said.

Featured photo by Emily Melvin