Saturday, April 14, 2007

Being L, G, B or T in the Workplace Panel

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

I loved it. I loved learning from the other panelists, from our moderator and from the attendees. I was pleased that 26 people came on a Friday afternoon. There appeared to be:

  • 13 women (two Asian, three Black, and eight who were White)
  • 13 men (two-three Asian -- including one or two who might have been Indian, one Black, nine who were White)

    It was held in the Grace Dodge Room. I've passed the room a number of times and the door has never been open. There's a brass sign outside and I've always wondered what sort of events are held there. I love that my first time in the room was as a featured panelist in a Teachers College-sponsored event.

    Beforehand, I followed a best practice I learned from Edward Tufte at one of his visual design seminars, which I was lucky to attend when I was a web producer for the Software section of; Tufte introduced himself to nearly all of the participants prior to the seminar, shaking each one's hands. He said he did it to warm himself up and make himself feel more comfortable as well as them.

    Before the panel experience began, I was fortunate to meet an Arts Education doctoral student whose research focuses on LGBT youth, expressing themselves through art, along with a Columbia women's softball team player; I wish I had asked what she was studying, as she was an undergrad at Columbia College, and not a Teachers College (TC) grad. student. Among others, I also met an English professor, who had gone to Columbia undergrad. and TC, and who had been too afraid to walk through the door of a meeting of gay and lesbian TC students in the '70s.

    Wow, I thought, I wonder what those students are doing now...and we're still meeting...and there's still plenty of our humanity to share with the rest of the TC community.

    Afterwards, two women spoke to me. One was from Shanghai and now is an American citizen in the field of bi-cultural education and the other is working on her Ed.D. and writing her dissertation on un-learning homophobia.

    The China-born American woman told me that she was interested in the panel because she has an affinity for people who are considered extraordinary, and who might feel a bit lonely as a result. She said her father was forced to go to a labor camp in China for being an intellectual when she was ages four-10, which made her lonely as a child.

    She also trained thousands of Hilton employees in Shanghai, when Hilton opened up there as the first American company allowed in since 1949. She was wearing a gorgeous blazer, trimmed with Chinese fabric, a jade bracelet and what looked like a string of Chinese pearls, and I thought, How remarkable that her father's and her life brought her to the Grace Dodge Room.

    "I was fortunate to train Chinese managers in Beijing and Shanghai, and a gay friend from IBM also took me to a lesbian bar in Beijing," I told her.

    "When I was there, it was not very open."

    "It's still pretty underground -- that was my impression in any case."

    I didn't say that I didn't see much affection of any kind while in China. Young, heterosexual couples walking down the street didn't even tend to hold hands in Beijing....In Shanghai, they did hold hands sometimes, but there was no affection more public than that.

    The other woman I was lucky to speak with looked like we could have been in Girl Scouts or high school together. She reminded me, in fact, of the adult version of such girls. She's a Literacy teacher at a Connecticut middle school.

    "What inspired you to do 'Un-learning Homophobia' as your dissertation topic?"

    "We learn to be prejudiced, and I think we can learn not to be, too, and you were talking yourself during the panel about always working to 'transform indignities into art,' and it's part of that, too."

    The panel, itself, included the experience of a former public school teacher, who was harassed for being gay (and also said he suffered from reverse-racism, as the only 'caucasian-identified' member of the staff), and who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Education at Columbia; an entrepreneur; a career services expert; and a discrimination law attorney.

    Here's what I said, as well as the tip-sheet I gave out, along with a booklet, "Why IBM Works," which focuses on our legacy of valuing diversity and inclusion; we were limited to a five-seven-minute intro. prior to Q&A:

    I told Alysa that I was going to be the super-positive one. She asked that I tell you of some success I’ve had by being out at work along with offering some resources that have been helpful in my career.

    First of all, the resources started pre-IBM, and were larger community resources. I’m mentioning them because they turned out to be an unwittingly fantastic way for me to gain huge self-esteem around all of who I am, and I’m going to translate my experience into a tip for you shortly.

    By the time I joined IBM in my twenties, I had done a number of things to counter my eight years of Modern Orthodox Jewish schooling, which had had nothing encouraging to say about homosexuality, though my family turned out to be supportive ultimately.

    I joined an LGBT synagogue, became an LGBTQ Youth Group advisor, co-anchored “The 10% Show” -- it was the '80s -- of the Chicago Bureau of Gay Cable Network and was #5 in the scrum of the Windy City Women’s Rugby Football Club, which was mostly a lesbian team.

