Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Let's finish what Tim Cook started

by Jonathan Lovitz
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

2014 is the year that proved being out and being successful are not mutually exclusive. On the day Apple's Tim Cook came out as the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company (and one of only three among publicly traded U.S. companies), StartOut's phone lines rang off the hook, our inboxes were filled to capacity, and our website crashed for hours due to a tremendous spike in traffic eager to learn more about being openly LGBT in American business.

Justin Solomon | CNBC
Tim Cook onstage at an Apple event.

As the glass ceiling facing LGBT business leaders came crashing down, many began to wonder what would happen next and how it would affect us all.

"For me, this announcement is an extremely personal one. I've struggled with being out in the workplace, unsure of the ramifications and opinions of others. This is a sign that it's OK to be out," said Alex Capecelatro, an openly gay Gen-Y CEO. "Tim's announcement makes me feel empowered, excited, and thankful to him and all who've come before him to pave the way for true equality. It only gets better from here. "

For many years, the "business case" for equality had been difficult to prove as the critical mass of data needed just wasn't available. Coming out, either as an openly LGBT business leader or a supportive ally, is a powerful gesture that can yield staggeringly positive effects. Now, on top of the empowerment and sense of support that comes from an inclusive workplace and entrepreneurship culture, we have enough proof points that to help convince even the most conservative CEO, investor, or politician that supporting the LGBT business community is essential.

Even Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, is on the record stating, "America's corporations learned long ago that equality is just good business and it's the right thing to do."

Despite all of this, we must remember that equality is not equity. Just because a law exists on paper or an inclusive policy is printed in the company handbook, it doesn't mean that the LGBT community is completely supported. Economic empowerment for the LGBT community is the next great frontier. Yet much remains to be done before everyone reaps the benefits of such equality.

Even though start-ups in America are forecast to contribute up to 50 percent of all new jobs in the coming decades, there are still major hurdles that stunt the growth of LGBT owned and operated small businesses. Among the many concerns is that there is currently no federal law in place that uniformly protects LGBT people from credit discrimination. Discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains legal in many states.

Similar to what happened to women before the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, LGBT Americans can still be denied a mortgage, credit card, student loan, and other forms of lending. Most colleagues of mine are shocked to learn that I could be married in 35 states, but denied a bank loan in as many as 27. Many ask why they haven't heard about this problem, and I have to respond with the sad news that there is simply no one to tell when this happens. Until now. Organizations like StartOut and politicians nationwide are committed to finally and permanently leveling this playing field so the American Dream is accessible to all LGBT business innovators in need of funding.

If you're reading this at work, take a moment and look at the photo of your husband or wife on your desk. On the most challenging days at the office, it feels comforting to see them smiling back at you. In 29 states, an openly gay employee can be fired (32 states if transgender), with absolutely no recourse just for having that photo out. More and more state legislatures are fighting this problem, but a national Employee Non Discrimination Act is needed to make it possible for LGBT workers and entrepreneurs to succeed everywhere. Out & Equal Workplace Advocated, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and others join our call to Congress to act on this for the sake of America's LGBT workers and job creators.

If you're reading this at home, think about some of your favorite brands around you and consider that nearly all of them put some dollars toward attracting the LGBT community attention. Even more is happening behind closed doors. Employers are working overtime to fight the subtle biases that still linger in corporate culture, which is great for morale and even greater for the bottom line. Out Now Global and The Center for American Progress has shown that by simply creating a more inclusive workplace, a company of 10,000 people would potentially save as much as $5 million dollars in rehiring and retraining costs for their LGBT employees they would normally lose due to lack of protections. And now that we live in a world where openly gay CEOs like Tim Cook are welcomed and applauded, the employees fostered by that inclusive workplace can see all the way to the top of the ladder.

We have a long way to go before achieving the level playing field needed for the LGBT business community to fully act on its potential, but that "Sunlit path toward justice" that Tim Cook referred to when coming out is becoming much easier for many to walk down every day. The community is empowered, inspired, and ready to make 2015 the best year yet for LGBT business yet.

Read the original article from CNBC here:


Few minorities in non-tech jobs in Silicon Valley, USA TODAY finds

by Jessica Guynn, Paul Overberg, Marco della Cava and Jon Swartz
Originally Published: December 30th, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO — In 2014, leading technology companies released data showing they vastly underemploy African Americans and Hispanics. Those groups make up 5% of the companies workforce, compared to 14% nationally.

Company personnel leaders — many with titles such as director of diversity and inclusion — admit they have work to do but often cite a "pipeline problem" as a key factor in their inability to hire more computer scientists of color.

But a USA TODAY analysis of employment documents submitted by Facebook, Google and Yahoo to the federal government reveals that minorities are also sharply underrepresented in non-technical jobs such as sales and administration, with African Americans faring noticeably worse than Hispanics.

For example, Hispanics make up 5% of college-educated officials and managers nationwide, 4% at Yahoo and even less at Facebook and Google. African Americans make up 6% of officials and managers nationally, but 2% or less at these three tech giants.

Black and Hispanic professionals — a broad category that includes lawyers, accountants, marketers and computer scientists — make up 5% of all professionals at Facebook, Google and Yahoo but 13% of college-educated professionals nationwide.

Jesse Jackson addresses Microsoft executives, one of many such meetings in recent months as his Rainbow/PUSH coalition tackles the issue of diversity hiring in Silicon Valley.(Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

"The data tells the whole story," says Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow PUSH coalition has pressed Silicon Valley companies to face up to their diversity problem. "There are talented blacks and Latinos who can fill well-paying non-tech jobs in the tech industry. Let's not limit the debate to computer science and engineering positions."

Kara Smith, 36, has an MBA from Northwestern University and is a product manager at Xtime, a Redwood Shores, Calif., company bought by Cox Automotive last month for $326 million in cash. She says she's gotten used to being one of the few black people in the room.

"If you are going to feel intimidated by that, this is probably not the industry for you," Smith said. "Do I think this leaves me behind sometimes or that I am not reaching my full potential? Possibly. But I try not to focus on it."

Erin Teague, an African-American engineer and director of product management at Yahoo, says the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is a deterrent to many of her talented peers of color.

"I have friends who say, 'I can move to New York and work at an amazing company or I can move to Silicon Valley and work at an amazing company, but in New York I will have a network, I'll have friends,' " she says.

That poses a major challenge for Silicon Valley companies that are staffed largely by white and Asian men while trying to appeal to diverse users.

"If we are the primary users of these products, then we have to be part of the teams building them," Teague says. "It's advantageous for companies to employ us."

Facebook is one of three companies whose EEO-1 data USA TODAY analyzed.(Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP/Getty Images)

A broad range of interviews and reports by USA TODAY in the recent months show that Silicon Valley companies tend to be built through the professional and social networks of employees, perpetuating the status quo. Hiring managers and executives have begun casting a wider net to broaden diversity and are training employees how to combat unconscious bias.

"I think people at Google and these other companies mean well. Sometimes they're just not aware the problem exists because the priority at these companies has been to build great products for their users. Now that they are more established and have proven their models work, they naturally reflect on what they would have done or will do differently going forward," says Eric Flores, a former Google employee now an entrepreneur in residence at Manos Accelerator, which targets Latino entrepreneurs.

Flores adds that he doesn't expect change overnight: "We have to be patient."

Black and Hispanic executives at major technology companies declined to speak on the record about their experiences out of fear of reprisal or losing their jobs.

But in months of interviews, many say they feel isolated inside their companies and have seen their career advancement stall.

An executive at one Silicon Valley company, echoing the experiences of other black and Hispanic employees, described how his employer insisted on including him in staged photos to give the impression of racial diversity. He said the photo ops often took place after meetings to which he was not invited or where he had no input.

A former employee of another technology giant said women and African Americans were routinely shut out of management roles.

