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Pepco employee talks diversity, inclusion, and COVID

Meet Brad Harlacker, senior transmission system operator

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Brad Harlacker is a Senior Electrical Transmission System Operator at Pepco.

Brad Harlacker is a Senior Electrical Transmission System Operator at Pepco. We spoke to him about his career, his experience as a member of the LGBTQ community, the importance of diversity and inclusion illustrated at a major energy company, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed his role.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What does a typical day look like for you as a Transmission System Operator, and how has it changed during the COVID-19 crisis?

BRAD HARLACKER: I normally drive from Frederick, Md., to our Operations Control Center in Montgomery County, but now I’m working from our back-up Control Center. I get in around 2:30 a.m., and I usually have one other person with me. We monitor the electrical connections between substations and other operating companies to control the electrical grid throughout Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, and the District. We also dispatch personnel to substations to assess and repair any issues that arise during the day, and utilize overhead and underground crews to assess and repair any issues. When interacting with these crews, I have to visualize what they are doing in the field to ensure their safety at all times.

Before COVID-19, I worked on a repeating rotation of four days, four nights, three days, and three nights. Now we’re working seven days on, seven days off, seven nights on, seven days off. This new rotation is used to reduce the possibility of contracting the virus by minimizing personnel overlap during shift changes and will continue until the pandemic ends.

BLADE: How long have you been with Pepco?

HARLACKER: Fifteen years in December. I was the first person to be hired from outside of the company to the Control Center.

BLADE: How have diversity and inclusion efforts changed for you over your career?

HARLACKER: I was in the Navy from 1988 to 2003 and during that time, I was out as a gay man – and there was never a problem. (I never let people feel that they had any control over me due to my sexuality.) When I started my career at Pepco, I wasn’t in the closet, I just didn’t say anything until recently. And now that I am out, everyone still treats me the same way. I am part of a team and we work together to keep things running smoothly. Pepco is a good company in that way!

BLADE: What was your job in the Navy?

HARLACKER: I was a Nuclear Reactor Operator, like Homer Simpson. I worked my way up from a paygrade E-3 to E-7. Prior to enlisting, I went to Penn State for Electrical Engineering. The math and sciences were a breeze; however, I couldn’t seem to get past some of the degree requirements of Economics and the like. Then a Navy recruiter asked me to take a nuclear-based test – and I’m a really good test taker – so I passed and worked as a nuclear reactor operator on a few different aircraft carriers. I later went to New York for three years to train nuclear operators in Saratoga Springs.

BLADE: Do you feel even more pressure now to maintain the grid during this time?

HARLACKER: I have always felt that people rely on our service – but it’s more evident now compared to any other time in history because of the increased use of the internet, and the need for energy to go about our daily lives.

BLADE: Has there been a particular experience in your career that has influenced the way you address diversity and inclusion as a professional?

HARLACKER: The diversity at Pepco is even greater than it was in the Navy. Pepco allows everyone to be included in every aspect of the company, which is a good thing. It’s nice to hear from everyone and learn more about how they think. Having everyone the same forces a given paradigm that keeps us from thinking about alternatives, but the diversity at Pepco breaks this and allows for innovation.

BLADE: Looking back on your career, what are some of the greatest accomplishments you’ve been a part of or championed related to LGBTQ diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

HARLACKER: When people see people like themselves – like me, it’s a good thing. I’m sure the rest of the community feels the same way. I’m not a leader of the LGBTQ community in the workplace. I just go in and do my job. Sometimes just being a role model is enough.

BLADE: How has your work changed since the COVID-19 outbreak? How are you managing as a member of the LGBTQ community during this time?

HARLACKER: I know that many other people have their jobs on hold right now, so I’m sure it’s affecting the rest of the community a lot harder than it’s affecting me. Thankfully I still have a job to go to and get paid. Most of my friends are in the same industry that I am because most of them were in the Navy. The only way my life has really been affected is in the wearing of a mask everywhere and not being able to eat at my favorite restaurants, or not being able to get a haircut as easily as before.

