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With the economy seeming to get out of its slump that it was in roughly 5-6 years ago, now is the best time to get yourself out there and promote you in any which way, shape or form.  When you are a part of the LGBT world, finding common minded individuals to network with can seem to be a bit of a hassle even in the New York City culture that we all live in.  Luckily, there is a fantastic organization that has all of that and more, and at little to no cost.

Out Professionals, an organization that has been around for thirty plus years now, is the nations leading LGBT non-profit network.  Hosting various events each month, they invite you to engage with fellow professionals in hopes that you will strengthen your presence in and out of the working and LGBT community and develop relationships that can further your pursuit for professional ubiquity.  Beyond the events, Out Professionals has a ton of valuable resources for the everyday LGBT professional from culture to professional development in order to ensure that you are on the up and up with whatever you are trying to achieve.  Seeing as I am one of these types of people, I can ensure that this organization is doing the right thing in helping this community out and getting yourself out there to the extent that you want it to be.  The events itself are well organized, held in great locations, and really allow you to connect with like minded people who can be a great benefit for you in the long run.

I recently spoke with President of Out Professionals Charlie Conard and founding member Jack Schlegel about the organization at hand, where its future lies and why you should ultimately try it out.  Take a look.

Credit to: Out Professionals
Credit to: Out Professionals

Thanks for sitting down with us! So tell us about the history of Out Professionals. How did the organization begin and what was that like?

Charlie- “Out Professionals started in 1983 as a place for LGBT professionals to meet and advance their careers. Early on, membership was driven by word-of-mouth invitation. Since it was not uncommon for people to be fired if outed, meetings were private, almost secretive, and photography forbidden.  Indeed, the original name of Out Professionals was NYACN, the New York Advertising and Communications Network, which catered to people in advertising, marketing, and communications.”

Jack- “Like the organization’s original name (NY Advertising & Communications Network), early meetings were fairly closeted. Attendees enjoyed the option of identifying themselves by a first name, a full name, an occupational specialty and even employer. Our founding idea was that an LGBT network provided job applicants with a valuable insider’s take on a potential workplace.”

Charlie- “In 1999, the board decided to “out” the organization with the new name, Out Professionals. OP also started to cast a wider net to other professions.  In 2004, we continued our evolution by creating OP.LYNX, our women’s network within the organization.”

“We also launched OP.PRIME in 2011 to help attract and serve younger professionals just entering their prime. With the sour economy, professionals just starting out have faced unprecedented challenges. We wanted OP to help them realize that meeting other LGBT professionals face-to-face is important. You just can’t do that on social media.  Today, with more and more out and proud professionals, we have an active face on social media and a wider public impact on the community.”

Your organization has been in operation for quite some time. Have you seen a shift upwards in terms of how gay men and women approach the business world?

Charlie- “Today, LGBT employees are more likely to be considered equal, and are often sought-after by companies who embrace the value of diversity in their organizations. In the end, we want the same thing as anyone else: a chance to be valued for who we are and our contributions.”

Do you find that the world we live in today is more tolerable of open LGBT employees? Where do we have to improve on?

Jack- “Although I haven’t sought a staff job in advertising since 1993, when I took early retirement, my sense is that in New York one’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter much to employers, particularly in hiring for creative fields — writing, graphic design, TV production, etc.”

Charlie- “While the LGBT community has made more strides in recent years than I ever thought I would see, we have a long way to go during a time of especially negative, divisive politics. As we’ve seen in Indiana and other places, there is always risk of a backlash when we are making headway towards fair and equal rights. We must remain vigilant and not become complacent.”

I checked out your site and it looks like you have weekly events, looks great! Can you let my readers know a little bit more on what they are about and if they are tailored to a particular persons liking?

Jack- “Out Professionals’ networking events cluster within three broad categories. Career; with seminars and workshops on professional development and career transition. Community; with relationship-building breakfasts and after-work mixers. Finally Culture; with theater parties, screenings, gallery visits, walking tours. wine tastings and author appearances.”

Charlie- “All our events are about creating a friendly, low or no stress environment that is welcoming to all attendees. For many, networking can feel terrifying. With a dash of fun and a warm atmosphere, OP is often the catalyst for people to meet.”

Out Professionals, Manhattan Digest
Credit to: Blandon Belushin

If one becomes a member of Out Professionals, what benefits are included that would be of use to them in the long run?

Charlie- “Membership includes an entire year of discounted and free events. I like to emphasize that attending events is key to making OP work for new and existing members. While we have other benefits, it’s face time with other LGBT professionals that is more important.  You can see all our benefits here: http://www.outprofessionals.org/join.”

Is this something that is affordable?

Charlie- “We work hard to keep the organization affordable for both aspiring and established professionals. Often, corporate support in terms of sponsorship or venues, helps us keep the cost down.”

“Membership is still only $65 (Business Memberships are $125/year), and entitles members to a year of low or no-cost networking. Most events are $10-$20, depending on the costs involved. We have started to have premium events, such as last Fall’s winery tour to the North Fork of Long Island.”

What overall would you say is your mission statement for OP?

Jack- “We are a nonprofit, membership organization run by volunteers. We offer supportive networks for professional women and for the up-and-coming LGBT professional. As we continue to grow, we have become known as the nation’s leading LGBT networking organization.”

Any future events you feel worth noting in this article?

Charlie- “We always have a number of exciting events on our schedule:

  • Mixers where professionals can meet others, often at hotspots or rooftop clubs, even museums. 
  • Historical, art, and culture walking tours with mixers afterwards
  • Curated seminar series for small business topics
  • Job search and career advancement seminars and workshops
  • B2B networking groups and referral circles

– Soon we will launch a series of industry-focused mixers (Advertising/Marketing/Communications, Tech, Financial Services, Small Business Owners & Consultants, Real Estate.

– Our marquee monthly event, OP Lounge, has grown substantially over the last year. Even in this harsh winter, where OP Lounge fell on two nights with -10°F wind chill and another during a huge snowstorm, we had 120+ attendees at each event. We can’t wait to see how successful our summer rooftop series will be!”

Manhattan Digest, Out Professionals
Credit to: Blandon Belushin

 

What are your biggest hopes for OP going into the rest of this year and beyond?

Jack- “The continued growth in our membership will soon require growing our board as well. So we are always eager to talk with Members eager and ready for a greater roles within Out Professionals.”

Charlie- “With 32 years under our belt, we definitely have had to continue evolving to stay a vital part of the community. In the last few years, we’ve made great strides towards renewing and refreshing the organization for today’s world. Memberships are up 45% in the last year alone, and we’ve had more and more interest from corporate sponsors, which is now becoming a focus to help finance our continued growth and evolution.”

For more information on Out Professionals, log on to their official site.