Husband-wife team Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein are actively urging tech firms to improve the diversity of their rosters.(Photo: Martin Klimek, USA TODAY)

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, run the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which is pushing for more diversity in technology. They say if change is to come, senior company leaders will have to walk the diversity walk.

"It's like climate change: There's a process of accumulating enough evidence and momentum that people's view of the world changes," says Kapor. "I think we are still, to be honest, really early in that process."

Adds Kapor Klein: "There is underrepresentation in every category. (But) I do think we've seen in 2014 the beginning of the dismantling of this myth of meritocracy. And if Silicon Valley isn't one, why and what can we do to make it one?"

USA TODAY was interested in learning more about the racial and ethnic mix at major tech companies, especially since more than half of their workers do not write software or handle technical tasks.

We analyzed 2013 Equal Employment Opportunity 1 reports filed with the federal government by Facebook, Google and Yahoo. The firms disclosed their reports, which the government keeps confidential, under mounting pressure from Rev. Jackson.

Apple and Amazon have repeatedly refused to provide such specifics. Microsoft revealed its EEO-1 earlier this month.

We compared the reports with federal data on the civilian workforce ages 20 and older, against which employment diversity and discrimination are measured. We narrowed our comparison to those with a bachelor's degree or more, given tech giants often limit hiring to this group.

Among the findings:

Hispanics fared best at Yahoo. Hispanic professionals and technicians are twice as common at Yahoo as they are at Google and Facebook. All three employ Hispanics in sales and administrative support roles at levels that roughly match or exceed their shares of the national workforce.

• African Americans fared poorly at all three tech companies. As officials and managers, professionals, sales and administrative support workers, they reach just a third to half of the levels they represent in the national workforce. The only job category in which they approach the national rate is as technicians, with Yahoo providing the most jobs and Google the fewest. However, technicians make up just 1% of the three firms' employment.

Among the three firms, Facebook's black representation ranks lowest in almost every job category.

Facebook, Google and Yahoo declined to comment on the findings.

Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, is spearheading an effort to encourage tech companies to collect and crunch data to analyze and address the diversity problem.

Yahoo provided EEO-1 data to the federal government, which USA TODAY analyzed for details on its minority staffing practices.(Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

These companies routinely crunch numbers to build the best products; now they must dissect every aspect of recruiting and retention to build the best companies, says Chou, who used to work at Facebook and Google.

"That's not very standard right now. The data is not being rigorously collected and analyzed," Chou said. "Establishing a baseline for the state of the world is how we can identify where the leverage points might be."

Ultimately, changing these numbers will be critical to the continued success of the American tech sector, which in turn helps power the national economy, says Kapor Klein. She adds that with whites expected to become a minority in the USA by 2044, it will be critical that tech firms have a healthy pipeline to minority talent. Or else.

"What messages are (students of color and girls) getting from the culture, what messages are they getting from the tech companies?" asks Kapor Klein, noting that the wrong messages cause people of color to give up on tech careers. "The candidate pool just shrinks then, all the way to the door of Silicon Valley."

Read the original article from USA Today here:


4 Major HR Tech Trends to Keep Up With in 2015

by Afton Funk
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

We’re all talking budgets, must-haves and laying out plans to kick 2015 square in the saas. Everyone is ramping up with their recruiting and HR technologies - are you ready? Keeping up with market trends in this space can leave HR and talent acquisition professionals feeling a little like Lucy in the chocolate factory. So, as leaders in the HRMS space we thought we’d help you out and share what we see on the 2015 horizon in HR tech.

Mobile is Stepping Up to Apps

Companies will be stepping up their game in the push for mobile…everything. The bar has been raised, and instead of mobile versions of a site or system, organizations will be rolling out mobile apps. Apps are easier on the eyes, simpler to navigate and generally more efficient. Here’s what HR thought leader, Josh Bersin has to say about the change:
“Vendors have to look at usage mechanics, user interface, and design of mobile apps. In a mobile device we “tap and swipe” rather than “click and type” – so if your HR system is not designed well for mobile, look carefully for a vendor that has made that investment.”

Push for Paperless

In recruiting and HR we have gotten far too comfortable with our paperwork, spreadsheets, file folders and signature chases. Today (actually, this technology was available quite a while ago) there is just no reason not to go paperless. Beyond the cost saving and environmentally friendly aspects, paperless HRM is better organized, easier to search and easier to collect and use data from. Check out how organizations have already started to embrace paperless human resources management:
  • 78% have internal green communication programs to reduce paper usage.
  • 72% use online HR communications.
  • 58% have internal communication programs that offer employees tips and information on being environmentally friendly.
  • 57% use online summary plan descriptions.

The LMS Market Continues to Boom

Following our nation’s financial upswing, employers are continuing to push learning and development in the workplace. Considered one of the most discretionary spends in business, employers are now in a place where they can offer training as a competitive advantage in business as well as a strong employee incentive and retention tool.

Another leading factor in the continuing popularity of investing in corporate training is the very real skill gap. Research has revealed over 70% of organizations cite “capability gaps” as one of their top five challenges. Organizations are continuing to struggle to find the talent they need, so they’ve turned heavily toward hiring for trainability and soft skills, and then investing in training for those necessary hard skills. It’s a hiring shift that seems to be picking up a lot of steam, so we project the training boom is going to keep right on booming.

CC-Click-ToTweetBird-01Over 70% of organizations cite "capability gaps" as one of their top five challenges.

Switch to Single Vendor Solutions

Until now, HR technology solutions have come out in disjointed segments, further siloing each department and every step of the talent lifecycle. Imagine a world where you don’t have to worry about integration, upgrades messing everything up and figuring out how to make sense of separate sets of workforce data. We predict a strong shift toward trading all of these segmented technologies in for a single vendor solution.

The major vendors are offering centralized, fully integrated technologies for recruitment, performance management, talent management and compensation along with core human resources management applications. Organizations are getting improved core functionality, and the ability to connect all data and metrics points in order to get to those high-impact analytics they need to stay ahead.

We know there are plenty more human resources management tech trends to add to this list, but these are the several we’re most excited about as we enter the new year. This $15 billion dollar software market is a constantly evolving entity, and we always want to be at the forefront of it. From the big dogs to great tech startups, there is always something new and improved around the corner.

Read the original article from Clear Company here:


How feminism conquered pop culture

by Alice Vincent
Originally Published: December 30th, 2014

In 2014, culture became a feminist issue. On the red carpet, on stage, in our National Theatre and our Houses of Parliament, at the UN, on our bookshelves, Twitter feeds and on talk shows, prominent actresses, singers and writers proclaimed the importance of gender equality.

In January, Beyoncé wrote an essay Gender Equality is a Myth! for the Shriver Report, an American feminist pressure group. It was neither long nor academic, but included statistics that proved, contrary to the sentiment of her 2011 hit Run the World (Girls), women were not in charge. “[Women] must demand that we all receive 100 per cent of the opportunities,” she wrote, a rallying cry that echoed through popular culture for the rest of the year.

Throughout 2014 the glass ceiling was rattled as cultural figures stood up and declared themselves feminists. Rarely a week went by without an influential industry figure or a major star supporting the cause, changing their fans’ and followers’ minds, just as their work reflected their newly outspoken opinions.

Between January and March the awards season was peppered with A-listers denouncing inequality. During a speech at the National Board of Review gala in New York, Meryl Streep praised Oscar-winner Emma Thompson as “a rabid, man-eating feminist, like I am”. Cate Blanchett used her Best Actress acceptance speech at the Oscars to chastise “those in the industry still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences”. Her point was proven by Frozen, Disney’s Oscar-winning animation that replaced the traditional princess motif with an icy queen. Celebrated for its refreshing presentation of young women and sisterly love, Frozen was a runaway success. Its creator, Jennifer Lee, became the first female director to make a billion-dollar movie, four months after the film was released in November 2013.

