“I got laid off a job, did my transition and now I’m re-entering the workforce as myself,” said Tawni Sofia Acosta, one of the professionals who pushed her resume at the ninth annual transgender job fair within the West Hollywood Park auditorium yesterday.
A middle-aged project manager who transitioned in early 2016, Acosta continued, “If I stayed as the dude that I was previously…I’m certain I would have gotten a job much quicker.”
Such challenges can be the reality of a trans professional’s job search in modern day Los Angeles. According to the LA LGBT Center’s press release, the nonprofit responsible for the job fair, transgender people face an unemployment rate three times higher than the average rate in the United States.
Ms. Drian Juarez, a trans woman herself, is program manger for the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project with the LA LGBT Center. “What we’re doing here today,” she said, “is changing the dynamics of the workplace.” And she has a message for companies who want to recruit talent: “If you are an employer who wants to capture the best and brightest out of college, then you better have all of this in place.”
What is “all of this”? For Juarez it’s having gender-neutral bathrooms, using gender-neutral language in the workplace and policies where they can transition on the job.
Juarez said young professionals now graduating college are “generation Z-ers who are predominantly fluid now.” And “fluid” means not subscribing to traditionally prescribed, and perhaps restrictive to quite a number of folks, gender roles.
While a number of younger millennials in their twenties and early thirties milled about, talking with prospective employers such as HBO, CBS, Warner Bros, Hulu, Paramount, the City of Los Angles and the LA Police Department, quite a number of jobseekers in attendance were middle-aged, like Acosta.
“My experience with most of the employers was mostly pretty positive,” Acosta said. An established project manager interested in the “info, tech and entertainment” spaces, she brought resumes, business cards…“the whole thing” to make a good impression.
“I talked to 21st Century Fox, HBO and CBS…and 21st Century Fox seemed to be interested,” she reported with satisfaction.
Juarez said exhibitor space was filled to capacity, reaching 53 presenting companies and organizations.
Why did these exhibitors make the effort?
Officer Joseph Orlanes with the LAPD was in full uniform. Pointing to the patch on his right shoulder sleeve, he said, “If you see an officer with two stripes and a star, we’re community liaisons.”
The LAPD was at the fair because “We’re here to keep and build that bridge with the community, whether it’s the LGBT community [or] the transgender community.”
Orlanes added that at the LAPD table, “We have all the [department’s] recruitment info [and] knowledge of the hiring process.” He stressed that the police department wants “to hire good people with good hearts. No matter what community they’re from.”
“Everyone is adorable,” said Palmira Muniz, a twenty-something human resources assistant at CBS Television City who identifies as “just a bisexual.” “Everyone is just excited to be here,” referring to the scores of jobseekers who took the risk of approaching her about potential job opportunities.
Yet she also paid attention to how those job hunters may feel. “Unfortunately the corporate world, the business world is not kind to trans folks and queer folks,” she continued. “I did notice a lot of folks tend to be a little bit [like] hurt deer when they come up to our table, like they feel, ‘Yeah I’m gonna give you my resume but you might not ever call me.’”
Juarez understands that. “I’m in my 40s,” she said. “For me, finding a job was scary. I didn’t know how or what, or if I could transition. Or if they’re gonna hire me.”
Such fears are the reason for the transgender job fair, according to Juarez. “This was about changing that, so trans people don’t have to be afraid about going out and getting the job they want. Here they know that employers are going to be familiar with language, are going to treat them with respect.”
Melissa Thadani, a corporate recruiter, and Nick Harkins, a store manager, are with TOMS, the socially conscious fashion retail company based in Playa del Rey.
Referencing the value of meeting with jobseekers at the fair, Thadani said, “It’s a different way to connect with someone. You get to have that face to face interaction as opposed to looking at skills on a piece of paper or a computer screen.”
Saying that she had seen “a lot of people from marketing, IT, all kinds of backgrounds,” she added, “with a lot of our positions…a lot of it’s around culture, personality, fit. And here you get to see that.”
Harkins, who manages TOMS’ “flagship store” on Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, is proud of his employer’s commitment to workplace diversity. “Just the people that work for our company, and our fellow team members, span every spectrum and gamut of type of person,” he said.
Hulu seems to have made significant investments in not just welcoming all types of employees but in ensuring they’re happy once hired.
Two recruiters in their early twenties, Alex Ehrlich, a woman, and Ben Dennis, talked about the number of “clubs” Hulu has encouraged within its workplace.
“I’ve been there two-and-a-half years,” said Dennis. “I’m part of Hulu Pride, which is just one of the many groups that we have.” In addition to the LGBTQ group there is Hulu Black, “focused on the black lives matter movement.” And a “women’s empowerment group” that formed in the wake of the women’s marches after Trump’s inauguration called Hula, a feminization of the company’s mother brand.
“Overall diversity at Hulu,” continued Dennis, “is something that has always been a focus. And it’s something I’ve definitely made a point to participate in.”
Ehrlich thinks “the clubs we have there are very important.” Yet such employee groups are not limited to socio-political concerns. Groups geared toward biking, cycling, basketball and soccer enthusiasts exist as well. And pop stars. “Beyonce. That’s my favorite one,” Ehrlich added.
Do job fairs such as these, and the companies attending them, point toward the future of the American workplace? Is it a brave new world?
For Juarez, “The job fair is about helping employers connect to the best talent.” And if that is their goal, they need to, pardon the expression, man up. “The future is fluid. Get used to it.”