Supporting the LGBTQ+ community is crucial to Houston business success. Ylanite Koppens/Pexels

Being gay, lesbian or bisexual in the workplace often means facing choices that are deeply unfair. Choose to come out and risk being stigmatized or hide your orientation and prepare for a career weighted with the immense stress of secrecy. Theoretically, there are good reasons for businesses to embrace a workforce with diverse sexual orientations.

First, much workplace discrimination is illegal, and litigation is pricey. More importantly, disdaining 5 to 15 percent of your workforce (the estimated percentage of the workforce population who are gay, lesbian or bisexual) means lagging behind the competition in the ability to recruit and retain top talent. But in reality, the legal protections prohibiting discrimination against employee's sexual orientation is often limited and what should be the rational business choice isn't always made.

In an article published in The Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Rice Business professor Michelle "Mikki" Hebl explores the gamut of workplace challenges for gay, lesbian and bisexual workers. Misconceptions about these employees, she found, are still widespread. First of all, employers and coworkers who stigmatize homosexual or bisexual employees often misunderstand their orientation as a choice. The subsequent treatment based on this misinformation can be viciously destructive.

A common misperception is that sexual orientation can be easily concealed. To the contrary, many gay, lesbian or bisexual workers are actually outed by coworkers, Hebl notes. Because of this possibility, gay, lesbian and bisexual employees often spend an inordinate amount of their work time and energy simply managing their coworkers' response to their sexual orientation.

And while some people characterize sexual orientation as just a political issue, those who are gay, lesbian and bisexual employed in a toxic workplace are often not seen simply as undesirables. They can be considered actual threats, their sexual orientation capable of somehow altering the identities of fellow workers. In some cases, associations with HIV and AIDS can lead to gay, lesbian and bisexual workers being treated as physical risks.

Because of these obstacles, many workers are forced into painful choices at work. Do I put my partner's photo on my desk? Do I mention my weekend plans?

To reduce this burden on productive workers, Hebl writes, businesses should codify their formal rules about managing harassment. Informally, companies need to create a culture in which people of different sexual orientations are supported rather than punished for their sexual orientation.

But companies should know this road won't always be easy. Some workers will balk at a more diverse environment. The existence of clear policies, moreover, doesn't guarantee that subtle forms of discrimination won't take place. But the consequences of not establishing policies are considerable, including litigation and high turnover rates.

In the best of all worlds, the burden of change should not be on the gay, lesbian and bisexual workers themselves. But it's not a perfect world, so Hebl also proposes strategies to help employees maximize workplace acceptance.

These days, evidence suggests that in some cases, disclosing one's sexual orientation has benefits. Especially in supportive organizations, it often makes sense for people to reveal their sexual orientation after a period of time and with the support of other employees.

At the same time, Hebl notes, employees may be likely to bully gay, lesbian and bisexual employees whose orientation is the only thing that's is known about them. Thus, gay, lesbian and bisexual workers face a challenge well-known to other minority employees: delivering exceptional work and displaying exceptional character in order to attempt to allay discrimination.

From an institutional perspective, employers can support their individual gay, lesbian and bisexual employees in myriad ways. Companies can create a welcoming culture by offering same-sex partner benefits. Anti-discrimination policies, frequently voiced, send a message of safety to gay, lesbian and bisexual employees. Such measures require both awareness and real commitment, but the extra efforts pay off well beyond the day-to-day business of hiring and retention. They also encourage open-mindedness, creativity and commitment — and in the end, a more competitive work product.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom in 2018. It's based on research by Michelle "Mikki" Hebl, Eden B. King, and Charles L. Law. Hebl is the Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Chair of Psychology at Rice University and a professor of management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

"We're hoping to foster deeper and more inclusive representations and ally-ship at the intersection of art and technology." VlatkoRadovic/Getty Images

Nonprofit rises to create resources and networking for Houston's LGBTQ+ community

pride month

As Pride Month winds down, a new nonprofit is ramping up efforts to provide resources, training, financial aid, and networking opportunities for LGBTQ+ members of Houston's tech and creative communities.

Co-founders Alan Lett, creative director at event management company Staging Solutions, and Anthony Ferrell, a Microsoft store manager, officially launched Luminiris on June 25. Luminiris states that it's "committed to illuminating a new generation of the creative class seeking to pursue careers in the creative or tech fields — and give back along the way."

