To find an organizational fit and career advancement be sure to research companies and document your accomplishments, a panel of LGBTQ professionals advised an audience of undergraduate and graduate students at the Center for Career Education on Wednesday night, November 8, 2017.


The panel on Navigating Your Queer Career and Job Search was organized by CCE, qSTEM and Graduate Queer Trust with support from cosponsors Columbia Queer Business Society, Engineering Graduate Student Council, GS Alliance, and Proud Colors.


John Hreha, Vice President, Viacom (MTV, Logo)

Adrian Ogle, Regional Director & National Community Engagement Director, Lambda Legal

Dylan Juhnke, Brand Partnerships, Twitter

Helen Stoddard, Head of Global Events, Twitter

Moderator: Mel Abler, President, qSTEM

Do your research to determine if organization is LGBTQ  friendly

Panelists highlighted the multiple sources of information to determine how LGBTQ friendly and or progressive a particular organization may be.

  • If the company is public check Financial records to see where they donate money. What philanthropic causes do they support? (e.g., pride parade, fighting the travel ban).
  • Tech as a field tends to be comfortable with LGBTQ people, according to the panel.
  • Check the annual Corporate Equality Index by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
  • Use the resources of technology & social media to Google the company and follow their social media to research company culture, brand and priorities.
  • Look at the leadership – are there LGBTQ people visible in leadership? If not, is there evidence that the company is working to address this?
  • How visible and active are Employee Resource Groups (identity-based affinity groups)?
  • For larger organizations, do they actually march in the pride parade – and commit time and money?
  • Finally, talk to people in the field and at the organization. This is one of the best ways to learn about the company reputation or what it is really like to work there.

Be aware of regional geographic differences. An organization’s policies may be LGBTQ affirming, but how that culture is expressed may look very different in different parts of the country.

Disclosure issues and discrimination concerns

What to disclose about yourself on a resume or a job interview is really a personal decision. You should be comfortable with how you reflect yourself. A candidate should research each company and industry because there are differences. Helen and Dylan from Twitter downplayed disclosure concerns and emphasized that if a company is pro-diversity, they won’t care. Their only interest is can you do the work—can you produce?


However, during an interview, interviewers may — inadvertently or purposefully — ask questions that feel questionable or very personal that touch on one’s sexual orientation/gender/sexual identity.

Panelists provided two useful tips:

  1. Keep your cool — although you may be offended or shocked, try and remain professional;
  2. Job relevance — It is ok to ask “Is this relevant to the job I am being interviewed for?”

Panelists emphasized that you have the right to not answer.


Adrian from Lambda Legal pointed out that there are no federal laws that protect nonbinary, trans and gender nonconforming people from discrimination in the workplace. Existing federal civil rights laws refer to sexual discrimination but may not protect LGBTQ people. Some states have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, but in 38 states there is little or no protection. You can be “married on Sunday and fired on Monday.”


Individual company policies and specific municipalities like NYC may offer protection from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression, however, these exist on the micro level.


While some panelists emphasized “progress” and asserted that LGBTQ people are now more broadly accepted, they all acknowledged experiencing awkward moments or nuances of discrimination that might not be overt or legally challengeable. Panelists discussed how it’s not always clear as to whether these should be called out. How you navigate such situation is a personal choice.

Document your accomplishments to be sure your contributions are recognized

An audience member raised the concern of being passed over for promotions. Panelists recommended documenting all of your work and speaking up to advocate for yourself. Be clear how you have fulfilled all the requirements of the job, as well as what you have done above and beyond, that would merit a promotion.


Adrian suggested that self-advocacy can be especially important for people of color, women, immigrants, and children of immigrants who may have been taught to work hard and keep your head down, and hope your hard work is rewarded. Managers will make sure that work gets done, but they do not always remember who did what, so you need to keep a record of your accomplishments to support your case during your performance review.

Corporate culture is still corporate culture

For many LGBTQ people, it is important to find a place where you feel comfortable being yourself at work and not hiding who you are. John from Viacom acknowledged that the degree to which this is obtainable varies across industry and geography. There is no one size fits all. Corporate cultures differ from financial institutions to tech firms to media companies; MTV’s culture is not the same as a law office’s.


Employers understand that most recent grads do not yet know the business world. Even at the most LGBTQ friendly companies you will still have to adapt to corporate culture. John warned that this can be an adjustment, especially for the current generation of students who experience a celebration of individuality from opinions being valued in the classroom to instantaneous likes and shares on social media. The greatest attractions of Columbia students to employers are that they come from a great school, have great minds and an ability to learn.


There will be adjustments as you assimilate into the culture, so when you are in the job search remember that you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.

Resources and next steps

For links to resources and more information about navigating the job search as a Queer and/or Trans student, please read our LGBTQ info page, or meet with a career counselor.