By Guest Blogger Sam McClure, Vice President of Affiliate Relations and External Affairs, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
I started my current job four years ago, relocating to Washington, D.C. from the Twin Cities, where I was the executive director of the local affiliate of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). To say I was thrilled is an understatement; I couldn’t wait to put the knowledge I learned at the local and regional levels to work on a national scale.
As I did, I experienced a big shift in thinking. I began to see my work as an advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) business and workplace equality through a much larger lens: that of an advocate for business and workplace equality for all diverse segments. One thing that really drove this home for me was our membership in the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE), a multi-organization collaborative, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), which works to promote positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
When I tell people about NGLCC’s involvement in this campaign, I sometimes get quizzical looks. Some might say that our work and that of the CDE do not have a lot in common, but I firmly believe they do—because our work is about more than promoting opportunities for LGBT-owned businesses. It’s about strengthening America’s business landscape through diverse perspectives—and disability is another important voice to have at the table.
This is true for all businesses, including those in NGLCC’s network. That’s why in 2011, we also signed on as lead business partner on the California-based Consortium formed under ODEP’s Add Us In initiative. Add Us In is a community-based grant program that works to identify and develop strategies to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities from historically-excluded communities with small businesses, including those owned and operated by diverse individuals. And that’s where we come in.
Last year, the Consortium launched a summer internship program that matches college students and recent graduates with disabilities with small businesses up and down California through partnerships with local NGLCC affiliate chambers and our certified LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs), that is, businesses certified to be 51 percent owned by LGBT people. And we had great results; we placed all 10 interns and one internship was converted into a part-time hire at the conclusion of the paid internship.
Participating employers represented the breadth and depth—in one case literally—of California’s small business community. For example, three interns worked at Sail Jada Charters, LLC, where they helped organize chartered sailing tours out of San Diego (now that’s my kind of internship!). Two others, one a journalism major and one a business marketing major, had the opportunity to experience the daily workings of a Sacramento-based public relations and marketing firm, WriteAway Communications Services.
At the end of the summer, we received very positive feedback from both of the interns and their employers. In fact, this year, every business that participated last year has signed on to do so again, and the program is expanding to include spring and fall paid internships, as well as summer placements. That means more opportunity for young people with disabilities to gain valuable work experience and, just as important, more opportunities for small businesses—including NGLCC’s constituents—to benefit from their skills, talents and diverse perspectives. From our perspective, it’s the ultimate win-win.
As vice president of affiliate and external relations for the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Sam McClure liaises with 35 U.S.-based and 16 international LGBT chambers. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for community and economic development, she is a passionate advocate for the LGBT community and a champion of business equality for all people, including people with disabilities. She is the 2013 recipient of the National Disability Leadership Award from the World Institute on Disability (WID).