Sunday, June 29, 2003

Seeds of Revolution

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Remarks Delivered to the APGA (formerly known as AABGA)
Annual Conference, Boston, 29 June 2003
by Sarah Siegel, program director, GLBT Sales and Talent, IBM

Note: I delivered these remarks in 2003 and posted them here on 22 May 2007.

David and Elayna, thanks for inviting me to speak to your colleagues. Some of my favorite experiences in nature have been in public gardens and arboreta. I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, where my mom still lives. Is anyone here from Bartlett Arboretum or the Stamford Museum and Nature Center?

I met David DeKing through Jose Ortiz of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters.

I’m reminded of how Jose, along with a group of his most enterprising colleagues, had been telling their management for some time that it made sense for the Museum to have a booth at the annual Gay Expo. It was an intriguing idea, but not a top priority.

And then, with its being the number one tourist destination in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum was hard-hit by September 11th.

Museum and Cloisters visits were down in 2001, way-down, since New York tourism had diminished so. The Museum was ready to experiment.

A booth full of enthusiastic gay and lesbian employees along with reps from HR smiled back at the expo attendees. They gave away family passes, sold memberships on the spot and welcomed a number of employment inquiries.

I think this is a terrific example of marketing leadership. Some organizations might think that marketing to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is a cool concept for when times are flush, when there’s room for risk-taking, but The Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the Cloisters recognized that it was precisely at the time when it was most eager to increase visits that it needed to do something fresh and more inclusive.

I don’t know how many of you here are already fully, visibly, actively inclusive of GLBT employees, members, visitors and trustees compared with the number of you, who have considered how natural it would be to be actively welcoming to GLBT people, but who haven’t yet made the progress.

For example, I wonder how many of your membership brochures have language that is inclusive of couples and families with same-sex partners. You’d only have to switch the language, so that it reads “spouse or partner” instead of just “spouse.”

Or you could do what Bartlett Arboretum has done and simply designate a “family/household” category of membership. Just for fun, I checked the Bartlett Arboretum’s site on the web and was happy to see its inclusiveness.

When David invited me to speak, some people asked me, “But what does the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta have in common with IBM?”

One simple answer is that we are your customers and hopefully, increasingly, you are ours.

The nearly 320,000 IBMers and their families worldwide, a number of whom are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or GLBT for short, are among your 60 million visitors, and with your operating budget topping 620 million dollars, I trust that an increasing share of that budget is being spent on information technology, such as, ever-more sophisticated database software; web site development and hosting; and hardware just for starters.

Certainly, I’m happy to take orders for any technology needs you might have after this session, and seriously, I do hope that all things being equal, everyone I ever talk to who needs technology services and products can feel good about choosing IBM, knowing that we’re visibly, actively welcoming of all customers, including GLBT and GLBT-friendly ones.

What else do AABGA and IBM have in common? Both are employers of all sorts of humanity. In my experience, employees who feel respected are remarkably productive and more innovative. For example, a number of GLBT IBMers, including me, prepared the proposal to senior management for launching the GLBT Sales and Talent team in 2001.

Doug Elix, who heads our Global Services business, which includes our consultants and which is the largest and most profitable division of IBM, said yes right away to becoming the senior executive sponsor for the team, including funding headcount market research and program dollars.

Doug recognized that along with Asian, Black, Hispanic and Women’s segment teams that already existed, it made sense to dedicate a full-time team to the GLBT segment, which includes members of all of the other diverse constituencies and all levels of organizations, including, increasingly, openly GLBT, and GLBT-friendly, executive technology purchase decision makers.

In 2001, it was a breakthrough idea, as we became the first technology company in the Fortune 500 to have such a team, and it happened because the culture welcomed such innovation.

My colleague Irwin Drucker, who’s in IBM Procurement and openly gay, raised his hand in 1999, even earlier, to be the program director of Gay and Lesbian Supplier Relations, which focuses on IBM spending its vendor-money with GLBT-owned businesses. Other companies have programs for women and minority-owned vendors, but IBM is the first to have one dedicated to spending money with GLBT business owners.

I love that this year’s conference-theme is “Seeds of Revolution.”

Marketing to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their GLBT-friendly associates is not at all revolutionary. IBM, along with arboreta and botanical gardens all over the world, has always been doing so.

What is revolutionary is that IBM is acknowledging the full humanity of its GLBT and GLBT-friendly customers so visibly, by assigning full-time staff and program dollars for business development, advertising and cause-related marketing in this arena.

