Out professionals in Madison now have an in. The establishment of the Out Professional and Executive Network offers the infrastructure and visibility for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied professionals to make connections and build support on the work front that many once had to find on their own.
Kim Nemechek, an OPEN director at large and real estate broker for Bunbury Realtors, appreciates the visibility of other out professionals that OPEN makes possible.
“It’s nice to know who those people are in your community,” she said, noting the group has allowed her to meet people she would not have met otherwise.
A similar sentiment seeded OPEN’s inception during a conversation between co-founders Patrick Farabaugh and J. James Tye III. They subsequently held a few small gatherings, each time inviting guests to invite guests, which rippled into OPEN’s formation.
From the initial meetings, 15 business leaders stepped forward to navigate the group’s first year, with a mission to engage in “professional development, education, public service, networking and presenting extraordinary social events.”
OPEN’s chartered membership has risen to about 70, and the organization’s Facebook following is approaching 400 people from both the private and public sectors — from executives to people just starting out in their careers.
“We’ve managed to bring together a coalition of professionals who’ve all demonstrated considerable leadership across a wide range of industries,” Farabaugh said. “Together we’re developing what I feel will become a crucial resource for our membership and for companies that identify the value in creating safe and open workplaces.”
One tool used to promote that goal is the Corporate Diversity Initiative Report, produced by OPEN vice president Marty Fox, a retired Alliant Energy Center executive, and the Madison LGBT magazine Our Lives. The report recommends OPEN as a way to encourage internal and external support between LGBT employees and their employers.
“I believe OPEN will play a role in making Madison an even more vibrant community by building a stronger connection between our LGBT leaders and our business community,” Fox said.
OPEN may also act as a template for other cities. Farabaugh said people in Rockford, Ill., have sought out the group to facilitate creating a similar group there.
The first OPEN Annual Dinner takes place March 10, featuring Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting, who will present the keynote address on “Building Our Next City: How the LGBT Community can Cultivate the Creative Class,” at the Edgewater in Madison.