"Houston is a city overwhelmed with talent, both artistic and technical. We've also got a strong and diverse LGBTQ+ community," Lett says in a Luminiris video on YouTube.

The name of the organization is a mashup of the Latin word "lumen," meaning light, and the Greek word "iris," meaning color.

"We want Luminiris to be a resource for the community, connecting creative types with technical minds in a professional setting. We're hoping to foster deeper and more inclusive representations and ally-ship at the intersection of art and technology. Through Luminiris, we want to promote LGBTQ+ talent in these fields," Lett and Ferrell say in a June 24 release.

Luminiris is assuming responsibility for the Microsoft Pride Mixer hosted by Staging Solutions. Lett and Farrell started the mixer five years ago. The Pride Mixer will be the organization's flagship event, held every year on the Friday night before the Houston Pride Festival at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Since the 2020 Pride festival and parade are postponed, the mixer isn't being held this year. But Luminiris plans to bring it back in 2021.

Throughout the rest of this year, Luminiris will focus on monthly virtual social events and online workshops for tech and creative professionals. It also will be collaborating with local networks for tech and creative professionals to help LGBTQ+ nonprofits and causes with graphic design, visual media, software training, and tech know-how.

"Too many times, smaller nonprofits are blocked by the shadows of larger, developed nonprofits. … I can't wait to see the impact Luminiris will have on those who were once in the shadows," Atlantis Narcisse, founder of Save Our Sisters United, says in the Luminiris release.

Save Our Sisters is a Houston-based advocacy group that serves cisgender and transgender women of color. Narcisse was one of the honorary grand marshals of last year's Pride parade in Houston.

For Cody Gremminger, this month is about remembrance. Courtesy of Cyber One Solutions

Houston software entrepreneur discusses company growth and the importance of remembrance during Pride Month

Featured Innovator

One day, Cody Gremminger sat down with his fiance, Brian Carrico, and decided going into business together was something they wanted to explore. They put their heads together, thought of a name — Cyber One Solutions — and created a management, service and IT support company that serves the greater Houston area with satellite offices in Austin, Dallas, Lufkin, Brenham, and Beaumont.

Cyber One Solutions has experienced massive growth in less than two years of being in business, and InnovationMap sat down to talk with Gremminger about Cyber One's next steps, what it's like working with your partner, and the importance of the support gained by the LGBTQ community.

InnovationMap: Your company is less than two years old, but you’ve had massive growth and success. What are some lessons that you’ve learned throughout that time?

Cody Gremminger: We're an IT company, so definitely making sure that we have a huge book of processes and everything like that. Organization is one of the most important things. Finding good people that treat your clients that way that you treat them. Whenever you start off with a company and it's just the two founders, you know how you want to treat all of your clients. But it is hard to find people to treat the clients the same way you want to treat them.

IM: What do the next steps of Cyber One Solutions look like?

CG: The next steps of the company at this point are to keep growing and keep taking care of our current clients, just like every company in their infancy age.

IM: Are you planning on growing your team or slate of services anytime soon?

CG: We are looking into both. We have a couple of our team members working on getting further certifications and further training into new aspects of IT. We're also working on growing our current client base past what we already have.

We have some clients that we work with every month because we have a contract with them, and we have some clients that kind of come and go. On a monthly basis, we probably work with about 25 to 30 clients and then as far as people who need a hard drive replaced or something like that, it adds about 10 to 15 extra clients a month.

IM: You and Brian own the business together. What are some of the pros and cons of being a couple and working together?

CG: There's a lot of pros. It's really good because you are both fully committed. We're normally on the same page; we're always on the same team. We're both here for Cyber One Solutions. It kind of helps that this is how we pay our bills too.

We're very actively involved and dedicated to it. Some of the cons could be that work never quits. Once you get home, what are you going to talk about? Well, we've been working together all day so we're going to talk about work.

I suspect that other couples talk about their different jobs, while we talk about things we worked on at the same company. It is a different dynamic. My parents actually own a company together and work together too, so it's not abnormal for me, I guess.

IM: As members of the Greater Houston LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, you’re connected with a wide variety of entrepreneurs in the LGBTQ community. Why is having that support system so important?

CG: We're members of the LGBT Houston chamber, and we're also recently, as of March or April, we got our National LGBT Chamber certification. The Houston LGBT Chamber is one of our favorites. It's just a place where we feel like everybody is actually there for each other. They are there to meet new businesses and talk to everybody. It's super friendly, and it's a place where you can just be yourself. It's awesome. I love going to all of their events.

