Interview with Ellis Lanaux, President of IE Out and Allies Club, on LGBT@Work

We recently spoke to Ellis Lanaux, MBA Graduate and President of IE Out and Allies Club, to find out more about LGBT@Work, the importance of such events and inclusive workplaces. 

Tell us more about yourself and LGBT@Work?

My name is Ellis Lanaux and I recently earned my MBA from IE Business School in Madrid. Prior to attending IE, I worked for my family’s business in New Orleans. We own a small chain of gourmet grocery and wine stores and, in six years, I completed a full digital transformation of the business and led its expansion into a new location. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and am now looking for opportunities in the consulting space.

LGBT@Work was founded in 2006 by a group of IE students who were frustrated by the lack of acceptance and visibility for LGBT+ employees in the Spanish workplace. LGBT@Work began as a small gathering on IE’s campus and has since grown into the third-largest LGBT+ business school conference in the world. Held annually on the Thursday of Pride Week in Madrid, LGBT@Work has become a platform for the discussion of topics around diversity and inclusion and a driver of change in Spanish work culture.

LGBT@Work recently held its 13th conference. How does this make you feel to be involved in such a great event?

It has been an honour to lead the most recent edition of LGBT@Work. The 13th edition of LGBT@Work was our largest and most diverse yet, with over 300 attendees, 11 speakers from 10 different countries, and 16 partner institutions. I have had the opportunity to meet many of the previous leaders of the conference and know none of this would have been possible without all of their hard work and effort. I am so proud of what my team and I accomplished and am excited to see the conference continue to grow and develop in the years to come.

What does your role as President of IE Out and Allies Club entail?

As President of the IE Out and Allies Club, my role was to develop a year-long calendar of events for the Club membership and to serve as the Director of LGBT@Work. We held two events every month throughout the year, including panels and discussions on human rights, company visits to our corporate partners, a benefit concert to raise money for a local non-profit working on LGBT+ issues, professional development workshops, and potluck dinners at various members’ homes. It was incredible to be able to partner with so many individuals and organizations committed to the cause of advancing LGBT+ rights. I learned so much along the way that will allow me to be a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion as I continue with my career.

Can you tell us more about the IE Out and Allies club and the work they do?

The core mission of the IE Out and Allies Club is, and has been since its founding, to provide a safe space for LGBT+ students on IE’s campus. We often get asked if, in 2019, this is still necessary. The answer is unequivocally yes. At a campus as diverse as IE’s, we have students coming from countries and backgrounds where being LGBT+ is still not only taboo but in some cases dangerous. In many instances IE is the first place that they have ever interacted with out and proud LGBT+ people. Our most important accomplishment, and the thing that has made me most proud to serve as President over the past year, is creating a community where my follow classmates can feel safe and accepted.

What are your plans for IE Out and Allies club?

Together with the Vice-President of the Club, Felipe Lima, I am working to develop the structure for an advisory board, comprised of former club leaders, institutional stakeholders from IE, and key external partners, to help ensure continuity for the conference and to offer guidance to the student leadership of the club. I plan to continue to act as a resource for the new leadership of the club, to offer advice and share knowledge, and of course to attend LGBT@Work in 2020.

What goes into organising the LGBT@Work annual conference and getting prolific speakers and brands on board?

Planning for LGBT@Work is truly a year-long effort. I began strategizing with the other leaders of the Club from the first day we were all elected as coordinators. From the perspective of attracting speakers, we made a very conscious decision early on to recruit a line-up of speakers that reflected diversity in every aspect of the word, including sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identity, and geographic location. We felt this was not only in line with our values as a conference but would make for a richer experience for all of our attendees. Brands were looking for the opportunity to learn more about best practices for diversity and inclusion policies and for a platform to reach out to future LGBT+ business leaders and demonstrate the steps they have taken to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. The combination of the quality of the speakers and attendees made LGBT@Work an easy choice for many of these companies.

In your opinion, what steps can a company take to help create an inclusive workplace?

I think the simplest step any company can take to begin forming an inclusive workplace is to establish an employee resource group for LGBT+ individuals. We have seen from many of our partners throughout the years that change does not happen overnight and that it takes years of effort and conscious striving to truly change the culture within a company. ERGs are the foundational piece that provide a safe space for LGBT+ employees to interact and begin to advocate for change within their organizations.

What would you say is one of the biggest obstacles LGBT people face in the workplace?

I think it is extremely varied from person to person and in many ways is a reflection of their own particular situation and background.

Do you have any advice for LGBT people during the job search process?

It can feel very intimidating to be “out” during the job search process. However, the best advice I can give is to be honest with potential employers. Tell them that you are looking for an inclusive environment and ask what steps they have taken to create one in their workplace. It is better to find out early on in the process whether a potential employer has created an environment where you can feel personally and professionally supported.

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