BLADE: How are you staying resilient?

HARLACKER: Honestly, I stay resilient by maintaining a routine. It helps a lot. I walk 10,000 steps a day. On my off time, I go home to Pennsylvania and split staying with both sets of my parents, who are both getting older. I don’t want to be the person that says that they wished they would have spent more time with my parents before they died.

BLADE: In years ahead, what would you like to see for diversity and inclusion?

HARLACKER: Diversity efforts seem to be in a good place right now. I’m quite content with how things are going. If we keep moving in the right direction, we should be good.

BLADE: What support do you receive from leadership at Pepco?

HARLACKER: Pepco’s leadership immediately acts to remove obstacles from our work. They are constantly having anonymous surveys as a feedback loop to see what the workplace is thinking and how the process should be modified to ensure the safety and happiness their employees.

BLADE: How does Pepco leadership’s support for the LGBTQ community look to you?

HARLACKER: We have Pride Employee Resource Groups in our company, and it’s so refreshing to see the support for our community. It is nice to see groups that have the LGBTQ community represented within Pepco and Exelon. Our leadership is heavily involved at the top levels of these groups, which makes me feel that they do care and are not just checking a box.

BLADE: What advice would you give to the LGBTQ community to stay resilient during this time?

HARLACKER: If I didn’t have the job that I do now, I would have taken the “down time” to learn something new – there is so much information online for learning new skills and trades. I am currently learning how to integrate secondhand video conferencing VOIP phones onto non-compatible platforms. It’s quite a task, since companies make everything proprietary to keep you buying from just them!

I suppose the advice that I would offer is to not sit around and wait for something to happen – make it happen. Life is short, be the best that you can be. You don’t have to go at it alone. You don’t have to feel like it is you against the world. There are many resources and people out there willing to help you. You have to just take the first step.

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Business

Study: One in ten LGBT workers experienced discrimination at work

LGBTQ employees of color were more likely to report being denied jobs and verbal harassment at work as opposed their white counterparts

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bullying in the workforce, gay news, Washington Blade

LOS ANGELES – A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds an estimated 46% of LGBT workers have experienced unfair treatment at work at some point in their lives, including being fired, not hired, or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

An estimated 9% of LGBT employees reported experiences of discrimination in the past year, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which extended employment non-discrimination protections to LGBT people nationwide. Approximately 11% of LGBT employees of color reported being fired or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last year.

Using survey data collected in May 2021 from 935 LGBT adults in the workforce, researchers examined lifetime, five-year, and past-year discrimination among LGBT employees.

Results show that over half (57%) of LGBT employees who experienced discrimination or harassment at work reported that the unfair treatment was motivated by religious beliefs, including 64% of LGBT employees of color and 49% of white LGBT employees.

“Employment discrimination and harassment against LGBT people remain persistent and pervasive in 2021,” said lead author Brad Sears, Founding Executive Director at the Williams Institute. “Passing the Equality Act would ensure that LGBT people—particularly transgender people and LGBT people of color—are allowed to participate fully in the workplace as well as other public settings.”

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS:

Discrimination

  • 30% of LGBT employees reported experiencing at least one form of employment discrimination (being fired or not hired) because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives.
  • 29% of LGBT employees of color reported not being hired compared to 18% of white LGBT employees.

Harassment

  • 38% of LGBT employees reported experiencing at least one form of harassment (including verbal, physical, or sexual harassment) at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives.
  • LGBT employees of color were significantly more likely to experience verbal harassment than white employees.
    • 36% of LGBT employees of color reported experiencing verbal harassment compared to 26% of white LGBT employees.

Religious Motivation

  • Of employees who experienced discrimination or harassment at some point in their lives, 64% of LGBT employees of color said that religion was a motivating factor compared to 49% of white LGBT employees.

Avoiding Discrimination

  • Half (50%) of LGBT employees said that they are not open about being LGBT to their current supervisor and one-quarter (26%) are not out to any of their co-workers. 
  • Many LGBT employees reported engaging in “covering” behaviors to avoid harassment or discrimination at work, such as changing their physical appearance and avoiding talking about their families or social lives at work.
    • For example, 36% of transgender employees said that they changed their physical appearance and 28% said they changed their bathroom use at work to avoid discrimination and harassment.

