NGLCC: Champions of LGBT Business
I'm old enough to know that I would forget the details of the amazing conference I just attended if I didn't take it all down immediately. That would have been a shame because it was far too enriching to let slip away. I just returned from a four-day adventure to Chicago for the country's premiere LGBT business conference, the National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's 9th Annual National Business and Leadership Conference. The collection of life experiences I've had in the LGBT business and media communities has given me a passion around promoting LGBT entrepreneurship and I was happy to share this passion with this week's conference attendees.
When I arrived in Chicago on Tuesday I jumped feet first into the conference, joining the mix and mingle pre-conference reception with LGBT and allied business colleagues from around the country. The theme of the conference was "Certify Your Success," -- referring to the certification process that the NGLCC encourages LGBT business owners to go through to certify their businesses as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Business Enterprises (LGBTBE).
For those that haven't heard of the NGLCC, it's a business advocacy group that represents more than 1.4 million LGBT businesses and entrepreneurs, a major focus of the group is around certifying LGBT owned businesses-more specifically, those that are 51% owned, operated and controlled by an LGBT person or persons. The group argues, that because America's top corporations are spending millions of dollars with LGBT certified businesses annually, it makes good business sense for gay owned business to go through the certification process.
The conference offered an incredible wealth of information over the three-day session, including robust programming, keynote speeches and networking opportunities. The attendance for this year's event was over 500, up 38% over last year, and included business sessions with titles such as, "Cracking the Code: Doing Business with Corporate America" and "Connecting the Dots: Employee Resource Groups and Supplier Diversity."
Before it was all over, I had met executives from almost every sponsoring company, including Wells Fargo, Toyota Financial Services, American Airlines, AT&T, Office Max, CVS, Target - and more. For someone who hadn't attended the event before, it might sound like I had an in with someone at the top to garner such access, but that wasn't the case. Every corporate sponsor in attendance made themselves available to conference attendees.
The highlight of the convention for me had to be the keynote speech given my Ernst & Young CEO James Turley. The convention organizers struck gold when scheduling Turley. He was a lively and engaging speaker, with an insatiable passion for the diversity and inclusion journey. It was perfectly clear that he understands the importance of inviting the changing faces of today's workforce to the table and he underscored the importance of making all people feel comfortable to be who they are in the workplace.
I'd been following the Turley/Boys Scouts of America coverage ever since the two-year review on its policy on banning gays-having a boyfriend who was an Eagle Scout (if you can still call someone you've been with for 22 year a boyfriend) I was particularly interested in the way the story unfolded.
Turley is no paper lion; he's a leader who really walks the talk. In the case of the Boys Scouts of America-he's sits on the board of the Scouts-he boldly expressed his opposition to the Scout's reaffirmation of its policy of excluding gays with a public statement, expressed his disagreement with the ban on gay scouts and scout leaders while supporting a proposed resolution to end the ban. In Turley's words, "you can't lead where you're not willing to go."
The conference in Chicago last week wasn't just about doing something nice; it was about doing something smart. NGLCC chambers and its memberships are making powerful contributions to our country's economy, they are fostering mutually beneficial opportunities for small and large LGBT businesses and corporations, while leveraging every possible opportunity for small businesses to grow and become strong engines to drive local economies.