Blurred Lines, a play named after the 2013 song by Robin Thicke that caused controversy thanks to its sexist lyrics and video, sold out the National Theatre’s Shed, while the House of Commons opened its doors for a feminist feature film as it became the set for Suffragette. Starring Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, the film – written, directed and produced by women – follows the early days of the suffrage movement.

British actress and newly appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson addressed the UN in September and gave a speech in which she invited men and boys to “take up the mantle” of ending gender inequality. Actors including Russell Crowe, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ian McKellen pledged their support.

Weeks earlier, Beyoncé had performed before a TV audience of 8.3 million people at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) in front of a backdrop of words taken from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, We Should All Be Feminists. Her performance captured the moment an academic movement was embraced by the mainstream.

Beyoncé at the MTV VMAs 2014

Meanwhile, at the Edinburgh Fringe, the comedian Bridget Christie returned with a new show about feminism that was at least as good as the previous year’s (which won her the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award). Not only that: apparently following her lead, there were more female comedians at the Fringe this year than ever before, with another unapologetically feminist show – Sara Pascoe vs History – proving a hilarious and deserving awards nominee.

New, young feminist voices published a string of important books. In May, Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett challenged the media in The Vagenda, a book whose title was taken from their spiky online feminist magazine. Six weeks later, Laura Bates compiled the entries submitted to her website cataloguing incidents of everyday sexism into a book of the same name. Emmy-winning writer and actress Lena Dunham released her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl in September. The London stop of Dunham’s book tour, at the Royal Festival Hall, sold out in 12 hours. During her talk, one of the 3,000 guests stood up and told Dunham that her HBO sitcom Girls had encouraged her to leave an abusive relationship.

Dunham changed the mind of Taylor Swift, too. The American pop star explained in August that the pair’s friendship “made [me] realise that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so”. By November, Swift had become the first woman to dislodge her own No1 single from the top of the American Billboard Hot 100 chart, despite having withdrawn her music from the streaming service Spotify in protest at the royalties paid to artists.

It should be pointed out that these isolated triumphs still bobbed amid a sea of gender inequality in the arts. Prominent female musicians collaborated on the year’s biggest hits – Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX recorded Fancy, Nicki Minaj remixed Beyoncé’s ***Flawless. This summer, however, not a single woman was originally asked to headline the UK’s major music festivals such as Bestival, Glastonbury and Reading. When Lily Allen topped the Friday-night bill at Latitude, it was only because the all-male trio Two Door Cinema Club pulled out at the last minute.

More recently, sexism at the heart of the film industry was exposed when hackers leaked emails from Sony employees. Top industry executives valued the contributions of Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, who both won Oscar nominations for their performances in American Hustle, less highly than those of their male co-stars. In another email, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin said that female film roles were easier than male ones, adding that only: “Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep can play with the boys.”

But the most pernicious reminder of misogyny was a direct retaliation to Watson’s UN #HeForShe campaign, when naked photographs of more than 100 famous women were released online by hackers.

The fight for gender equality has clearly not been won yet. As Watson explained in her UN address, it’s likely to take another 60 years, at least. But the tide, says Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre and founder of its Women of the World festival, is turning. “Even during that first festival [in 2010] there was a tentativeness about the F word,” Kelly says. “But now there are huge groups of young women calling themselves feminists.”

“Many things have accelerated the rise of cultural feminism: the Delhi gang rape, the successful petition to get a woman on the £10 note, Malala Yousafzai being shot for going to school. But this year has been amazing. I have such a strong feeling that women artists, performers and thinkers are setting this agenda for change.”

The past 12 months have seen a perfect storm of pop culture, social politics and social media. Seven weeks after Beyoncé’s VMA performance, the script from Adichie’s TED Talk was published as a book. It was described by the publisher as an “of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists”. Although Adichie’s essential argument – that we should teach boys and girls in exactly the same way – has been made for decades, it was given a new global prominence this year.

When Adichie gave her talk in London in April 2013, it was heard by a small group of African thinkers and academics. In 2014, the same words were brought to an audience of millions thanks to Beyoncé’s performance at the VMAs and went on to wallpaper Facebook and Twitter profiles across the world.

Like all political movements, feminism needs a manifesto, of which We Should All Be Feminists is perhaps the latest chapter. But it also needs popular champions and role models, especially in our social media age.

The battle for gender equality began in law courts and parliaments, as women fought for equal rights and the vote. But this year their campaign entered a new and exciting phase, as Oscar winners, playwrights, comedians and pop stars picked up the baton. Feminism has always been combative but in 2014, perhaps for the first time, it became cool.

Read the original article from The Telegraph here:


Florida gets out of marriage equality’s way

by Emma Margolin
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

It looks like same-sex couples hoping for clarification as to whether they’ll soon be able to marry in the Sunshine State will have to wait just a little bit longer – but they’ll probably be pleased with the outcome.

Speaking as the official counsel for Florida’s Secretary of the Department of Management Services, the business arm of Florida’s government, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi said late Monday that if a federal judge wanted his ruling in favor of marriage equality to apply statewide, he would have to explicitly say so.

The state’s court filing, ordered by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, doesn’t exactly clear up a rising tide of confusion over whether all of Florida’s 67 clerks of court will have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning next week. But it does offer marriage equality supporters some encouragement in that Bondi did not try to limit the number of counties affected. By punting the decision back to Judge Hinkle, who issued a strong endorsement of same-sex couples’ right to wed earlier this year, Bondi effectively got out of Florida’s way as it marches toward becoming the 36th state to legalize marriage equality.
“This Court is best situated to determine the reach of its own order,” said Bondi Monday in a short filing submitted two hours before the midnight deadline. “If the Court intends for paragraph 4 to bind a Florida clerk of court (or all Florida clerks of court), additional specificity may be appropriate to place any such clerk on proper notice.”

Path cleared for same-sex marriage in Florida

Judge Hinkle, a President Bill Clinton appointee, struck down Florida’s same-sex marriage ban in August, stating that “liberty, tolerance, and respect [were] not zero-sum concepts.” He stayed the effects of his ruling until the end of day on January 5. Both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Florida, and the U.S. Supreme Court then refused to extend that stay, clearing the way for gay and lesbian couples to begin marrying in the Sunshine State on Jan. 6.

But not everyone agreed that Florida was on its way to legalizing marriage equality. Greenberg Traurig, a private law firm that represents the state association of Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, said in a memo last week that the only clerk bound to Judge Hinkle’s August ruling was Washington County’s Lora Bell because she alone was named in the federal lawsuit. Any other clerk who issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, argued Greenberg Traurig, would be in violation of the state statute prohibiting marriage equality – an offense that in Florida carries as much as $1,000 in fines and up to one year in jail.

Based off that analysis, only seven out 53 clerks in the state who participated in an Associated Press inquiry said they would be granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Jan. 6, the day Judge Hinkle’s ruling in favor of marriage equality takes effect. Meanwhile, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality Florida issued a counter memo last week stating that all Florida county clerks were “compelled and certainly permitted to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning January 6.”

With the clock ticking, the Clerk of Court of Washington County asked Judge Hinkle for clarification, prompting Hinkle to set a Monday deadline for the state to respond. Judge Hinkle will likely clarify the scope of his ruling sometime in the coming week.

Marriage equality got off to a staggered start in Florida with state judges’ overturning the ban in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties earlier this year. Hinkle was the fifth judge in Florida to rule in favor of marriage equality, but the first federal judge with jurisdiction over the entire state to do so. Throughout the losses, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi held fast to Florida’s ban, helping to recently earn her the title, “Loser of the Year,” from Florida’s largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. As Adam C. Smith, the paper’s political editor wrote:

“Bondi’s clumsy communication skills and relentless defense of Florida’s gay marriage ban have made her a modern-day Anita Bryant. Antagonizing Florida’s gay voters over same-sex marriage and Hispanic voters over immigration reform ensures Bondi has a bright political future ahead of her — if she moves to Mississippi.”
Read the original article from MSNBC here:

Why 2014 Was a Breakthrough Year for Country's LGBT Community

by Marissa R. Moss
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

One brisk morning this past November in New York City, Ty Herndon went for a run. He woke up, slipped on his sneakers and headed out for his usual eight miles or so — just one of the ways he keeps himself looking at least a decade shy of his 52 years. It was the same way that he would start any other day – except this was anything but. After his exercise and his routine prayer and meditation, the country singer got dressed and headed to Le Parker Meridien hotel for an interview where he would publicly admit something he'd been hiding for his entire existence in the public eye: He is gay.

