By Tina Vasquez

Those of the LGBTQ community have very few legal protections in the workplace. Currently, only 12 states have policies that protect against both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment. An additional nine states have laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation only.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994. Originally the bill featured transgender inclusion, but it was dropped from the bill in 2006 because sponsors believed that even with a Democratic majority, it would not have enough votes to pass the House. The bill passed, but died in the Senate. In 2009, a transgender-inclusive ENDA was introduced by openly gay Representative Barney Frank and was supported by President Barack Obama, but again, the bill failed to take off.

So you see, creating an inclusive workplace featuring benefits specifically targeting the LGBTQ community isn’t just good PR, in many cases it’s vital to the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ employees.

OUT@NBCUniversal’s History

Many don’t associate large corporations with progressive practices, but even without federal laws mandating certain rules or benefits, there are major corporations that go the extra mile to create respectful, inclusive workplaces for their LGBTQ employees – and NBC Universal is at the top of the list.

NBC has one of corporate America’s oldest LGBT employee groups. Started in 1986, ANGLE, the Association of NBC Gay and Lesbian Employees, was designed to help educate the company on how to create a more LGBT-inclusive environment.

Over the years the group changed and eventually turned into OUT@NBCUniversal, operating with eight regional hubs and over 1,400 voluntary members, 470 of which are based in Southern California. The Southern California branch is led by Valerie Madden, Creative Director of off-air advertising for NBC Entertainment and Eric Carr, Vice President of exhibitor marketing at Focus Features. Last year the pair produced 35 events for the group and created a print and digital campaign celebrating LGBT Pride. As a result, the Southern California chapter of OUT@NBCUniversal grew by 63 percent.

The OUT@NBCUniversal SoCal hub formed in 2005 and it represents a diverse group of NBC Universal LGBTQ and straight ally employees at sites such as the Burbank lot and Universal Studios. Madden is responsible for coordinating many of the group’s events, which aim to further the professional development of LGBTQ employees.

Inclusive Networking and Career Development

One of the most unique aspects of this NBC affinity group is that people at all levels of the company get to participate in events usually reserved for those in the upper ranks. For example, a recent luncheon gave those at every level of the company unprecedented access to the head of Focus Features, who discussed the many challenges of getting the movie The Kids are All Right made.

“When young people in the gay community get exposure to folks like this, it opens up a whole new world for them and it grows their confidence,” Madden said. “NBC has come incredibly far in a very short amount of time and we’re still pushing to make things better.”

Luncheons aside, NBC Universal also provides its employees with solid LGBTQ-inclusive employee benefits, including same-gender spouse enrollment options, survivor benefits and spousal insurance, coverage for HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals, and transgender-inclusive policy language. According to Madden, the key to creating an inclusive workplace is getting the support at the top levels of the company. LGBT members are well represented in NBC’s top tiers, but even when they weren’t, the company provided the means and support necessary to affect change.

The Benefits of Bringing One’s Full Self to Work

“Change starts at the top and trickles down,” Madden said. “With the support of those on top, you can make a difference at every level. Of course it’s my hope that one day we won’t need diversity initiatives because companies will be diversified, but until then the ultimate goal is for everyone to realize that it’s not just about being LGBT, it’s about being who you are all day, every day. It’s about bringing your full self to the workplace. It’s about having the freedom to share what you do over the weekend or on your vacation with your co-workers without using gender-neutral pronouns.”

Madden, who wasn’t out to her NBC co-workers when she first started at the company eight-years-ago, decided to join OUT@NBCUniversal, and almost immediately, her approach to her work began to change. Connecting with other LGBT and straight ally colleagues built up her personal and professional confidence and evolved her skill set and management style into something more inclusive and productive. Speaking openly about her life to her straight counterparts also opened up doors and provided opportunities to make a difference.

OUT@NBCUniversal takes an enthusiastic approach to attracting, developing, and retaining LGBTQ employees by advertising widely and focusing their attention on a combination of charity work, advocacy, and professional opportunities, making the company a place people want to work and creating an environment that LGBTQ employees feel safe in.

OUT@NBCUniversal attracts new employees by being visible in the SoCal LGBTQ community, including participating annual Los Angeles Christopher Street West LGBT Pride Parade and Outfest Fusion, the LGBT people of color film festival. The group develops employees by providing networking opportunities, a learning & speaker series, and access to NBCU executives. NBCU retains its LGBTQ employees by providing meaningful volunteer and charity opportunities, helping people make the most of their benefits, and advocating for policies that promote an inclusive work environment. Not only that, but OUT also selects two focus charities for volunteerism and philanthropy.

“I believe OUT@NBCUniversal is making a big difference in the lives of employees,” Madden said. “Fox shows may be diverse, but the people working there are not. It can’t just be from a publicity perspective. Right now we have 23 pilots in production and half feature gay characters, so not only will our employees represent the LGBTQ community, but so will our shows. We believe in what we’re doing and we have the budget to back it up. I want everyone to know what a great place NBC is to work, especially if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community. You want to work where you are accepted and NBC’s that place.”