Read the report

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Business

Time to dust off your pre-pandemic budget

We can no longer rely on closures to restrict us from spending money

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With pandemic restrictions lifting, we’ll all be spending more on going out in 2021 than we did last year.

D.C.’s first ‘mostly open’ weekend shows there is a year’s worth of socializing built up. It was amazing to feel the energy of the District roar back to life. From long lines outside bars to literal dancing in the streets – this is the city we all came to love. Now that the physical hangover may have subsided, you should prepare for the financial hangover. If you were lucky to keep your full pay and position through the pandemic, data tells us most of you were paying down debt.

The first thing everyone needs to do is dust off that old pre-pandemic budget. Sadly (or really luckily), we can no longer rely on health restrictions to naturally restrict us from spending. If you need a refresher, start with your post-tax income. From there, subtract ‘fixed’ or required expenses, like rent, and the balance is what you get to play with. Some may ask why I don’t use gross income (aka the before tax income) like many financial institutions do for credit applications. Frankly, it’s because net income (aka the money you actually receive) is the most practical number to budget daily life with. It’s what you can tangibly use to live.

Now as you develop your budget, return to using an app like Mint to take some of the work out of it. If you prefer to retain some level of privacy, many banks offer their own version of ‘spending trends’ that you can use to put together a more simple budget. This time the challenge is a bit different – we are all ‘restarting’ our social lives. So instead of having to ‘cut’ things, we can better prioritize what we actually want to do. Still – it is not easy or fun to have to choose, but every dollar you don’t spend today, will be there for the next rainy day.

Finally, so many of our friends and family lost their jobs or had their wages cut during the pandemic. Expanded unemployment benefits helped, but anyone trying to budget for life in D.C. knows that choices had to be made and often rent/utilities took a back seat to eating. Luckily, a state-run, but federal program will help people pay back rent and utilities, so they can focus on getting back to work. In D.C., this is called StayDC, but each jurisdiction offers a similar program.

Be prepared to do a little homework, you will need proof of income (or lack thereof) and documentation of the late payments. Finally, your landlord will need to complete separate forms, but it is in their best interest to receive those funds, so don’t let them drag their feet. The program will cover back rent to April 2021, three months of future rent, and past utilities. Do not delay, nor feel any shame by participating – this is the key to your long term success and, frankly, is a drop in the bucket compared to other spending priorities.

I hope this helps and I wish everyone a much more fun and prosperous 2021.

Information contained herein is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice or recommendations. Advice may only be provided after entering into an advisory agreement with an advisor.

Alex Graham is a Principal at Graham Capital Wealth Management, a registered Investment Advisor located on K Street.

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Gay D.C. business owner to run 100-mile ultramarathon

Brandt Ricca to raise money for Capital Pride, LGBTQ businesses

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Brandt Ricca (Photo by Jonathan Thorpe/jthorpephoto)

Brandt Ricca will begin a non-stop 100-mile ultramarathon at 6 a.m. on Oct. 7 while most D.C. residents will still be sipping their morning coffee.

In a year of isolation and economic downturn, Ricca decided to run 100 miles in two days to benefit local, LGBTQ-owned businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Ricca, who’s lived in D.C. for 10 years, is donating the money he raises to the Capital Pride Alliance and Equality Chamber of Commerce, where he has been a member since 2018.

The gay entrepreneur and owner of the D.C.-based business Nora Lee by Brandt Ricca understands first-hand how the ongoing pandemic affects small businesses, particularly LGBTQ-owned companies.

“I definitely want to give back to the community and local colleagues, especially because Capitol Pride has been now canceled two years in a row,” Ricca said.

Out of the funds raised, 90 percent will go towards funding 20 small business grants through the Equality Chamber of Commerce and the remaining 10 percent will go towards supporting Capital Pride Alliance.  