"November was a pretty monumental month for a lot of things," Herndon tells Rolling Stone Country. Indeed. A few weeks earlier, Kacey Musgraves stood onstage at the CMA Awards next to her openly gay cowriters, Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, accepting Song of the Year honors for "Follow Your Arrow," which, for all intents and purposes, is about having the freedom to get high and kiss who you want, same sex or not. Chely Wright, essentially the first openly lesbian artist in the genre, was still reeling from a record Kickstarter campaign that raked in $250,000, and Billy Gilman came out hours after Herndon. So yes, it was a pretty monumental month. But, to be fair, it had been a pretty rough run thus far for LGBT acceptance in country music.

"I made a lot of mistakes over the years trying to be in this business and trying to cover up that I was gay," Herndon says. The morning of the interview he was "completely freaking out," but, after the footage aired on Entertainment Tonight and was followed by a story in People magazine, he finally felt some relief. Hiding who he was "definitely almost took my life more than once," he says. Drugs and alcohol sent him to rehab — they were easy tools to dull the pain of an existence shadowed by denial. He sang songs about being in love with women. He even married two of them. Nashville just wasn't a safe place to come out, yet.

Country music, while essentially a genre that is centered on professing the stories of real life experience, has historically never been a very friendly place to be overtly gay. Even as many minds have shifted in recent years, and marriage equality has rapidly expanded across the country, Music Row stagnated. While Macklemore and Queen Latifah led a mass wedding ceremony at January 2014's Grammys for many same-sex couples, country awards shows are still generally stuffed with safe, conservative humor. Coming out, and singing about free sexuality, hasn't been part of the program.

But this year's CMA Awards were different. When Musgraves won for "Follow Your Arrow," her out co-writers in tow, the online sphere was quick to tag it as a banner moment for gay rights. Was country music finally embracing LGBT fans and musicians? Maybe. When Herndon watched the trio accept their trophy, he cried. "I've been in the fabric of this community for a while, so I know all the voters out there," he says, "and for them to open up their hearts and do that, it was a monumental day." But really, 2014's shift didn't start with the academy or voters. A lot of it began with one girl from Texas.

When Musgraves entered the scene with "Merry Go Round," a song that is, at its core, almost more radical than "Follow Your Arrow," she wasn't shooting for mainstream stardom that might compromise her point of view. She was a transfer from Lost Highway, the now defunct label that became a part of Universal Records, and had once been home to Ryan Adams and Hayes Carll. In other words, more of a place to make albums that might land on critics' lists, rather than launch its players onto any major-network awards-show stages.

From the get-go, Mugraves was not going to be silent on the subject of LGBT issues, particularly considering that two of her most trusted collaborators, McAnally and Clark, are gay and lesbian, respectively. She made early allies with gay gossip blogger Perez Hilton, was the first country performer to play the GLAAD Media Awards and eventually found herself on tour with Katy Perry, another woman who wove a song out of same-sex lip-locking — the difference being that "I Kissed a Girl" actually topped the charts. "Follow Your Arrow," despite winning awards and riling opinions, still didn't fare spectacularly well on country radio — though no one really expected that it would.

"The fact that I'm considered progressive in this day and age is kind of sad to me," Musgraves told Out.com. "I'm not. I'm just writing and singing about things that inspire me and inspire a lot of people. Country music, especially, is supposedly a genre where you talk about real life, real things. I don't think it should be considered that crazy." Amazingly, her CMA Awards win indicated that the people voting – the infrastructure that makes up the bones of Nashville's music industry, in a state that overwhelmingly vetoes any liberal policies – might not only agree with her in that, but also be gravitating towards a more open era.

"It's been one of the most active years in terms of recognizing and acknowledging LGBT in country music," says Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, which is working steadfastly to expand its hold in the southern states, particularly in the entertainment industry, through programs like Southern Stories. "But part of the resistance has been this misperception that you are either a person of faith, or you are pro-LGBT, and they are not mutually exclusive. You can be both. And we're starting to see an evolution around that conversation as well."

Country music has never been shy when it comes to religious conviction, from George Strait's "I Saw God" to Carrie Underwood's "Something in the Water," and that's made it sometimes reluctant to openly embrace the LGBT community, though that hesitancy seems to often come from behind office doors and not from the mouths of artists themselves — and not out of hatred, but out of fear.

Ty Herndon (right) and his partner, Matt Collum (Photo: Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

"I was always told I shouldn't have an opinion about anything because if someone doesn't agree with it, then they won't buy your album," says LeAnn Rimes, a close friend of Herndon who has been open with her support for the gay community for years and recently appeared in a video for GLAAD. "It's an incredibly sad way to grow up and very confusing. But hopefully we are making huge strides right now."

That definitely appears to be the case. If you examine the list of country musicians who have come out in support of LGBT rights in one way or another, it's essentially a who's who of the genre's royalty: Underwood, Dolly Parton, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, Reba, Wynonna, even Shock'n Y'all Toby Keith. Rascall Flatts were the first to express a sentiment echoed by "Follow Your Arrow" years later with their 2009 song "Love Who You Love," which was widely embraced at the time as an anthem preaching equality. The influence of these stars – who also speak openly about faith – seems to be reaching a critical mass.

Many also attribute the recent shift in attitudes to the genre's gravitation towards pop and a younger, broader group of fans who are more liberal-minded when it comes to social issues. Additionally, it's due to a change in the internal gears of Music Row, thanks to the likes of McAnally.

The fact that a traditionally conservative industry base in Nashville has embraced him as a key conspirator represents a huge step forward. Take Sam Hunt, for one, a quite alpha-male persona who wears his collaboration with McAnally loud and proud — together, the duo writes songs about romance and does so to chart-topping results. When a New York Times article was published essentially outing McAnally (though he never quite hid his sexuality), many insisted he'd see trouble in the writing room. But the opposite happened – his star has only risen since, his romantic preference no more of a factor than it would be for a straight person, the focus only on his sharp lyrical voice and keen ear.

Same for the third "Follow Your Arrow" writer, Clark. Her 2013 record, 12 Stories, was widely regarded as a beautiful, complete work — but labels weren’t clamoring to sign her. Headlines like "Brandy Clark's debut album is a stunner: but will anybody hear it?" showed up in places like the Washington Post. When Chely Wright came out as a lesbian, she had already built a fan base; this was a country debut from an openly gay woman. Not only that, but Clark didn't play to convention. She didn't sexualize herself or go pop-star pantsless, because her particular bed-room predilections were rather moot to the plot of her music. "I don’t write songs for straight people or gay people or black people or white people," she told the Washington Post. "I write songs for people. I want them to put themselves in these songs. I would feel that way if I was straight." She announced a deal with Warner Bros. in November — with their Los Angeles arm, however.

While obstacles still remain, this year's breakthroughs should only hasten country music's full embrace of its LGBT fans and musicians. Musgraves is at work on a second album with McAnally, and Clark is up for Best Country Album and Best New Artist at February's Grammy Awards. In March, reissue label Paradise of Bachelors re-released the 1973 debut from Lavender Country — they say it's "[w]idely recognized as the first openly gay country music album" — featuring songs like "Come Out Singing" and "Back in the Closet Again." For Herndon, he's felt the aftershocks of his announcement on the ground level. "There's artists backstage giving me hugs," he says. "And I can't walk into Costco these days without people walking up to me and telling me their story. Everyone from a grandmother whose grandson has come out or a mother who had a gay son who was struggling with it."

