Lynne Milburn is a facilitator. She listens carefully to what others are saying, and then makes a calm, straightforward statement about her reactions and what she thinks.
Given her nature, it’s easy to see why Milburn, director of the Career Exploration Center at the University of Texas at Austin since 1990, has been so successful in her job of providing assistance to students looking for a career path.
UT has 17 career offices on campus. “But ours is the only office on campus that serves all 50,000 students,” Milburn says. “The others coordinate with recruiters who come to campus.” Hers is the one that helps UT students as a whole find their way towards a professional career.
Milburn’s own career path included getting a degree in speech pathology and then expanding on her experience at a counseling center and later graduate school. “I really wanted to do counseling and psychology,” she explains, “but math got in the way.” So speech pathology and counseling it was (math not required).
“I worked at a crisis center, which at times involved dealing with people who were suicidal.” that wasn’t for her and she moved to career counseling. A job offer eventually brought her to Austin.
In her 26 years on campus, supporting thousands of students and discussing hundreds of topics, she has experienced first hand a large university’s growth curve – in terms of its student body, its influence in the academic world, and its attitude towards LGBT individuals. To say the least, she has seen and heard a lot.
And she has had the unique perspective of a lesbian who came out to her boss soon after she was hired. (By the way, her superior’s immediate response when she told him about her orientation was: “That’s okay, but don’t get on your soapbox about it.”) Milburn laughs. “I wasn’t asking his permission.”
That same year, she suggested creating an LGBT group within the counseling center. The director said that she could do it, but that the center couldn’t “advertise it.”
By the start of the next decade, things were changing. When she was named director of the center in 1990, her new boss said that he was “so glad to have an open lesbian in the post.”
So how does Milburn approach giving gay/lesbian individuals’ career guidance?
In part, it depends on where they are in the coming-out process. “If they are in the pride stage, they are very into being gay. They may choose a career based on that.” For instance, they may choose careers where being gay doesn’t matter.
Then again, she says, students may want to stay away from the military, elementary education or certain types of clergy work – all positions where being gay can be problematic. She adds that sometimes people in this stage want to work with a LGBT organization like a sexuality counseling center. In other words, they may be looking for places “where it isn’t as important what the career is, it’s more important they are in an environment that’s embracing or celebrating the community.”
If people are in the last stage of the coming out process – integration – where their sexual identity is a slice of the decision-making pie and it isn’t the primary driver, they tend to head in other directions.
Milburn explains that all of that speaks to the internal career choices an individual makes.
“The external part is how much to put on your resume, especially if you have been involved with campus organizations. Do you come out? Do you put your partner’s picture on your desk? Do you go to parties with them?”
Then there are other questions, such as: if a move is involved, will the company offer spousal relocation? Should a job candidate talk about the existence of a support group? Does a prospective employer offer partner benefits?
Asked about the fulfillment she gets from her job, Milburn says it’s difficult to describe the tremendous satisfaction she receives. “It’s very powerful to have people share their sexual identities with you, to provide this sanctuary of an office where they feel comfortable and to help expand justice in the workplace. I feel humbled by that.”
Milburn takes issue somewhat with the term “career counseling” saying she doesn’t really “counsel” anyone. “Students walk in here expecting I’ll tell them what to do.” What she does instead is advise and ask the right questions so that people will reflect and listen to their inner voice.
Now that she’s retiring from UT, Milburn is looking to expand her private practice and to spending more time with her partner, Gail Goodman. (Many in the local GLBT community know Goodman from her posts as executive director of Waterloo Counseling Center and Out Youth.)
This year, Milburn was honored at UT’s Lavender Graduation, a GLBT event, for achievement in the UT community (voted on by students). She also received a Faculty- Staff Association GLBT achievement award, which will be named for her.
Those awards made her proud. But it’s obvious that her most important source of satisfaction is helping people find productive paths in their careers and life.