The LGBTQ&A Inclusive Career Fair grew out of real concerns about the climate for gay people in Michigan.

“We were lamenting the fact that so many LGBT youth were chomping at the bit to get out of here,” said Jan Stevenson, publisher of Between the Lines, one of the career fair sponsors. “Michigan is sending exactly the wrong message to gay people – that this is not a good place to live and work.” 

The career fair challenged that idea by showcasing 37 companies committed to recruiting gay workers. The University of Michigan – Dearborn hosted the March 5 event at the Fairlane Center.

Stevenson said it’s the largest LGBT career fair hosted in Michigan. She said in a state where it is legal to fire someone because they’re gay, it’s important to show gay workers how many companies value them.

“People who are hired here are coming in as out,” Stevenson said. “Knocking down those closet doors.”

Plante Moran recruiter Kim Koerber said she doesn’t usually come to college career fairs. She sends the company’s college recruiters.

“This one somehow appeared in our inbox,” she said. “It seemed unique enough and important enough to attend ourselves. It seemed like a smart opportunity to get involved.”

For many of the companies attending the career fair, finding gay workers is already a part of their recruitment strategy. Many had PRIDE councils or other internal groups designed to examine and improve the work environment for LGBT workers. When asked why they chose to participate in this fair, many said it just seemed natural. 

“This was local and we like to work with University of Michigan-Dearborn students,” said Colleen Geyer, recruiter for the venture capitalist firm Detroit Venture Partners. “We are very much looking for creative, entrepreneurial, passionate people.”

“We just want to show that we’re diverse all around,” said Tanya Caldwell Murray of TRW. “We’re open.”

“Our founder had a philosophy of inviting the worker and the person to the office,” said Grant Ponte of Herman Miller. “Bring all of you to the workplace. Everything that makes you, you.” 

For other companies, participation represented a change in their corporate culture. Stevens said when the Lear Corporation approached her about participating in the career fair, they had a score of 15 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. The index rates companies’ LGBT equality on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (excellent).

“I said ‘you can come but who wants to work there?’” Stevenson said that motivated the company to examine its policies toward LGBT employees. “Since revamping their policies – added inclusion and non-discrimination policies – they went from 15 to 85.”

Stevenson said companies need to make sure they have non-discrimination policies and that they cover LGBT people; they need to have inclusive policies for healthcare, family leave and other benefits; and they need to actively recruit gay workers. 

“When you start changing policies, you start changing lives,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said most companies and most workers know it’s important to have an inclusive workplace.

“I think the political community is way out of touch with the general population,” Stevenson said. “Especially the workplace environment. If you discriminate, you’re going to lose good people. And not just gay people.”