Leave it to Dolly Parton – country's Tennessee queen and gay icon for years, who recently hinted at a track called "Just a Wee Bit Gay" from a possible upcoming dance album – to break it down simply. "I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are, and to love who they love," she told Billboard. "I don't think we should be judgmental. Lord, I've got enough problems of my own to pass judgment on somebody else."

Read the original article from Rolling Stone here:


Violence and racism clouded year in sports

by Rachel Cohen
Originally Published: December 26th, 2014

NEW YORK The NFL's troubles with domestic violence were selected the sports story of the year Tuesday in an annual vote conducted by The Associated Press. 

Ninety-four ballots were submitted from U.S. editors and news directors. Voters were asked to rank the top 10 sports stories of the year, with the first-place story receiving 10 points, the second-place story nine points and so on. 

NFL domestic violence received 659 points and 29 first-place votes.
The No. 2 sports story, Clippers owner Donald Sterling forced out by the NBA after his racist statements, had 518 points. 

Here are 2014's top 10 stories: 

Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice knocked his now-wife unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator Feb. 15, but it wasn't until July 24 that domestic violence cases spiralled into a crisis roiling the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for just two games, which drew widespread derision. More than a month passed before Goodell admitted he "didn't get it right" and announced harsher sanctions for future domestic violence offences. 

But the NFL's problems were only beginning. On Sept. 8, TMZ Sports released video from inside the elevator that showed Rice punching his then-fiancee; the Ravens responded by releasing him and Goodell suspended him indefinitely. And on Sept. 12, one of the league's biggest stars, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, was indicted on felony child abuse charges for using a wooden switch to discipline his four-year-old son. The Vikings initially planned to play him just over a week later, reversing course only after the ensuing uproar. 

The year ends with Rice reinstated by an arbitrator but without a team and Peterson suspended and suing the NFL. Chastened by those and other cases, the league is pushing a new personal conduct policy, but the players' union is balking at Goodell's role in the disciplinary process. 

Donald Sterling had withstood accusations of racism throughout his more than three decades as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. But when audio surfaced April 25 of Sterling spewing racist remarks, he was banned for life by new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver just four days later and 
forced to sell the team. 

This time, LeBron James decided to return home. Four years after spurning Cleveland to sign with the Miami Heat, the Northeast Ohio native and four-time NBA MVP announced July 11 that he was rejoining the Cavaliers to try to end the city's half-century title drought. 

Jason Collins became the first openly gay man to play in the big four North American pro sports leagues when he made his debut with the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 23. The veteran centre had come out 10 months earlier, a trail-blazing moment that helped inspire other athletes and sports officials to follow his lead in 2014. That included Missouri all-American Michael Sam, who went on to be drafted into the NFL, though he has yet to play in a game. 

Madison Bumgarner pitched seven dominant innings to win Game 1 of the World Series. Then the San Francisco ace topped himself with a shutout in Game 5. He outdid himself yet again with five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7 to clinch the Giants' third championship in five years. 

Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6. Oregon was upset by Arizona on Oct. 2, and Alabama fell to Ole Miss two days later. The rest of those teams' regular-season games still mattered because of the new College Football Playoff, which made more and more matchups meaningful deep into the fall. 

One of NASCAR's biggest stars, Tony Stewart, was taking part in a small sprint car race in upstate New York on Aug. 9 when he struck and killed 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. A grand jury decided not to bring criminal charges against Stewart, who skipped three NASCAR races as he grieved. 

Brazil's World Cup was a big celebration until those German goals started piling up. The expected massive protests didn't materialize, and the construction delays caused few headaches. The major disappointment came on the field when the hosts, without injured star Neymar, were thrashed 7-1 in the semifinals by eventual champion Germany. 

Richard Sherman's Seattle defence was way too much for Peyton Manning's Denver offence. The Seahawks flustered and flattened the Broncos with a 43-8 victory in the Super Bowl, when the weather co-operated outdoors in New Jersey. 

The Sochi Olympics opened amid fears of terrorist attacks and denunciations of Russia's so-called "gay propaganda" law. The games went on peacefully, with the hosts winning 33 medals — though not in hockey. But by the closing ceremony, darkness lurked nearby in the world in violence in Ukraine. 

Read the original article from The Hamilton Spectator here:


The Why and How of Religious Diversity Training

by Deborah J. Levine
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

Why does Diversity and Inclusion training include so little instruction in religious diversity? The cultural awareness and cultural competence inherent in D&I are increasingly embraced as the major tools of the global market place of the future. Yet, there is a black hole of information on diverse religions. The silence is surely not due to a lack of interest or visibility. Turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or check the internet and religion pops out as a major issue across the planet.

Look at the growing number of EEOC complaints based on religious expression. Yet, the vacuum of expertise in religious diversity exists in most relationship-oriented sectors of our society: business, education, government, and human services. As a result, too few professionals understand how to avoid clashes involving belief systems. How can their often paralyzing sense of being overwhelmed and under-prepared be managed?

The challenge of religious diversity is not new. Decades ago, a riot over the display of Christmas symbols in the public schools hit the streets of Downers Grove, a small city in DuPage County, the technical corridor of Chicago's western suburbs. Hundreds of students took to the streets joined by a thousand citizens, police, and reporters. I was finishing up an international interfaith project in my Chicago office when I saw the scene captured in technicolor above the fold on the front page of The Chicago Tribune. I lived in Downers Grove and could see my future flash before me. My next project was the creation of a trouble-shooting pilot project for a religiously diverse community in distress.

As I assembled the planning committee for the DuPage Interfaith Resource Network (DIRN) the situation worsened. Anonymous death threats were received by various civic leaders. Documenting our process became a major element of our business plan with an ongoing newsletter and an interview and link with Harvard's Pluralism Project. Ultimately, I wrote a book with suggested guidelines and Quick Reference Religious Diversity Cards outlining five information modules recommended for basic religious diversity training.

Before embarking on the information modules, a philosophic overview of religious diversity training should be considered. There will be people who are skeptical, or hostile, to anything labeled as interfaith. At one end of the spectrum, there will be traditionalists who may not want to be lumped together with other religions, considering such a situation as insulting and demeaning. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be spiritualists, who may demand to be lumped together with traditional religions, considering such a situation as legitimate inclusion. In today's world, there will also be a substantial number of agnostics and/or atheists who may see their role as questioning, or rebutting religion altogether. How can a training event encompass such disparate participants without imploding?

The central philosophic principle should be HARMONIZE NOT HOMOGENIZE. Religious diversity training should not aim for a Kumbaya moment in which world peace is achieved. Rather, the training should be designed to achieved two major objectives: 1.) Improve service customers and clients 2.) Improve relationships with diverse markets. There is a third objective of avoiding costly internal conflicts over religious expression. That objective is primarily addressed through the policies and their implementation according to federal EEOC guidelines. However, internal religious diversity issues can be indirectly impacted when training provides strategic information.

The DIRN case study includes Quick Reference Religious Diversity Cards which provide information without compromising belief systems. A key element of their usefulness is a structure organized by cross-cultural themes rather than an in-depth analysis of religions. The DuPage community leaders were not equipped to deal with a theological approach. Rather, easy access, condensed information, and immediate applicability. were primary concerns of various participants including law enforcement, healthcare workers, educators, and business owners.

Through research and field-testing with these participants, five themes emerged as central to religious diversity training. The result was five easily digestible charts with the following themes: 1.) Sacred Space, 2.) Sacred Time, 3.) Sacred Language, 4.) Death, and 5.) Sacred Food. Each chart is a matrix of terminology, religious practices, and taboos for more than a dozen faith traditions.

