Austin businesses support LGBT community

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Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

Some Texan businesses are banding together to show their support for the LGBT community through Texas Competes, a coalition of businesses and pro-business organizations working toward workplace equality, according to a Texas Competes spokeswoman. 

“As far as we know, this is a historic first that businesses around Texas are saying in a unified voice that the brand of LGBT needs to change as an economic imperative — especially businesses in Texas that have progressive policies,” Texas Competes managing director Jessica Shortall said. “It varies — for some businesses, it’s a value thing; others see it as a competitive advantage. But in talking to business leadership, we started to realize that while individual workplace measures are important and necessary, they are not going to protect the competitiveness of Texas when it comes to getting top talent.”

Mercedes Ballard, international business senior and president of the Gay Business Student Association, said the pledge is symbolically important.

“It … lets [LGBT students] know there is a safe place to work and that people are actively trying to make an effort for their voice to be heard,” Ballard said. “In a lot of companies, especially in conservative industries, LGBT things are not recognized.”

When Texas Competes formally launched its mission on April 14, it had 100 signing members, with which it had worked since last November. Now, Shortall said, Texas Competes has more than 200 signatures.

Southwest Airlines, IBM, Intel and Whole Foods Market are some of the signing companies. Seeing such a strong response from Texas businesses is important for millennials to see, Shortall said.

“Millennials are overwhelmingly showing that LGBT rights and being included and welcoming of LGBT are important to LGBT and non-LGBT people alike,” Shortall said. “Looking at those who signed the Texas Competes pledge is a fantastic representation of where business values lie in Texas. When students are coming out of schools and looking where to work, I think young people are looking at which businesses and which states are standing up for the LGBT community on these issues.”

Kyle Campbell, finance and business honors junior, said he asked about each company’s “diversity groups” when he looked for internships over the summer, 

“Lots of companies have LGBT diversity groups that have social functions, provide support networks [and give] presentations on being gay in the workplace,” Campbell said. “Every time I was recruiting with a company, I asked them, ‘What do you have in terms of that?’”

Sabee Grewal, electrical engineering and physics junior, worked at Intel during the fall 2014 semester. The company was very in tune with diverse needs, Grewal said.

“They seemed very receptive of anyone’s particular needs,” Grewal said. “They had a prayer room, several different prayer rooms for different faiths, and, in terms of gay and lesbian issues, I don’t remember anything specific, but there was nothing I could interpret as unfriendly.”

Although Texas Competes does not communicate directly with the Texas Legislature, the message is important for everyone to hear, Shortall said.

“It’s really important to send a message that this is our Texas,” Shortall said. “One that is welcoming and would like top talent in the world to call this place home. That’s the Texas that Texas Competes represents.”