Twenty years ago, only four percent of Fortune 500 companies had any kind of protection for LGBT people. Today, only about four percent don’t have those protections. Selisse Berry, Founder and CEO of Out and Equal Workplace Advocates reflects on the work she and her organization have done over the past two decades and the work yet to be done for LGBT Equality. Click here for part 1 of Journey to Workplace Equality.
Interview recorded on May 17, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Part 1 of 2.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: Selisse, when you go to company to company, has it been your experience that it’s just ignorance, that mainly H.R. individuals do not know, or do you think there is an inherent discrimination, or was inherent discrimination, that they needed to be educated on, or both?
Berry: A little of both. But it was interesting, as soon as we started bringing LGBT employees together, it was LGBT employees that really went back to their company, met with H.R., met with their diversity folks, and began that conversation about, “Look at, you know, how this is not equal pay for equal work if my colleagues, who can get married and I can’t, if I’m not getting paid the same way.” And so people didn’t just say it’s the right thing to do, but it was also made a business case for why it was important, because there’s a war on talent and there’s — we don’t want to exclude a significant part of the population simply because they’re LGBT.
Traynham: About how many states actually have discrimination law still on the books? Do you know?
Berry: Well, there are 22 states that protect LGBT people.
Traynham: Okay. And so, clearly there’s a lot of work still be done. Are you optimistic, over the next 20 years, two years, that perhaps the other states will, or perhaps maybe there’s a federal law that would make this completely and totally legal, in terms of gay marriage?
Berry: I’m absolutely optimistic. We’ve seen so much progress. When I started, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was in place. People weren’t able to serve openly in the military. People weren’t able to be married. And so we’ve seen that progress over time. And so I’m very hopeful that an equality act will be passed that continues to protect us. And we still have to do the education to change hearts and minds.
Traynham: That’s where I want to go next. I want to talk about the next chapter — the next chapter for you but also the next chapter for the movement and also your legacy. What is next? What is part of the chapter that is still yet to be written?
Berry: Well, for Out & Equal, we work primarily with multinational companies. And the global perspective is so significant. We can now be married in 24 countries around the world. But in close to 80 countries, homosexuality is still illegal. We can be arrested, imprisoned, even killed in certain countries, again, simply because of who we love. And so our work is to help multinational companies not just roll their policies out here in the United States, but globally, and trying to make a change around the world.
Traynham: Let’s talk about your legacy in the 45 seconds we have left. What are you most proud of?
Berry: You know, we hold an annual conference every year — the Out & Equal Workplace Summit. We have 4,500 people there from 35 countries around the world. It gives me goose bumps just to think about this.
Traynham: I can see the smile on your face clearly, and the pleasure that you’re getting from this.
Berry: Yeah, absolutely. I feel really very proud of the work that we’ve done at Out & Equal.
Traynham: Are you finished?
Berry: I’m not finished, no.
Traynham: What’s next for you?
Berry: You know, I’m going to take a little time off and look at all my options, and definitely still be involved in LGBT equality work.
Traynham: So, in other words, Selisse Berry, I hear that you’re going to take it easy but you’re not going to put your feet up and totally relax. because there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Traynham: Well, thank you very much for all of your hard work and dedication. And we wish you nothing but the best.
Berry: Thank you, Robert.
Traynham: All right, Selisse Berry, the founder and CEO of Out & Equal. And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I’m Robert Traynham.