1. Sacred Space: Know the geography, terminology, and choreography of religious practices. Where are the headquarters, or central authority? What is the house of worship called and what are the practices for entering? Who is the leader and what is the term for this person? Don't underestimate the importance of this information. In its absence, law enforcement officers created distance between themselves and the community by referring to all religious leaders as priests.

2. Sacred Time: Know the religious diversity of calendars. What are the weekly times for worship? When are the annual holy days? Do the dates change yearly with the different liturgical calendar? Are there seasonal celebrations? In the absence of this information, a United Nations committee called a meeting on a member's most holy day. The meeting was canceled but the incident was spread widely online.

3. Sacred Language: Know how to refer to the sacred writings of each religion. What are they called, who wrote it and in what language? Who are the major prophets and how do they refer to God? What are the followers of each religion called? In the absence of this information, public speeches were made about diversity using biblical quotes that were not relevant to many audience members, excluding them a full understanding of the presentation.

4. Dying and Death: Know how the meaning of death and the rituals surrounding it. What happens to the soul after death? To the body? What are the funeral and mourning practices that should be honored? Healthcare workers need to know how to deal with dying patients and families, but so do employees, colleagues, vendors, and leaders across sectors. Few times in a person's life are as emotional as the death of friends and loved ones. Responses can provide an opportunity to connect, but a lack of information can lead to an unintended, and possibly long-term, disengagement.

5. Sacred Food: Know the basics of dietary laws attached to religious traditions. What is allowed to be eaten and when is it eaten? What is forbidden and should not be served? What food is used to celebrate and when is fasting practiced? In the absence of this information, a conference planner can make a meal taboo by lack of proper oversight.

Stress the practical applications of these cards. Use them to avoid scheduling mistakes. Use them to plan the food for celebrations and gifts. Use them when marketing to a cultural community that is known to embrace a specific religion. The information can mean the difference between inclusion and exclusion in the social services and healthcare environments. The Cards are the culmination of years of concentrated effort to overcome its religious diversity conflicts. The next time DuPage County was in a religion story of The Chicago Tribune, DIRN was featured as a how-to model for conflict resolution, religious diversity, and cross-cultural communication.

Where is your company, organization, and/or institution in dealing with religious diversity? If there are problems, they are more likely to intensify than go away. If there is calm, make plans now for religious diversity training, and tackle challenges, and there will be challenges, before they end up on the front page of your local newspaper. If you need help, keep in mind that the Quick Reference Religious Diversity Cards were recently updated and remain a cutting-edge resource, as is the case study of DIRN (Both are available in RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN OUR SCHOOLS).

Read the original article from Huffington Post here:


Are Black Colleges Boosting Minority Representation in the Sciences?

by Alexandra Ossola
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

Caleph Wilson, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania medical school, always loved science, but even as a teenager he didn’t have his heart set on being a doctor. None of his family members had college degrees, and Wilson enjoyed working with his hands; he had an after-school job on a construction site building cabinets out of wood. Wilson was a good student and generally stayed out of trouble, although he says that in middle school, “There were a couple of instances where I was really excited about taking a test, but because I was a young black male student, my teacher took that the wrong way and I ended up in in-school suspension.”

After graduating from high school in Mississippi, Wilson enrolled in Alcorn State University, a historically black institution in Lorman. After a semester of excelling in biology courses—combined with his desire to “do something that my hometown peers were not doing”—Wilson declared a pre-med major. Though his family was very supportive, he said, some people weren’t so enthusiastic about his career choice. When he visited home during a college break, Wilson told his former football coach that he had declared a pre-med concentration. The coach looked confused, according to Wilson, and asked if he was still building cabinets. “It’s if he was saying, ‘You should probably keep that skill because I don’t think you’ll make it [as a doctor],’” Wilson said. “That’s how I interpreted it.” Many of Wilson’s teachers perhaps doubted that he—and his black peers—could take on such challenging and competitive disciplines.

Science, technology, engineering, and math—or STEM—fields notoriously lack racial diversity; Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans make up 26 percent of the country’s workforce but only 10 percent of STEM positions. To change this disparity, many organizations and individuals have endeavored to engage students in STEM at all stages of their academic lives. College is often the culmination of these efforts, the point at which students decide if they want to pursue careers in the sciences. To succeed, they need both technical skills and “soft skills” like communication and professionalism. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are providing exactly that: With finite resources, they prepare thousands of minority students for careers in STEM every year, trying to minimize the obstacles that these students will almost certainly face because of their background.

“My philosophy has always been that training underrepresented minorities is not for just them alone—anything you do to help them is of value to anyone else,” said Andrew G. Campbell, a medical science professor at Brown University. “We have a workforce [in STEM] that’s not diverse.” By investing in minority students, Campbell said, the school is investing in a stronger overall workforce.

African American students face numerous challenges even in the path leading up to college. Some black students skip out on STEM careers altogether, discouraged by negative stereotypes and self-doubt, according to a 2011 article in BET. Socioeconomic factors can also undermine black students’ exposure to STEM, often because they attend schools lacking computers, which could expose them to new career paths and spark interest in the fields.

In school, students of color (especially boys) are much more likely than whites to receive disciplinary action; according to a six-year study conducted in Texas, African American and Hispanic students were twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions for a first offense than their white peers. Efforts by nonprofits like Black Girls Code are working to offset some of these obstacles by engaging students in their own education, giving them the confidence and technical know-how to pursue majors in STEM. Underrepresented minorities now make up 10 percent of STEM workers, up from 7 percent in 1993, according to a report from the National Science Foundation, likely in part due to initiatives like these. That number is still not as high as it should be—African Americans made up 13.2 percent of the U.S. population in 2013—but it’s progress.

The 106 colleges that qualify as Historically Black Colleges and Universities—or HBCUs—were established before 1964 with the primary intention of serving black students. In 2010 more than 260,000 black students were enrolled in these institutions, making up about 9 percent of all black college students in the country. People go to HBCUs for lots of reasons, including small class sizes and generous financial aid. Karl Walker, now a computer science professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, knew he wanted to go to an HBCU because he was immersed in their culture of loud, fun athletic competitions from a young age. “HBCUs were the schools that were always around, that I was always involved with,” Walker said. “I would go to a lot of the football games—I was surrounded by [the culture].” He enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta on a full-tuition scholarship.

But UPenn’s Wilson, who grew up thinking that mentors expected less of black students, enrolled at Alcorn for a different reason. “I really wanted to figure out: Is all the negativity about young black kids true? Or is it a bunch of nonsense?”

Wilson was impressed by what he found at Alcorn, where the student body is 93 percent African American. “In high school I had a B-plus average, but I was sitting in classrooms with students who were valedictorians of their classes,” he said. Academic excellence was the norm at Alcorn, Wilson said, and he was even more surprised to find that he could hold his own. Wilson felt reaffirmed both as an individual and as a black man trying to enter the sciences.

Still, some HBCUs have struggled to break even and maintain their good reputations in recent years. All of them accept non-black students—some, like West Virginia State University, no longer serve majority-black student populations—but HBCUs still tend to be less racially diverse than other institutions. This lack of diversity can hinder students who are trying to get jobs in industries where connections are helpful, wrote Ciandre Taylor, who attended the HBCU Morris Brown for one year before transferring to a non-HBCU, in a recent article. “I knew I wouldn’t work in an all-black environment, so there’s a con in attending an HBCU.” “It’s the need to do more for our culture, for our race.”

Plenty of students still find good reasons to opt for HBCUs. These colleges charge lower tuitions (the average tuition for the top 10 HBCUs is around $19,000 per year) and offer students ample financial aid. But as a result HBCUs also tend to have lower endowments and fewer resources than other institutions, obstacles that can compromise the labs where science students learn. “We have very good equipment, but we may not have the most cutting-edge equipment on the market,” said Lorraine Fleming, dean of the College of Engineering and Architectural Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Talented professors, she says, make up for this disparity through creative use of multimedia, ensuring that students understand how to analyze the data they collect in any lab facility.