IM: What does pride month mean to you?

CG: Pride month to me is all about celebration, awareness, and remembrance. At Pride, everybody is there and we are all celebrating the fact that we are who we are, and we're all celebrating each other. Awareness kind of goes with celebration.

We start to see corporate logos change color. For example, I took a photo of the HP float at Pride because we are HP partners here at Cyber One, and I do a lot with HP computers. It was cool to see them have a float in the parade. A couple of our vendors that we use, their logos turned rainbow. It's just been really cool.

I would say that remembrance because at pride, they give you a second to stop and look back and see how far this community has come. We've had the Pulse nightclub shooting…we've had Stonewall, which was a theme of the Pride parade this year. It's just all of that wrapped together.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Supporting LGBT-founded startups is crucial to Houston business success. Ylanite Koppens/Pexels

Houston business leader on the importance of engaging the LGBTQ community

Pride Month

When we think about different groups within the business ecosystem in our region, the LGBTQ business community historically has not been at the table. As we close this year's Pride Month, it's time to reflect on the the importance the LGBTQ population has within Houston and local businesses.

While the LGBTQ community has realized historic gains, such as marriage equality, serious gaps in legal protections remain, resulting in discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. In fact, there are twenty-nine states where a person can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. That kind of job insecurity coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit has driven many in the LGBTQ community to start their own businesses.

Many LGBTQ-owned businesses in the region are obtaining the LGBTBE® certification, opening the door for these business owners to participate in corporate supplier diversity programs such as those offered by Fortune 500 corporations like Bank of America, Chevron, Shell. and United. These and many other companies greatly value diverse suppliers as part of their supply chain inclusivity goals and they embrace the diversity that LGBTQ businesses bring as part of that inclusion equation. The LGBTBE® certification is part of supplier diversity and inclusion programs that typically include participation of businesses owned by minorities, veterans, and women as examples.

The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is hosting its annual Pride in Business Celebration on Friday, June 28, at 5:30 pm at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Click here for more information.

Why get certified?

Traditionally, LGBTQ business owners have been excluded from these opportunities within the broader business community and many have stayed in the closet because of the fear of losing clients, employees, and revenue. In fact, many LGBTQ business owners can experience a coming out process in their professional life that is entirely different from the one they have experienced in their personal life. The LGBTBE® certification gives LGBTQ owned businesses an opportunity to participate in contracting opportunities and to be valued for the service or product they provide, as well as because of who they are as LGBTQ suppliers and as part of an ecosystem of diverse entrepreneurs.

How does a business qualify for the certification?

A company must be at least 51 percent LGBTQ-owned, operated, managed, and controlled along with other criteria comparable to similar certification programs. The certifying body for the LGBTBE® certification is the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). In order to get certified, a business owner should complete the application through the NGLCC.

Greater Houston LGBT Chamber members are eligible for a fee waiver, as part of the Houston chamber's affiliate relationship with the NGLCC. This is a "win-win" for businesses with the waiver of the fee and the opportunity to take advantage of the many benefits and support offered to LGBTQ entrepreneurs through the Chamber.

What's the impact?

Making sure that the LGBTQ business community has access to economic opportunity is good for business and good our region. Looking forward to the goal of full and equal rights for the LGBTQ community, economic opportunity is a key milestone for LGBTQ entrepreneurs and the community as a whole. The LGBTQ business community is part of the economic fabric in our region and key to Houston's economic success.

While the LGBTQ business community is poised for tremendous growth in the region as corporations and consumers seek out LGBTQ-supportive businesses, the traditional barriers for LGBTQ-owned businesses must be removed and economic opportunity a priority whether through the LGBTBE® certification or actively engaging LGBTQ entrepreneurs with the broader business community.


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Tammi Wallace is the co-founder and board chair of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She is also the founder and principal consultant of EnFocus Group, which connects organizations to the power of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion through training and consulting.

From opening Nap Bar and consulting corporations on diversity and inclusion to serving the city as an LGBT adviser, Khaliah Guillory is focused on productivity. Courtesy of Khaliah Guillory

From nap research to diversity and inclusion, this entrepreneur is making Houston workers more productive

Featured Innovator

Khaliah Guillory is an avid napper — and she's had to be. A multiple hat wearer and big proponent of side hustles, she's always piled responsibilities high on her plate.

