LGBTQ+ panel discusses inclusion in the workplace

The Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services teamed up with the Cahill Career Development Center to host the LGBTQIA+ Inclusion in the Workplace: Representation Matters panel on Tuesday.

Executive Director of the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce Gus Penaranda moderated the panel. Throughout the discussion, Penaranda remarked on what to look for when searching for a job to find an inclusive workplace. One of the initial tips was to find Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). 

“There are now ways in which you can find out if a corporation is friendly to the [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] community. Not just the LGBTQIA+ community, the entire diverse community,” Penaranda explained.

After this, the panelists were introduced, consisting of the Director of Youth Services at the Hudson Pride Center Stephanie Mills, behavioral health technician for the Center for Autism (CFA) and founder of Native Nourishment Jonté Desire, and Director of Prevention Services for EDGE New Jersey Ricardo Salcido. 

The discussion began with a question directed at Mills, asking how she would define inclusion based on her experiences with the Hudson Pride Center and what it might look like when an employer creates a space for the community.

“I think inclusion for me, if I had to give a definition, is really creating a safer space for our diverse community to not just coexist, but to thrive,” she said.

Mills’ work with Hudson Pride Center, a nonprofit organization, includes support groups, programs that provide care to HIV-affected individuals and outreach to many community leaders to create safer spaces all over Hudson County.

“As an employee, I think it’s really important to illustrate your support with your policies… Another way [to create safe spaces] is to address things right when it happened,” she said. 

Desire was then asked about why inclusion in the workplace is needed in 2023, especially for students who are going to be graduating in a couple of years.

“You also need to know that this is your space too… and so it’s needed to have those reminders, have those newsletters that aren’t just in June, have those socials and those trainings because it shows that… the company that’s supposed to be supporting me also recognizes this,” they shared.

Desire previously worked for another company and while they were working there, they did not feel safe enough to share their gender-neutral pronouns. Once they started at the CFA and found their coworkers were interested in learning, they felt like the space truly belonged to them as well.

This led to Penaranda mentioning that some companies will request that all employees include their pronouns under their signature line in emails. This action shows that the company cares about who their employees are.

The discussion turned to Salcido, who was asked what some roadblocks are that prevent people from feeling included and how they should advocate for themselves. To this, Salcido explained that young adults need to believe in themselves as they build themselves up. 

“That interviewer is looking for an experienced person. You’re actually covered by discrimination laws in New Jersey and elsewhere, so don’t doubt yourself. You are probably one of your biggest obstacles,” he said.

Salcido works for EDGE New Jersey, a nonprofit organization focused on providing support to those at risk or living with HIV, as well as the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Throughout the conversation, multiple companies were described as inclusive organizations. NJ Transit, TD Bank and AtlantiCare are a few. Bristol Myers Squibb was also mentioned along with its research efforts to help transgender individuals with cancer — as they cannot receive the same chemical treatments as those who have not transitioned.

“They feel that this is an issue that needs to be addressed because you’re right, you can go into any hospital and they’re like ‘oh, well we don’t handle that’ …and all of a sudden what do you do? You just collapse into yourselves when you need medical attention,” Penaranda explained.

The panel concluded with a Q&A in which students were given advice on how to correct employers when misgendering.

Mills suggested students inquire about training that addresses LGBTQ+ subject matter in their future workplaces. “Like ‘Hey, this is a cool training, I would like for us to have it,’ and in that training, they can talk about pronouns and different things,” she said.


Featured photo by Peyton Bortner