SWE - Spring 2008 - (Page 32)
As myths and stereotypes slowly dissolve, LGBTs are BY SANDRA GUY, SWE CONTRIBUTOR Louise Young, Ph.D., a senior software engineer at Raytheon, said fear still exists in the minds and hearts of many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees, 34 years after she was fired from a teaching job for being a lesbian. Yet the 60-year-old Dr. Young, a self-described “old-fashioned lesbian activist,” sees progress. “The vast majority of Fortune 500 companies have policies that protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation,” she said, citing statistics from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (www.hrc.org). The foundation reported on Jan. 8 that 98 percent of the nation’s 519 largest employers provide workplace protections based on employees’ sexual orientation. Although fewer companies — 58 percent of those responding to the survey — offer workplace protections based on gender identity, it is a significant increase from 29 percent in 2005. Formative Experiences Dr. Young recalled the event that prompted her to focus on workplace issues. She was teaching at East Central University in Ada, Okla., when she took a sabbatical to finish her Ph.D. dissertation. A student saw Dr. Young and her partner dancing at a gay bar in Oklahoma City. She had grown up in Ada, a town with a population of 13,000, and had graduated from the university where she was teaching. “In 1974, it really mattered,” said Dr. Young, who serves as president of Raytheon’s Global Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies Resource Group (GLBTA). “I got a letter at the end of my sabbatical saying, ‘Don’t come back.’” Vivian, Dr. Young’s partner at the bar, has been her companion for nearly 37 years. “That incident [of being fired] really changed my life,” she said. “It crystallized for me the need to devote major energy to trying to change perceptions and break the myths and stereotypes that would cause a workplace to not want to hire gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.” Heavily influenced by President John F. Kennedy’s idealism, she decided to, “Make the world a better place for everyone to live. I have that old-fashioned feeling with my employer.” Dr. Young has spearheaded efforts to show employers that employees are at their best, and their most productive, if they are free to be themselves. “What is ‘being out?’” she asked. “You are ‘out’ when you feel free to put your partner’s picture on your desk at work.” She advised her employers, first Texas Instruments and then Raytheon, which took over TI’s defense systems and electronics business, on how companies can recognize LGBT employees for their loyalty, productivity, and other contributions. “I saw it as a need for people to feel comfortable and be who they are, and I saw it as a benefit to companies,” Dr. Young said. Incremental Victories Dr. Young counseled that companies with LGBT-friendly policies would find it easier to recruit and retain top talent, and gain the appreciation of valuable employees. Such policies could consist of covering moving expenses that include the employee’s partner and providing the same benefits coverage for partners as for spouses. According to Dr. Young, the engineering field wasn’t the easiest to win over since many of the folks who formed the “historic backbone” of the field were military veterans and people with a conservative bent. “There are particular challenges for women, people Establishing Inclusion and Fairness in the Workplace 32 SWE SPRING 2008
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