Earlier this year left a corporate leadership position to open Nap Bar in Rice Village, but for years before that, she had her diversity and inclusion side hustle, KOG & Company. She works with companies — big and small — to integrate the best diversity and inclusion initiatives into the workplace.

"The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance," Guillory says. "From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well."

Guillory, who is this week's Pride Month Featured Innovator on InnovationMap, also serves on Mayor Sylvester Turner's LGBT Advisory Board.

InnovationMap: When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Khaliah Guillory: I was 8 or 9 years old, and my family drank a lot of soda. Where I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, you could go and trade in cans for change. I would go outside, line up all the cans, and step on them to crush them. I saw an infomercial about a can crusher. It made my business more efficient. That's when my entrepreneurial journey started.

IM: How did The Nap Bar come about? 

KG: I have always been an avid napper. When I was in Kindergarten, and the teacher would say go grab your red or blue mat, I did it and I was out. I enjoyed naptime. In high school, I played basketball and I napped at the end of school. When I got into college, I played basketball at the University of Central Florida. My days would start at 5 am and wouldn't end until midnight. The only way I was able to graduate on time and maintain my grades for my scholarships was napping. It just continued throughout my professional career, and I started napping in my car.

One day, my wife and I commuted into the city — we live in the Sugar Land/Richmond area. We had about an hour and a half to spare. It was nap time, but it would be awkward with her in the car. She suggested Googling naps in Houston. She says, "We live in Houston, there's got to be a place where you could take a quick nap." There was no such place. She told me I should create it. That was April of last year.

IM: Then what did you do to get the ball rolling?

KG: The next day I surveyed all my friends and asked them if I was the only one out here napping. I quickly realized that I wasn't. Specifically, 52 percent of Americans, according to Amerisleep, admitted to napping at work. I committed to doing more research. I've committed 10,000 plus hours to researching the benefits to napping and the indicators of sleep exhaustion. Fast forward to November of last year, I transitioned away from my C-level position at a Fortune 500 company to really pursue Nap Bar.

IM: How’s business been?

KG: We just celebrated our 30th day of business a couple of weeks ago. We are already generating revenue. We are excited for what's to come. June is shaping up to be a real opportunity for us to be in the black, and July is shaping up to have a lot of events. We found that our biggest challenge is educating the masses on the benefits of taking a chill session in the middle of the day, and also educating on the indicators of what it's like to be sleep deprived.

IM: With KOG & Company, your other company, you’ve worked for years with large companies to help incorporate diversity and inclusion. How does that tie into your nap research?

KG: The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance. From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well. The best place for any corporation that has a philosophy or a vision of values and embraces corporate social responsibility is to acknowledge that people are going to be the heartbeat of their company.

IM: What do organizations — from startups to Fortune 500 companies — need to know about diversity and inclusion?

KG: The biggest thing is that from a culture standpoint, just simply hiring people to check a box isn't going to provide the desired ROI. It really, truly has to be embraced by the culture. If I am a business owner or corporation, and my goal is to have a diversity of talent, then I need to go where those people are. If I create and curate an environment with diversity and inclusivity, then going to recruit and then ask them what type of organization they want to work for and what it would look like — then go out and build that. And if they don't know where to start, they can hire me and I can hold their hand and give some real life experience. I've lived it as a banker, as a supervisor, and as a C-level executive.

IM: What’s surprised you about being on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBT Advisory Board?

KG: I think what surprised me most about is that the city of Houston is really progressing and striving. It just makes sense. We're the most diverse city in the country, and I applaud Mayor Sylvester Turner for assembling the LGBT Advisory Board and for appointing me.

The city of Houston — and all the entities that fall under it from a government landscape — is desiring a journey to get more training and education. How do we educate on how to report a hate crime. How do we make sure that city employees are showing up to work and are 100 percent comfortable in their own skin. The biggest surprise I'd have to say is that the city has done an incredible job with the training. I walked away from the meeting learning things that I didn't even know about the LGBTQ community.

IM: What does Pride Month mean to you?

KG: Pride means to me being comfortable in my skin as I am, who I am. The month is a pleasant reminder to be "me" every day, all day. Pride month means my uniqueness is celebrated, not tolerated which should be the norm everyday; not just a month. Pride means being secure in the community — workplace, networking event, the gym, basically everywhere — and confidently say "my wife."

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston innovator joins VC world to increase her social impact

Q&A

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Houston college system plans to open $30M resiliency-focused center

to the rescue

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.