What the Mid-America LGBT Chamber Can Do for Your Business and for KC
Did you know the Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce isn’t just for people who identify as LGBTQ? More than 60% of its members are allies. And while the chamber is known for its engaging networking events, that’s just one aspect of what the organization offers.
“Our mission is ultimately helping increase inclusion and equity in the economic space,” says Suzanne Wheeler, executive director of the chamber.
The Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce serves Kansas, western Missouri, Nebraska and northern Oklahoma. But it has only one full-time employee – Suzanne. Thanks to hundreds of volunteers, the chamber can educate, facilitate and advocate far and wide.
Professional and business development
Individuals and small businesses can find opportunities to learn and grow with the Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
“We do a lot of professional development,” Suzanne says. “We try not to reinvent the wheel – that where organizations like KCSourceLink come into play. When we are looking to have a need met, we figure out what strategic partners can best serve our members and the businesses we work with.”
For individuals, those development opportunities include discounted courses with the Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC. Members-only savings are available for ELEVATIONLAB™ courses. Topics range from social media for business to Entrepreneurial Mindset Training. In addition to a 25% discount, scholarships may be available.
The chamber also offers a variety of programs designed for LGBTQ people and allies. These include:
The C. Stephen Metzler Program for Leadership and Civic Engagement: This program connects LGBTQ-identifying protégés with dynamic LGBTQ mentors. The goal is to build strong leaders and networks.
Barnes Leadership Series: Led by former KC mayor Kay Barnes, this 10-session course covers all aspects of leadership development. Topics include change management and dealing with conflict.
EMERGE for Young Professionals: This career development program meets monthly. Sessions focus on specific topics and include guest speakers and group activities.
With the exception of the Metzler program, all of these opportunities are open to allies as well as individuals who identify as LGBTQ.
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Corporate support and advocacy work
Much of the chamber’s work revolves around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
“We help corporate partners with their DEI programs,” Suzanne says. “A lot of times, the C suite wants it to be an accepting organization. They put the policies in place to be an accepting organization. But getting that to translate into organizational culture is more of a challenge. That’s where we come in. We have a lot of different consulting organizations that we link corporations to. We bring in panels for partners. We do everything.”
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce offers the LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE®) certification program. It’s the only third-party body that verifies businesses that are majority owned by LGBTQ individuals. The Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce encourages local businesses to get certified – and reminds everyone that a rainbow flag doesn’t necessarily mean an ally.
“Just because someone is flying the rainbow flag during Pride Month doesn’t mean they’re always supportive the other 11 months of the year,” Suzanne says. “Inclusivity is the cool marketing thing. But do they have the policies? Are they certified, or if they’re a corporation are the actively supporting the community with their resources? A great indication of LGBTQ inclusivity is their chamber membership.”
This global thinking powers the chamber’s advocacy work as well. While the organization doesn’t endorse specific candidates, it does do policy work.
“When we’re looking at policy, it has some business relationship,” Suzanne says. “Almost all LGBT policy does. So we do a lot of work in that area.”
The chamber is partnering with organizations like the Mainstream Coalition and the League of Women Voters to host local candidate forums. And over the next year, the chamber will be holding advocacy days in Topeka and Jefferson City. It’s also planning to host an elected officials reception with leaders from local, state and federal levels.
Navigating a post-pandemic world
Like other organizations, the chamber has had to make a few changes to events and programming due to COVID-19.
“COVID has made us a truly regional chamber,” Suzanne says. “Since we had to move online, we’ve been able to engage with people from Topeka, Wichita, Tulsa, Joplin and Omaha. We will be keeping some online components.”
Planning committees and leadership are working to get programs back up and running by the end of the summer. Hybrid formats will allow people from around the region to participate. Those same connections can be tricky with a hybrid networking event, but the chamber’s ambassadors group will find a way. After all, no wallflowers are allowed at chamber events.
“We invite everyone into that space and make everyone feel accepted,” Suzanne says. “Our ambassadors pride themselves on making sure people are introduced and brought into the conversation. People become friends and friends become family.”
Find more resources
The Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce is one of more than 200 Resource Partners in the KCSourceLink Resource Navigator. If you have a need, there’s a program or organization to help you fill it.
Not even sure where to start? No problem. KCSourceLink’s Network Navigators are here to serve. Provide a little information about your situation and they will create a free Personal Action Plan
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