But many HBCUs offer extra support that may help offset these challenges. Some institutions, for example, incorporate training in soft skills to help students succeed in STEM. At Howard University, introductory engineering courses emphasize professionalism, focusing on the way students present themselves via social media and other places online—ensuring that students don’t use email addresses “like sexylady@gmail.com,” Fleming said. Katherine Harper, a biology professor at West Virginia State University, emphasized the value of the personal mentorship she can offer her students because of small class sizes. Indeed, like many other institutions these historically black schools place a strong focus on communication, teaching students that they must be able to articulately present and write about their work in order to be successful in STEM fields. HBCUs start this training early, sending students to present their research at events such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and the meeting of the National Society of Black Engineers.

Many minority students who graduate from HBCUs do so with the understanding that they can hold their own in their field of choice, no matter how technical it may be. This confidence, several HBCU graduates told me, is what stops them from giving up when they feel overwhelmed by the subject matter or intimidated by others in their field. Jelani Zarif, now a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, grew up in public housing on the South Side of Chicago before graduating from Jackson State University in Mississippi. He recently earned his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He thinks this confidence is a way to avoid stereotype threat, a phenomenon in which individuals feel overpressured to succeed in order to debunk stereotypes about their minority group: “I think that, as a black scientist, you become a representative for black America. A lot of students experience that. But I think [some of the pressure] is just an illusion. Just be comfortable with yourself and your abilities—those are things that I keep in my head.”

HBCUs also create a strong network of minority students that boosts this confidence. “I had constant encouragement from faculty [at Morehouse] but I also got a lot from other students—that camaraderie was really good,” Arkansas’ Walker said, adding that his college experience allowed him to explore his true passions without feeling like he was an outsider. This is something that non-HBCUs, Brown’s Campbell mentioned, have not been able to do as effectively without a critical mass of minority students. “We have a STEM workforce that’s not diverse.” By investing in minority students, the school is investing in a stronger overall workforce.

UPenn’s Wilson also spoke of the value of a strong network, noting that he was able to consult a black colleague when he noticed that, as a graduate student, he wasn’t going about his work with as much enthusiasm as his white counterparts. “Why are we walking around acting like we’re surprised we’re here?” he asked his friend. Sometimes the confidence that educators work hard to instill can be eclipsed by a new and challenging academic setting; support from people who have taken similar paths can help reaffirm it.

Black scientists value mentorship, and many go to great lengths to advise students earlier in their academic careers. Every doctorate student or postdoctoral fellow I spoke to for this story was mentoring younger students on top of conducting their scientific research and completing their programs of study. William J. Tomlinson Jr., an HBCU alumnus working on his Ph.D. in computer engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, said that after he spends a few years working in a lab he wants to start a nonprofit to help bring more black students into STEM. This desire to help others succeed—to lower the ladder for others to climb up rather than raise it after reaching the top—is pervasive among African Americans in STEM. And it could mean that their representation in these fields will increase exponentially in the near future. “It’s the need to do more for our culture, for our race,” Tomlinson said. “That’s what keeps us motivated in the STEM fields.”

Read the original article from The Atlantic here:


Key To Happiness: Being Open About Your Religion May Make Your Workday A Bit More Pleasant

by Dana Dovey
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

According to a recent study from Kansas State University, the company Christmas party isn’t just an excuse to get drunk on your employer's tab but is actually an integral part of workers’ happiness.

In many offices, religion and work just don’t seem to mix, but Sooyeol Kim, a doctoral student at Kansas State, believes the two couldn’t blend any more smoothly. According to his study, employees who openly discuss and celebrate their religious beliefs at work are often happier and have a higher sense of job satisfaction than those who do not, Medical News Today reported.

“Being able to express important aspects of one's life can influence work-related issues such as job satisfaction, work performance, or engagement. It can be beneficial for organizations to have a climate that is welcoming to every religion and culture," Kim said.

In order to come up with this conclusion, Kim and his fellow researchers surveyed nearly 600 adult workers, all if which identified as various forms of Christianity and were working in different industries in both the U.S. and South Korea. The volunteers were asked questions to derive how religious of a life they lived and how their level of faith shaped their personal identity.

Results showed that workers who reported being the most religious were not only the most likely to openly discuss their faith in the workplace but also the most likely to report higher levels of work satisfaction. Those who were religious but hid often faced negative consequences.

“When you try to hide your identity, you have to pretend or you have to lie to others, which can be stressful and negatively impact how you build relationships with co-workers," Kim said.

The team suggested that, based on their findings, it would be beneficial for both employees and the overall work atmosphere if companies made it clear they accepted religious beliefs and encouraged their employees to make their faith well-known. Welcoming various faiths in the workplace could range from encouraging employees to decorate their desks with religious ornaments to celebrating holidays from various faiths.

A recent survey also suggests religious people are not only happier in the workplace, but also happier with their overall life. The Breitbart News Network found that of the more than 15,000 American adults surveyed, 45 percent who attend religious services on a weekly basis describe themselves as "very happy," while only 28 percent of those who never attend service said the same, the Daily Mail reported. Although religious folk aren’t sharing the specific key to their optimistic outlook on life, it’s suspected that their faith helps to cope better with difficult life situations, such as divorce or job loss.

Source: Kim S, Lyons B, Wessel J, Ghumman S, Ryan AM. Applying models of employee identity management across cultures: Christianity in the USA and South Korea. Journal of Organization Behavior. 2014.

Read the original article from Medical Daily here:


Monday, December 29, 2014

Mormon Allies Promise LGBT Christians: You Can Sit With Me At Church

by Carol Kuruvilla
Originally Published: December 28th, 2014

It’s painful to feel like an outsider -- especially during Christmas.

However, it’s a feeling that LGBT members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints may experience during the holidays. While the church insists that gay and lesbian Mormons should be treated with kindness, it sees acting out on same-sex attractions as a sin. As a result, LGBT Mormons who have grown up celebrating Christmas with their church communities may be hesitant to come back.

But there’s a growing number of people within the Mormon church who aren’t afraid to show their support for their LGBT brothers and sisters.

On December 21, about 200 allies volunteered for “Sit With Me Sunday,” promising to sit with LGBT people who are uncomfortable about attending a service.

It’s unclear how many LGBT members took the group up on their offer. Campaign organizer Sherri Park, who is on the steering committee for Mormons Building Bridges, said that some people felt so anxious about returning that at the last minute, they decided not to go. She estimates less than 50 pairs of people participated this year.

In the Mormon church, people are assigned to wards, or congregations, depending on where they live. Sometimes, people get assigned to a ward that provides a safe spiritual space for gays and lesbians, and at other times, they’re not so lucky.

“It’s like roulette,” Park told HuffPost. “It really depends on who your ward leadership is . . . So people mostly either don’t come at all or they come and cringe when they hear something said about gay people being evil. It’s so painful.”

Park wanted to make it easier for LGBT people to identify individuals and families who are willing to be allies, creating a map for members in the US.

For the families that took part, it was an incredibly affirming experience.

Jill Hazard Rowe, an LDS mom from Draper, Utah, volunteered to sit with a young man from her town. He had grown up in the church and explored his spirituality by serving on a mission. When he returned, he realized that his same-sex attractions weren’t going away.

Rowe, who has a gay son herself, wanted to make sure that this young man felt welcomed and loved in church during this year’s Christmas season. Rowe, her husband, her children, and parents turned up in force to sit with the young man during Sunday’s worship service.

“It sounds weird, but having him sit next to me made me feel more Christian,” Rowe said. “It’s obviously not about me, I know. But I just felt complete and whole to know that this is what God approves of, that we love everyone.”

“My hope is for everyone to be educated on the issue and realize that this isn’t a choice and just really strive to be Christian,” she continued.