I want to use the rest of my time with you to describe how it made sense for IBM to support a GLBT sales focus, and to offer you customer insight from my experience over the past two years of serving the GLBT, and GLBT-friendly, market.

At the end of the session, I’ll provide a tip-sheet you can walk away with on how your organization can get started with GLBT sales and marketing.

It might surprise you to learn that IBM has had black and female employees since 1899 – 10 years before the NAACP was founded and 20 years before women got the right to vote.

Also, 11 years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, our CEO at the time, T.J. Watson, said there would be no “separate, but equal facilities.” IBM was building a number of manufacturing plants in the South and this was also a year ahead of the Brown decision ending “separate but equal” in public education.

IBM added “sexual orientation” to its non-discrimination policy in 1984. I wonder if all of the botanical gardens and arboreta represented here, which have non-discrimination policies include “sexual orientation.”

If not, I hope you’ll be inspired to update the policy, so that gay, lesbian and bisexual employees will feel explicitly welcome in your organization. I know that as a lesbian, I feel better, knowing I am among the people who are explicitly welcome to work for IBM.

Another surprise, probably: IBM is the first company in the world to add “gender identity or expression” to its global HR policy; so far, most other companies only cover U.S. or North American employees while this policy covers all IBMers in all of the 160 countries where we operate.

It would be fully inclusive if each of your organizations who already have a non-discrimination policy were to add “gender identity or expression,” too, so that transgender and gender-variant employees feel welcome to work with you as well.

Now that you know that IBM’s heritage is an inclusive one, the ease we had in gaining support for launching the GLBT Sales and Talent team won’t prompt you to say, “IBM, really?” but rather, “IBM, of course.”

IBM has diversity task forces for eight constituencies: Asian, Black, GLBT, Hispanic, Men, Native Americans, People with Disabilities and Women.

It also has employee networking groups for each of the constituencies and probably has the world’s largest GLBT employee group, with 1,100+ members in 30 chapters worldwide.

My counterpart, Joseph Bertolotti, and I consider all of them to be among our virtual sales force and we’ve established a GLBT Sales Network accordingly, so that they can develop sales leads with us as needs arise among any of their GLBT customers or friends.

We had done some experimenting with GLBT events and advertising since 1995, but each effort was a one-shot and so while each was appreciated by the community and increased its brand loyalty to IBM, there was no sustained activity around welcoming GLBT business.

We had even assigned a third of a headcount to the gay and lesbian market from 1997-2001, which was dedicated to the market only a third of the time, so the results were good, but limited.

When Doug Elix agreed to sponsor the team, I raised my hand to be one of the members, and we did a job posting for the other peer position.

I remember wondering how many people would apply. I was shocked that close to 100 candidates emerged, which reminded me that the homophobia that has held me back most in my career is my own. Not everyone was even G, L, B or T. One of the non-GLBT candidates said simply, “It seemed like a great startup opportunity.”

My favorite part of my job has been working with non-GLBT sales colleagues to drive revenue from openly GLBT decision makers among IBM’s Fortune and Global 500 customers. We’ve driven millions and millions of dollars in GLBT-attributable revenue since our launch two years ago.

I’m going to share some of my customer experiences with you, so that you’ll have a close-up view of what has worked for me in appealing to the market, and they might inspire you to want to serve GLBT members, visitors and trustees actively, if you don’t already.

The first customer example shows how IBM’s GLBT sales focus resonates with non-GLBT, that is, GLBT-friendly customers:

I attended a dinner to benefit Equality Forum, a GLBT organization, and sitting to my right was a married couple. They wondered what IBM was doing there as a major sponsor and I wondered at their connection to the organization, since they appeared not to be G, L, B or T.

They told me that the man was the chair of the Media Arts department of a nearby university, and that a group of his students had done a GLBT photography exhibit recently and that the university was supportive of the organization, just like IBM.

I told him about my role and then he said, “I’ve been talking with one of your competitors and they haven’t been helpful. I need to outfit my computer animation lab with all new equipment and I’d rather work with a vendor who will care.”

“As a matter of fact,” I told him, “Mike Fuller, the head of the whole Education industry at IBM is here tonight and I’d love to introduce him to you.”

I asked Mike to come to the table to meet the couple and the department chairman ended up choosing IBM, and writing really gracious e-mail to me about how helpful IBM had been.

Through IBM’s support of Stonewall, a GLBT organization in the UK, we met an openly lesbian decision maker at a Global 500 firm there, which is already a big IBM customer. The account team, however, had not yet met with her.

