By Garrett Mireles, Nov. 14, 2016
Rarely do you hear someone start a keynote speech with “Good morning. I’m the Director of Culture Marketing at PepsiCo International, and I use ‘he/him’ pronouns.”
That is just the kind of environment created at Out for Undergrad, a series of conferences organized by LGBTQIA+ professionals in various industries that invite undergraduates from across the country to “reach their full potential.” Out for Undergrad hosts conferences in Marketing, Tech, Engineering, and Business, and I had the distinct privilege of attending this year's O4U Marketing Conference in Chicago. Through three days of mentorship and education, I learned that my ‘full potential’ lies in building communities.
Out for Undergrad Marketing 2016 - Chicago, IL
At the start, the conference coordinators set the tone for the weekend by outlining the organization’s values: namely, inclusion; our name tags listed our preferred pronouns, we were encouraged to self-identify in introductions, and we were reminded that the experiences, journeys, and opinions of everyone present were fully valid. Upon those values, we built relationships with those around us, from universities big and small, with sexual and gender identities from across the spectrum, and I’ve never felt more at home - more included.
For myself and many others in attendance, feelings of isolation are a big part of the LGBT experience, so being surrounded by like-minded peers, both in our identities and our career goals, was a uniquely safe space to discuss the cutting edge of our industry and what it means to be ‘out’ in the workplace. We were equipped with many of the vital tools for navigating the working world: networking and interview skills, keynotes from industry leaders on work ethic and resilience. But moreso than anything they said about being LGBT, simply seeing what they’ve done was most inspiring: people like us, sharing many of our same struggles, not much older than those in attendance, acheiving excellence in their fields. Every student was out; every small group mentor was out; every keynote speaker was out; even all of the recruiters at the career fair were out.
This was an environment unlike any I’d ever experienced, but rather than insulate us to world outside of the conference, its ultimate message to go out into our universities and professions and build spaces like it in small ways every day.
The Out for Undergrad conference and organizations like it foster community, through meaningful networks, mentorship, and annual gatherings, and I left so energized to bring those ideas back to campus at The University of Texas. I’d highly encourage any LGBTQIA+ student passionate about the advertising industry to apply for Out for Undergrad 2017, as we continue to push forward, to live with pride, and to champion the power of community.