Peter Harrison, a 20-year-old LDS member from Sandy, Utah, knows young Mormons who were turned out of their homes after their parents found out about their sexual orientation. He remembers attending church-sponsored dances when he was younger, where the lines between genders were drawn very clearly and he couldn’t dance with the people he wanted to dance with.

Harrison was initially worried that his own parents wouldn’t accept him after he came out to them. But not only were they welcoming and affirming -- members of his church community also embraced him wholeheartedly.

“You hear a lot of negative stories, but there are people within the LDS church who are supportive and want people to feel welcome in church and to feel a closeness to God, which is what church provide,” Harrison told The Huffington Post.

Harrison wasn’t able to attend Sit With Me Sunday this year, but he has fond memories of last year’s event. It was powerful for him to feel that level of acceptance, he said.

Harrison is hoping that in the coming years, the church will become more open towards same-sex couples -- and perhaps even welcome them into leadership roles.“The church is a large organization and you’ve got hundreds of families dealing with this issue,” Harrison said. “It’s going to be more front and center as families raise kids who are gay and couples come forward wanting to serve in the church.”

Read the original article from Huffington Post here:


Diversity In Space: Tracking The First Asian Pilot In The Star Wars Movies

by Steve Haruch
Originally Published: December 29th, 2014

"There's .... too many of them," a Y-Wing pilot says, as Imperial ships overwhelm the Rebel fleet in the climactic space battle in Return of the Jedi.

This scene is important because we've just learned that the Rebels have been lured to the forest moon Endor by the Emperor — it's a trap! — and also for another reason: this is the first line spoken by an Asian character in the original Star Wars movies.

Lieutenant Telsij of Return of the Jedi is one of just a handful of Asian characters in the Star Wars film series. Lucasfilm

Later comes the final line spoken by an Asian character in those films: "I'm hit!" Then, a shower of sparks, and the cockpit bursting into flame faster than you can say "Jek Porkins." Total time onscreen: approximately four seconds. (Brief, but enough to yield a Halloween costume idea, at least.)

So who is this Asian Rebel pilot? As it turns out, that's kind of complicated.

First off, the role is uncredited, and while there are assorted Rebel pilots listed in the cast, none fits the description. For Star Wars knowledge this obscure, one must consult Leland Chee of Lucasfilm.

"My title is manager of the Holocron," Chee explains, "and the Holocron is a database of all Star Wars facts."

Chee says the Holocron holds over 66,000 entries: "characters, planets, droids — everything from the movies, from what we now consider 'legends' material, which is all the books that came out before this year, comics, games, trading cards, stuff we've done online, stuff we've done for role-playing games, stuff for toys — that's what I'm tasked with compiling."

The Asian pilot we're looking for was made into a toy in 1999. Well, sort of.

"That figure is a mess," Chee says. "It's wrong on so many levels. They made him red, which is the color of the B-Wing pilots. They gave him a Y-Wing helmet, but they gave him the name of an A-Wing pilot."

This is exactly the sort of mistake Chee and his comrades on the Lucasfilm Story Group are now responsible for preventing. Peering deeper into the Holocron — the FileMaker database is actually "not that complex," Chee says — he's able to search it while talking on the phone with a reporter. That yields a better answer: Lieutenant Telsij.

The name Lieutenant Telsij first appears in a card game set released by Decipher in the year 2000. Like many minor characters, Telsij didn't get his name until after the fact. In this case, about 17 years after the fact.

"A lot of that information, like naming of background characters, especially from the films, came from that Decipher collectible card game," Chee explains. "Most of their card sets were pre-Episode I, so it was mostly classic trilogy material, and they were naming every single background character. They were also pulling from the Star Wars Holiday Special as well, because they had image reference for that. But yeah, if someone wasn't named, they would name them."

The Lieutenant Telsij card even contains a bit of back story; he flew under the call sign Gray Two, and was "one of only four attackers who survived the raid on the Imperial Academy at Carida."

Incidentally, Chee says he tracks pronunciation in the Holocron, "but it's only as needed." In the case of Telsij, "I don't think we've ever used him in anything that required a pronunciation for his name," he says. But, he adds, "If someone asked me, I would say 'TEL-sidge.' "

So who played Telsij in the movie? Chee asked J.W. Rinzler, author of The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, to send him the call sheets for the Y-Wing cockpit shots. Those include three names: Eiji Kusuhara, Timothy Sinclair and Erroll Shaker.

Kusuhara, who also appeared in Eyes Wide Shut, among other performances, died in 2010. But he's the most likely candidate. Hilary Westlake, a stage director who was a close friend and wrote his obituary for the Guardian, says Kusuhara never mentioned this role to her. But after viewing the clip, she says, "Albeit brief, I would say it is most certainly Eiji."

So that's that, right? No. There is another. "There are two different Y-wing pilots," Chee says, "each with their own unique helmet, possibly voiced by the same voice actor."

That second pilot — the one who cries out, "I'm hit!" — is Ekelarc Yong. His name comes from an action figure released by Hasbro. He has a bat on his helmet and flew under the call sign Gray Three.

"We didn't even know this character existed until we did that action figure," Chee says with a laugh. "I didn't know until recently that they were actually two different guys."

Maybe they weren't intended to be two different guys. Maybe the Ekelarc Yong character is the result of a continuity error.

"There's a lot of strange things that go on with those pilots," Chee says. By way of example, he adds: "One of the pilots in the film is actually a woman, but she's given a man's voice. A-Wing pilots are supposed to look a certain way — they're the green ones; they've got a certain helmet — but then you go to the briefing room scene and some people are carrying the wrong helmets."

So it's at least conceivable that the same actor, possibly Kusuhara, could have accidentally donned a different helmet in subsequent takes. Watching the film, it's difficult to tell if there are two different actors — the pilot is grimacing in the second clip, and the explosion begins almost immediately, obscuring his face. Neither Chee nor Rinzler was able to find the name of the voice actor who seemingly provides the voice for both. So we'll probably never know. But two helmets means two action figures, and that means two pilots.

Elsewhere in the Star Wars universe, there are more Asian characters than there might appear at first glance, though Telsij and Yong are the only ones who speak. Some have names, some don't.

"Some of the Jabba's palace characters do," Chee says. "They look Asian to me; let me put it that way." Among those lurking in the shadows are Ardon "Vapor" Crell, Rayc Ryjerd and a mustachioed fellow named Jan Solbidder. And in Cloud City, one of Lando Calrissian's guards is Corman Jeihn, possibly named by Hasbro — or, Chee says, "I think I may have named him."

Then there's the Jedi known as Selig Kenjenn.

"Since there was such a dearth of reference for 'Asian Jedi,' " Chee says, "there was an action figure pack that Hasbro did that featured an Asian male Jedi — who, surprisingly, looks like me."

Chee says he provided photo reference for the character, who was "offscreen at the battle of Geonosis," and that the idea for the action figure might have come from an illustration that accompanied a Wired story about Chee, which depicted him as a Jedi.

"That guy's definitely Asian," Chee says of Selig Kenjenn. "And that one, I definitely named myself."

So does the name carry some special significance?

"Ummmmm, not that I'm going to say," Chee demurs. " 'Selig' comes from one of my other fandoms, I'll say that."

Whatever the case, the relative dearth of Asian characters remains. Beyond the classic trilogy, there's the Chinese-born actor Bai Ling as Senator Bana Breemu, but her scenes were cut from Episode II. And there's a Jedi woman named Bultar Swan.

"Then there's probably a bunch of background guys that don't have names," Chee adds. "Hopefully we'll see some more in Episode VII."

Hopefully, indeed. Christina Chong has reportedly filmed her scenes already, so can the Holocron Keeper say anything about her role in the forthcoming J.J. Abrams-directed sequel?

"Actually, I can't," Chee says. "I don't have any information on that."

Not yet, anyway.

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