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DEI and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the St. Louis Metro region: “A Tale of Two States”

By JAIMIE HILEMAN (she, her, hers)
Special to the Illinois Business Journal

Trans Education Service (TES) Executive Director Jaimie Hileman

I’m an LGBTQ+ cultural competency educator and DEI professional. What does THAT mouthful actually MEAN…to anybody?

It means that after a long career in the corporate world and another in LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified persons, “+” holds space for other attributes so our initialism doesn’t become unwieldy…English only has 26 letters) advocacy, I now consult and educate for business in Human Resources and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) environments, and also in educational and healthcare institutions. I even have some faith-based clients, folks exploring what including we LGBTQ+ folks in their spaces of faith and worship might look like for them.

My consultancy does everything from assessment, policy, and educational facilitation, from “LGBTQ Basics” to “The Business Case for Diversity”, to “Creating Transgender Inclusive Space in Healthcare” and many points between. I’m a professional member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), and the St. Louis LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. I’m also pleased to teach at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Some believe that what I do is “harm reduction”, a social work term, or “risk mitigation”, a legal term, or “cultural competency education”, aka team building and organizational culture development, the process of creating teams that cohesively work together towards common goals. 

They’re all correct.

Once upon a time, diversity was thought to be race, religious belief, national origin, or ethnicity, but we now understand that many other components of the human experience influence who we are and the skills, drive, expertise, and energy we bring to our professions.

Modern business understands that more diverse work teams have higher employee engagement rates, more organizational loyalty, increased productivity and innovation, lower turnover, and a competitive edge for recruiting top talent (Forbes, July 2022).

Here’s just one example: the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+) civil rights organization has released its 2022 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), the best-known U.S. survey/analysis measuring company policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ workplace equality. A record-breaking 842 businesses in 2022, employing 14.3 million workers achieved the top CEI rating of 100, up from only 13 in its first year. The CEI score has become impactful not only for LGBTQ Americans looking for professional opportunities but for non-LGBTQ potential employees as well, seeing it as an indicator of employee satisfaction and quality work environments.

What does the environment of our St. Louis Metro area look like in terms of the “state of the workplace” for LGBTQ+ Illinoisans and Missourians? How do we rate inclusive policy and workplace satisfaction? What are our strengths and opportunities? Why do people need or seek my services?

Let’s look at the very different regulatory environment as far as the Missouri side of the river vs. the Illinois Metro East:

  • Illinois decriminalized being LGBTQ in 1962, by legislative action, and was the very first U.S. state to do so, while Missouri did so as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in 2003 (Lawrence)
  • Illinois has had marriage equality since 2013, Missouri by SCOTUS ruling in 2015 (Obergefell).
  • Illinois began legally recognizing nonbinary gender markers (nonbinary meaning a person whose gender identity is neither male nor female) in 2020, Missouri has no legal recognition.
  • Illinois has full inclusion of sexual orientation (SO) and gender identity (GI) as protected attributes in its Human Rights Act, Missouri has none.
  • Illinois has explicitly banned discrimination against LGBTQ persons in employment and housing since 2006; Missouri has zero protections (some municipalities do).
  • Neither state has LGBTQ-inclusive Family Leave Laws.

Here’s who’s affected in metro areas like ours with the very different civil rights and workplace protections between neighboring states:

Businesses like consistency and clarity. In a perfect world, Company ABC’s Executive Vice President of Human Resources, their Senior VP of Talent Acquisition, and VP of DEI would love a single employee handbook, workplace policies, code of conduct, benefits/perks, for their offices in Portland, Oregon, AND Portland, Maine. 

We don’t live in that world, we live in this one, a slightly dented but very aspirational version of THAT one…with federal rules and fifty different sets of state policies and enforcement.

Accordingly, we increasingly see the corporate world moving out ahead of society and lawmakers both in sorting out what workplace inclusion looks like for a host of attributes. 

This is a good thing.

I’d one day like to see DEI viewed not as a “stick”, something we do to avoid risk, negative press, and reputational damage, but instead, as the golden “carrot”, creating value in the workspace through innovation, talent retention, and enhanced operational dynamics.

A sample of what I consult, educate, and advocate for within business space involves policy (how to handle gender transition in the workplace), language (removing unnecessarily gendered language and using more inclusive language), cultural competency (building shared values while deconstructing biases), and reducing the assumptions that limit our vision.

Does this snapshot of DEI in our region look like a whole lot of change? Maybe a little scary?

Yes.

But let me reassure you. 

We don’t do business today the way we did business ten years ago, and if we want to be in business in ten years’ time, we’ll continue to grow and change.

Jaimie Hileman is the executive director at TES Trans Education Service and can be reached at jaimiehileman@transedservice.com. For more information on training, facilitations, and services, visit www.transedservice.com

Trans Education Service (TES) Executive Director Jaimie Hileman, shown.

(Editor’s Note: This story was also published in the September 2022 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)

 

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