We invited her, along with her partner and one of her GLBT-friendly colleagues and the colleague’s husband to join us at the IBM table at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards dinner in New York City a few months ago.

It was a memorable evening, just as we’d hoped; the customer took photos of the celebrity award presenters and entertainers, including Nicole Kidman; Marlo Thomas; Tony Bennett and kd lang.

Her mother, who was in the hospital, healing from hip surgery, instructed her to take photos. Along with the four customers, I invited Liz Grant, an openly lesbian IBM colleague from London, who knew the customers already through Stonewall activities with them, and who would also be able to introduce them to the account team upon their return home.

Liz followed up with the customer and now, the customer’s talking with the account team about potentially helping her with a substantial consulting project.

There was the deeply closeted senior executive of a giant financial services firm, who wouldn’t return IBM’s phone calls because he didn’t see how IBM was different from its competition…until he learned of our GLBT Sales and Talent mission.

We respected that he did not want to be identified as gay, and he was willing to speak with the rep accordingly. The rep is now demonstrating IBM’s services capabilities further, now that the customer’s granting him an audience.

Perhaps my favorite recent experience involved hosting a couple at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in the Midwest. HRC is probably the biggest GLBT organization in the world.

I invited a customer from one of our Fortune 500 accounts to attend with her partner and then also invited the IBM client director of the account to join us.

The customer and I had met at a conference of GLBT employee groups sponsored by an organization called Out & Equal, and I had met her partner, an author and transgender educator, when he had come to IBM to do transgender education for our GLBT Task Force.

The customer identifies as bisexual and her fiancé – that evening, I learned they’re getting married in the fall – identifies as a heterosexual transgender man. The client director and I had never met and I had no concept of the level of his GLBT-friendliness, but figured it was a good sign that he wanted to be at the dinner.

We had a wonderful evening. Serendipitously, the client director and the fiancé were both bantam, the same height, and spoke with me during the VIP reception about some of the tall women each had dated.

The customer was speaking with the ED of HRC while the men were kidding around. It was just a couple of guys, seeing eye-to-eye, and me, smiling down at them.

At the end of the evening, the client director and I debriefed and I said, “You were terrifically respectful. A number of people are confused initially by transgender people. You were great. I don’t know how many GLBT people you’ve had as friends or family in your life, but –”

“My freshman roommate was gay and my sister-in-law is, and besides, no one’s all-Democrat or all-Republican; no one’s all-male or all-female.”

“Well, I’m glad you were able to do good will, though I wonder if you think any business might come of your having met the customer.”

“She needs Computer-based Training services that could add up to tens of millions of dollars.” Jackpot!

The client director wrote a great e-mail follow-up note after the dinner to the customer’s fiancé:
Thanks for helping to make the evening a very enjoyable one.
I also want to thank you for letting me spend some (OK a lot) of
the evening talking with [your fiance]. I mentioned to Sarah and your fiancé alike
that I found the experience to be very personally broadening. Your fiance
helped to clarify some points of confusion that allowed me to have
a better understanding of the GLBT landscape and issues.

I hope the flight back was uneventful and relaxing.
Thanks again.

PS Best of wishes for both your upcoming marriage and new book!

I hope that some of you here today are inspired to become more demonstrative in your inclusion and welcoming of GLBT visitors, trustees and also colleagues. It’s really so much lovelier an organization when we find our common ground and acknowledge one another’s humanity, I’ve found.

The botanical gardens and arboreta that are the most inclusive are the most prosperous in the long run, if IBM’s success is any indication.

I added a bonus image to the tip-sheet I’ll hand out to you; it’s a static version of a dynamic web ad banner that we’re hosting on and, just for additional inspiration. Any of your organizations could do the same thing if they like fairly inexpensively.

Supported as I am in making a contribution to the business, you can imagine that I enjoy working for IBM. Finally, I’ll share another reason for liking the company that you’re most likely able to appreciate, also, which is about the property of our headquarters in Armonk, New York.

Armonk is about 20 minutes from where I grew up and so the topography’s the same. To get to the building from any of the parking lots, I need to walk along trails among boulder-laden woods.

Every time I visit headquarters, I feel like a happy kid. It’s like being back at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center or the adjacent Arboretum. I enter the building for a series of grown-up meetings and then return to the nicest part of my childhood as I walk back to my car in the lot. I’ve been struck by this and couldn’t imagine a more appreciative audience with which to share it.

I guess what we have in common, ultimately, is our humanity.

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