How Out Professionals is Helping Our Community Get Back on Track

Credit: Alan Barnett (AlanBarnettPhoto.com)

The professional world changed forever when COVID officially entered our lives in 2020. It has been nothing short of completely devastating for many in our community who have lost or been furloughed from their jobs due to things outside of their control.  

There’s also been the heartbreak of seeing several of our gay bars close down permanently due to this pandemic. For the ones who remain employed they have mostly had to transition to working from home as opposed to the 9-5 office life they were accustomed to in this new normal existence we continue to live in.

Organizations like Out Professionals thrive in any and all of these kinds of environments as their goal is to help fellow professionals engage with one another in hopes that it will help them develop relationships that could land them a big job in the near future.

OP has had its own challenges as most of how they operated was at in-person events where people mix and mingle, swap business cards and enjoy each other’s company. Regardless their mission is still alive and well for anyone in our community that’s employed or unemployed who want to continue climbing that career ladder as time goes by.

Charlie Conard, OP’s president, chatted with Instinct about the peak and pit of COVID for his organization, best advice on how people who are out of a job can get back on their feet and thoughts on a new office concept brewing called 3-2-2.


When did you realize that the professional world would be vastly changed because of COVID?

Last March was certainly a game changer. It took a couple of weeks for the seriousness of the situation to sink in. In the USA, COVID arrived in New York City first so it was especially difficult to anticipate what the pandemic would be like and how it would affect business. The primary need was to stay healthy and uninfected. 

The shock of change was soon clear: the streets became largely deserted; the office towers of Manhattan emptied. Going out for groceries seemed life-threatening. Within weeks we had entered uncharted territory that would lead to profound changes in our home and work lives.

How has Out Professionals, which normally hosts a ton of in-person events, shifted things in the months since?

For Out Professionals COVID was the worst of timing and the best of timing. In January 2020, we had just launched our first chapter outside Metro New York, in Los Angeles. Over 230 people attended our kickoff event with a line down the block, demonstrating tremendous community interest and need. A third chapter launch in Houston was poised for similar success but had to be postponed.

On the other hand, COVID suddenly removed geography and “in-person” from the equation, freeing Out Pro to go virtual and fully national. Within a few weeks, we decided to use this time of social distancing to grow our national footprint while also focusing on helping LGBTQ professionals adapt during this disruptive time. When it is safe to congregate in numbers again, we will circle back and be primed and ready to open more city chapters. 

In April, we launched a new “Life Preserver” series of webinars designed to help LGBTQ professionals respond to the professional and personal impacts of COVID. We covered a lot of ground in the months since then with 18 webinars and workshops. I am very appreciative of our volunteer speakers, including keynote, TEDx, and other expert speakers who reached out to share their expertise. All the webinars are recorded. We are currently editing all the webinars and will be launching an on-demand library of webinars shortly. 

Another part of our virtual expansion is the impending launch of a new professional directory as well as a job board next month, designed to highlight opportunities from companies seeking to expand their diversity. These will be complemented by links to resources, such as our career development and job search webinar series with SelfRecruiter.com‘s, John Crant, a leader in his field. For this series, John updated all his strategies to teach job seekers how to be effective and land opportunities in the suddenly, more virtual job search. 

What have you found to be the peak and pit from your members when it comes to their employment?

The LGBTQ community has been one of the groups hit harder by the pandemic. A study by PSB Research for the Human Rights Campaign found that 17% of LGBTQ people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 compared to 13% of the general population. The pandemic has also devastated some industries (travel, hospitality, arts) that have traditionally attracted many members of our community. Other members are less affected professionally and have simply had to switch to working from home. It’s a bit like “who’s been struck by lightning and who has not,” a very unusual shock to the US economy and the workplace.

To meet the need, Out Professionals shifted to virtual programming, including the Life Preserver webinar series I discussed earlier, as well as virtual networking increasingly with a focus on specific industries. (We are seeking people to help host networking evenings for their industry.) For education, entertainment, and some much-needed diversion, we also started featuring cultural tours with LGBTQ-related themes organized by Oscar Wilde Tours, a community partner of ours. Proceeds from these virtual tours help support out-of-work tour guides and experts from museums and other cultural and arts institutions.

While many are facing challenges, there are a lot of resources and outreach out there to help. To be added to our email list, please contact info@outprofessionals.org.

There’s a new concept floating around called 3-2-2, where companies are having people work in the office for three days, home for two and off for two. Do you agree with this as a new way of being even after COVID is done?

The 3-2-2 concept makes sense because it’s the best of both worlds. It takes advantage of the benefits from WFH (work-from-home), but doesn’t lose the value of in-person collaboration and comradery in the workplace. There is simply no full substitution for face-to-face interaction. Humans are social beings and working well as a team is hard to do solely through Zoom and project management software. “Zoom fatigue” is already a problem for many professionals, so I don’t think the future is entirely virtual. A blend makes the most sense for both employers and employees.

What advice do you have to those in the LGBTQ world that are finding difficulties in getting back on their feet again after being furloughed or laid off because of this pandemic?

Don’t allow yourself to become stuck. Take action. Even if you are not sure what to do, take one step at a time. Don’t seize up with inaction.

We strongly recommend taking advantage of virtual networking and job search/career advancement training like Out Professionals and others provide. Besides providing new ideas and strategies, our series with Self-Recruiter is authentically motivating and positive. This is an especially challenging time for many and it is critical to stay as positive as possible.

One silver lining for professionals during COVID is more freedom to make changes that you were too busy to consider or act on during the “Before Times.” There is never going to be a better time to consider what you really want, change course if needed, and apply yourself in the desired direction. 

COVID is changing society, creating new opportunities that we could not foresee even a year ago. Look for industries with an updraft and reimagine what you can be. Taking one step at a time is key to not getting stuck and will help you keep focused with forward momentum.

What do you think?