Black and Gay in Corporate America - Black Enterprise
Career Magazine

Black and Gay in Corporate America

Yvette C. Burton, Ph.D., CEO, Arcus Foundation (Photo: Lonnie C. Major)

Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale thinks she was fired in the early ’80s because she was a masculine-looking lesbian. “When I first entered corporate America I was in my ‘boy days,’ meaning I had short hair and wore pantsuits with ties.” O’Neale, 61, acknowledges progress has been made since then. Today, she serves as vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer for Campbell Soup Co. in Camden, New Jersey. Still, for some LGBT people, being out in the workplace can range anywhere from uncomfortable to a downright dangerous proposition.

Such issues have become increasingly important to corporations as part of their diversity initiatives and efforts to gain greater market share. Take Black Enterprise’s 40 Best Companies for Diversity, in which firms were measured against four key categories: the percentage of African Americans and other ethnic minorities represented among employees, senior management, and corporate board members, as well as the percentage of total procurement dollars spent with businesses owned by African Americans and other ethnic minority groups. We found that 23 companies on this year’s roster are also included on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2011 list of the Best Places to Work for LGBT employees.

Last year’s legislative repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military, and prominent professionals such as CNN’s Don Lemon coming out publicly, have placed a spotlight on gays in the workplace. (See sidebar on Lemon.) Despite this, African American LGBT executives can still find it tough as a double/triple minority to gain acceptance from corporate colleagues as well as within their own community.

Fight for a More Inclusive Environment
Research shows that there are between 2 million and 6 million people who are treated unfairly at work because they are LGBT, says Kimberley McLeod, media field strategist for Communities of African Descent at GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). She says it’s not enough to establish policies to protect LGBT employees in the workplace. “Employers must also provide an inclusive environment where people feel safe to be their whole authentic selves. Fragmented employees who feel