“Do you have an LGBTQ employee group?”
That’s the ice-breaker that University of Minnesota business student Ryan Poehler uses in interviews to gauge how a potential employer values diversity and inclusion.
The incoming senior, however, is working to give younger LGBTQ students an opportunity to open up that conversation earlier in their job searches. Over the past year as leader of campus group Compass: Undergraduate, he has brought major employers to campus for panel-style events with candid conversation on workplace issues.
“People rely on individual networks and word of mouth [when looking for inclusive employers],” he said. “I was looking for a company that values me. I didn’t know who that was.”
Poehler found his fit at U.S. Bank, where he will be a marketing intern this summer. He initially connected with the Minneapolis-based company through Compass, signing it on as a sponsor and putting on events with its business resource group for LGBTQ employees and allies.
Partnering with dozens of campus organizations is part of a deliberate effort to recruit diverse, talented internship candidates, said U.S. Bank campus relations program manager Riley Fournier.
“Our internship program is a talent pipeline for the bank, bringing in different ideas from people with different experience and different backgrounds,” said Fournier. She ensures the bank’s 400 summer interns are given a voice, arranging weekly networking lunches with executives, group volunteer events and an innovation-focused capstone project.
The partnership with Compass had to fit both ways, said Poehler. He knew U.S. Bank was recognized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality. That helped open the door and, from there, Poehler said, “Riley has been a champion ally like no one I’ve ever known.”
Companies earn the HRC’s top workplace designation by hitting a set of criteria the organization outlines in its annual Corporate Equality Index, including non-discrimination policies, employment benefits, demonstrated competency and accountability around LGBTQ diversity and inclusion, public commitment to LGBTQ equality and responsible citizenship.
Earlier this year, Compass partnered with U.S. Bank to bring HRC leaders to campus for a panel event about how corporate culture has evolved since the Index launched in 2002. This year, a record 609 firms were recognized as top workplaces, up from 517 last year and only 13 in its inaugural year.
“Hearing stories of people who feared being fired for coming out or who had to be different versions of themselves, it gave significant meaning to the Index because some of the people in the room were the ones who risked a lot to build it,” said Poehler.
He hopes to pay it back by bringing the authentic version of himself to work this summer.
“I’m different and have a different perspective – one that I’m never going to lose for a job,” he said. “I know the bank will be a place that values that.”
Pat Swanson works in public affairs and communications for U.S. Bank.