Where We Stand: Three Bold Ideas From Open for Business
Author: Andrea Bailey
Posted: October 21, 2016

What made Open for Business such an amazing event: A full room of business leaders, students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members, two phenomenal moderators (Jessica Ferrell, MBA ‘16 and Craig Leets, QRC Director), and five impressive panelists who offered candid insights and actionable ambitions.

Whether you couldn’t be there or want to reflect on the discussion, you’ll find three highlights below.

The Panel:

  • Joey Gleason, Owner of Buckman Coffee Factory
  • Robin Knauerhase, Research Scientist at Intel Labs
  • Steve Lesky, Program Officer at Cambia Health Foundation
  • Bob Speltz, Senior Director, Public Affairs at The Standard
  • Kris Young, VP/GM NADTC Factory Stores at Nike

#1: The Pace of Progress is Finally Accelerating - and it Benefits Business

In light of Oregon’s reputation as a progressive state, it’s sobering to be reminded how recent much of the progress made toward LGBT inclusion in the workplace is. Asked about her coming out experience, Kris Young shared that HR at Nike checked in with her to make sure she really wanted to mention her wife in the email announcement of her joining the company. She did, and set a precedent at the company - a mere 8 years ago.

Today Nike is proudly sponsoring gay and transgender athletes, and launched their Be True line with proceeds funding initiatives against homophobia in sports.

The transformation of the business climate, specifically here in Oregon, is worth celebrating - both because it’s right, and because it works. Diverse teams produce more innovative solutions, as demonstrated in multiple studies.

Bob Speltz, also pointed out that inclusive workplaces attract the best talent, who have plenty of other choices in this market. “To be truly successful,” he noted, “you need to bring your whole self to work.” It makes business sense then to create work environments where people can do just that.

"To be truly successful you need to bring your whole self to work."

#2: A Benchmark is not the Finish Line

While The Standard, Cambia, Intel and Nike all score a solid 90 or 100% on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, they clearly see that there is more work to be done.

Whether it’s offering transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage or bringing more conservative industries along as the bars for equality continue to be raised, all panelists still face challenges on the way toward truly equitable workplaces.

As Steve Lesky pointed out, “We all know a company can be diverse without being inclusive.” His insight is in line with data from Basic Rights Oregon indicating that, for example, more than 90% of  transgender and gender non-conforming people report experiencing harassment or discrimination at work.

#3: Ally Visibility Matters

Creating and sustaining inclusive workplaces takes buy-in and support allies who are ready to be seen as such. That visibility can happen in a range of modes, from executives taking a stand in high-level meetings to, as Robin Knauerhase demonstrated, adding an ally badge to your employee key card.

For Joey Gleason, being able to trust her team and those with whom she as an entrepreneur and owner chooses to work, is crucial. Vice versa, she finds that her sharing her thoughts around LGBT issues allows others to be open and feel connected as well, which makes for a better work environment for everyone.

The Legal Landscape

1998: Oregon provides benefits to same-sex partners of state employees.

2007: Oregon Equality Act is signed.

2008: Oregon bans discrimination in employment based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

2016: Oregon circuit court rules that residents can legally change their gender to non-binary. The Transgender Law center believes this to be the first ruling of its kind in the U.S.

A Visible Commitment from the School of Business

Portland State’s School of Business is in a unique position to prepare future business leaders to take their seat at this table; to equip them with the discernment to notice when a form doesn’t offer check boxes for gender identity beyond man/woman, and with the capacity to navigate difficult conversations around diversity and inclusion, starting in the classroom.

Several panelists and attendees expressed their excitement for the energy Cliff Allen, Dean of the School of Business, is bringing toward this commitment and inspiring among the school community.

“We at the PSU School of Business feel that Business that Matters is at our core, both in what we research and what we teach,” Allen reflected after the event. “This is demonstrated in our focus on sustainability, human rights, corporate social responsibility, and the circular economy. Building on this core identity, we feel that being the most open and supportive business school in the Northwest for people of all genders, and sexual orientations is what we should strive to be. Open for Business is just one of the many ways we are working toward that goal.”

Opportunities to stay engaged:

The School of Business is currently recruiting professionals as mentors for LGBTQ business students. To learn more, contact Jodi Nelson at

Current students interested in starting an Out in Business student group at the School of Business can connect with Rachel Foxhoven at