Brandt, already an avid runner and self-described “fitness explorer,” decided after crowdsourcing ideas to pursue the 100-mile project. Ricca has been a frequent visitor at the Equinox Anthem Row in D.C. to prepare for the run.

“I was looking to do my next fitness endeavor, at the same time wanting to do something to get back to the fellow business owners in D.C.,” he said.

Applications for the 20 grants of various sizes for LGBTQ businesses are projected to open this summer through the Equality Chamber of Commerce, Ricca said. His goal is to raise $100,000 from individuals and companies. The grants will be distributed in October following the completion of the run.

Equality Chamber of Commerce Vice President Riah Gonzales-King is in the process of developing grants and additional summer educational programming to help young LGBTQ entrepreneurs and students start their businesses.

“So much of the culture centers around these businesses, many of which have been around for decades,” Gonzales-King said. “They’re pillars of the community — their owners are pillars in the community. And I think it’s time that we gave back.”

Helping LGBTQ entrepreneurs specifically at this time is essential, Ricca said, especially entrepreneurs in the creative and hospitality industry.

Ricca began training in February with the help of several exercise experts like Brian Mazza, a New York City fitness entrepreneur who ran 50 miles last December to raise awareness for male infertility stigma. The former Men’s Health headliner is guiding Ricca’s physical training, which has been a near-daily routine. Ricca was inspired by Mazza’s run in the first place.

Ricca reached out to Mazza over Instagram to get his assistance and training.

Mazza said Ricca reaching out over Instagram “meant the world.”

“I believe what he’s doing for his cause is remarkable,” Mazza said. “It’s important. I’m happy that he’s standing up for what he believes in and helping these businesses and helping individuals in general.”

Jacob Zemer, a coach and nutritionist, has designed a daily nutrition program for Ricca to prepare him for the run. Zemer and Mazza have been working together throughout the process to track Ricca’s health and progress.

The two fitness experts work with Ricca multiple times a day to monitor his diet, mileage, heart rate and pace monitoring. Both Mazza and Zemer said Ricca’a training has been successful.

“Brandt’s an excellent individual,” Zemer said. “He’s very easy to work with. He’s highly coachable, he’s a pleasure to talk to every day.”

Pacers Running will be sponsoring and designing Ricca’s 100-mile route throughout the D.C. region. The company is also working with Ricca to design specific shoes for the ultramarathon.

Pacers Running CEO Kathy Dalby won “Best Straight Ally” in the Washington Blade’s 2019 Best of Gay D.C.

“I really wanted someone local who could really guide me on a route,” Ricca said.

Elyse Braner, a community lead at Pacers Running and longtime friend to Ricca, said the local business was excited to collaborate with Brandt because of an alignment of values.

“As a community, inclusivity and diversity is extremely important to Pacers Running,” Braner said. “As a small business, we really appreciated that Brandt wanted to do an event that supported small businesses — specifically LGBTQ businesses.”

Originally an event-planning business, Nora Lee debuted in 2018 on the second annual Allison Gala, a fundraising event benefiting the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, which Brandt created in memory of a family friend. He’s worked with a range of clients, including the Dupont Circle Hotel and Sotheby’s Real Estate.

Looking back at events on his website, he said he found himself bored with the photography. This led him to focus on creative marketing and decided to pivot his business model at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, Ricca provides photography and video shoots for clients.

“When COVID hit I decided to, like every business owner, I revisited my plan,” he said. “I really enjoyed the creative branding more in the photo shoot. So I decided to pivot strictly to just a full-on creative branding agency.”

The training for the 100-mile run has provided a stable routine for Ricca, which has helped him get through the pandemic, he said. Ricca is planning to create a campaign this summer inviting LGBTQ entrepreneurs to do their version of 100 miles, with the hope it will provide positive stability in their lives as it does in his.

“Obviously, people think I’m crazy for doing this,” Ricca said. “All the uncertainty out there right now – with business, with clients, with whatever; I needed an anchor. Something that was going to be a routine for me that I can control.”

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