IN 2016, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association celebrates 35 years. Quite the accomplishment for an organisation conceived in an era when homosexuality was still illegal in NSW and meeting like-minded business professionals was not as easy as it is today. Much has changed.

During that time, the SGLBA has evolved from a group of community members meeting to provide career and business support to one another (often at someone’s home), to an organisation that boasts 400 members from across the Sydney business community — be it sole traders, small businesses, entrepreneurs, or employees of large corporations. We also have a number of members who have businesses interstate, and are supported by our sister organisations: the Melbourne-based Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Business and Enterprise (GLOBE) and Brisbane’s Gay and Lesbian Business Network (GLBN).

This year we have been focussing on putting the “B” back into “business”. We have provided members with the opportunity to spruik their business at our regular Fruits in Suits events, and we have secured a partnership with Lander & Rogers Lawyers. In addition, SGLBA’s Long Table series has been re-invigorated and is more content-led and outcomes-driven than before. It is targeted at delivering value to members looking to grow their business and attribute tangible return-on-investment to their networking activity. Lastly, we are putting the final touches on a coaching program.

These initiatives increase the forums at which people can share knowledge, grow their network, and develop their career. We are diversifying the mix of people we bring together and increasing our reach beyond the LGBTI business community, as our recent membership of the NSW Business Council attests to. By virtue of this increased profile, we are providing new opportunities to our community from a business and career perspective.

I recently spoke at a NSW Business Chamber networking evening to introduce the SGLBA to the 250 or so people there, and was delighted at the level of interest from attendees. I was engaged by people for the rest of the evening, all asking me about how they could get involved and what opportunities there are with the SGLBA. I’m not certain this level of interest would have existed as recently as five years ago.

Belonging to a business that actively promotes and fosters a diverse environment, features more prominently now as a “must-have” requirement for professionals when they are job seeking. As businesses both large and small recognise this, new career opportunities are created that simply didn’t exist before. I am always amazed, for example, at Pride in Diversity’s Australian Workplace Equality Index awards. To see representatives from companies clapping and cheering with delight when they are recognised as having created a workplace that embraces all aspects of diversity — I think it’s one of the highlights of the year.

In larger companies, there are entire departments that focus almost exclusively on workplace diversity, acceptance, and education. So it seems, once again, that business of all sizes — not just government — is setting the example of tolerance, diversity, and acceptance that we seek in both our personal and professional lives.

People regularly come up to me to say they secured their ideal job through someone they met at an SGLBA event, or that they were presented with a successful business opportunity because of something they learned at one of our functions.  One of the most satisfying aspects of my role is working with a team of committed volunteers, in our directors and board associates, who passionately believe in creating such opportunities.

If you haven’t been to one of our events, many of which are free, check them out at www.sglba.org.au. Bring your colleagues, friends, and business cards. You never know what opportunity awaits you.

Mark Haines joined the Board of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association in September 2007, and has been its President since September 2012.

Connect the SGLBA on LinkedIn, became a fan on Facebook, follow them on Twitter via @sglba, or visit the website: sglba.org.au

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**This article was first published in the November edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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