    My first tip, then, is to get involved in organizations like QueerTC and in whatever moves you about the LGBT community. It’s amazing how mutually-inspiring I have always found it to meet kindred spirits around affecting social change….I’m not sure how much social change we were affecting through rugby, but it did enable me to associate LGBT culture with pure fun like never before, which was essential, too.

    When I was part of a joint venture of IBM and Sears, in Schaumburg, Illinois, I asked my manager to fund my participation at a local gay and lesbian – back then – workplace conference. This was in 1994.

    She said yes. The second and third tips, then, are: Get sponsored to take advantage of special LGBT community-building opportunities if possible and then become inspired to pay back your sponsors. You can repay them with a proposal on how they can increase student learning and achievement, for example, simply by becoming further engaged in welcoming LGBT faculty and students, administrators and board members.

    In my case, it was all about helping my sponsor see how further welcoming LGBT clients would drive additional revenue to IBM. I came back from the conference so enthused by a gay marketing workshop given by Stephanie Blackwood, who’s right here in New York City, I wrote a white paper, proposing that we proactively enter the gay and lesbian market.

    The idea was just a question of when, not if, and after a number of successful pilot initiatives, we asked for and gained sponsorship for a dedicated sales team in 2001. The team is sponsored by Doug Elix, our Senior VP of Sales, who reports directly to our CEO.

    Had I not helped start up this particular sales team, when would I have ever had the chance to meet with the SVP even once, let alone quarterly for the three years I helped lead the mission? There are more than 330,000 IBMers worldwide, and many thousands of them are in Sales. Doug wrote a recommendation letter for my TC Masters application.

    The LGBT Sales team is now twice its size and includes a European rep, and after three years, it was simply time to do something new in my career, and Management Development turned out to be a terrific fit for me, so terrific that I have gotten to help develop our leaders around the world...all because I have been out at work.

    Job Hunting Tips for LGBT and LGBT-friendly Students

    1. Maintain tremendous energy even if you're not yet sure what you want to do after grad. school:
    a. Study hard
    b. Love earnestly
    c. Play sports and/or do your art
    d. Be spiritually active, if religion is meaningful to you
    2. Dream of continuing your work to advance LGBT people; the private sector, increasingly, employs people to do so:
    a. Give of your time as a volunteer
    b. Discover what moves you
    c. Present your most inspired self at interviews
    i. Differentiate yourself from other candidates, including talking about your experiences, volunteering or leading or interning with or creating LGBT organizations
    ii. Demonstrate what your potential employer gains more than focusing on what you hope to gain
    3. Apply to join IBM:
    a. Visit
    b. Find positions that appeal to you
    c. Apply for them online
    d. Send e-mail to Sarah Siegel at..., including:
    i. “IBM Candidate from TC Career Services Panel” in the subject line
    ii. Your electronic resume
    e. The job numbers associated with the positions for which you’ve applied.

    Note: Historically, IBM has hired TC alumni/ae with Ph.D.s to work in its Global Executive Organizational Capability organization.

    The three questions I was able to answer during Q&A were:

  • What made it a "no-brainer" for you to come out at IBM?
  • What was it about IBM's culture that made you feel you could ask to go to the gay and lesbian workplace conference?
  • What is being done for transgender job applicants and employees?

    How would you answer those questions about IBM, or about the company or organization where you work, if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender? How about, also, What made it a "no-brainer" for you to come out as LGBT-friendly, if you're heterosexual?

    Scott said...

    Hey, Sarah. Great to be able to share in your life, after a passage of a few years, through your blog. Inspiring to hear about your work.

    Powerful words at the top of your blog: "Anything worth experiencing is worth re-living through writing about it." Love it.

    Hey, do you keep a gratitude journal?

    Sarah Siegel said...

    This is the only journal I keep. When I'm grateful, it gets expressed here, I how I loved the panel, my former car, Jane Harper's encouragement to get serious with the blog, the seders....It's a lovely idea, if I were more flexible(!)

    Emily said...

    Dear Sarah:

    Great tips, first of all!

    REgarding the 3 queries as listed above -- As a matter of fact, I was born and bred in China from birth to 26 years of age. In those days, no body ever told us what homosexuality is, nor any other form of sexual orientations are. There was not even dating allowed in college, let alone any sexual related topics be discussed or explored in symposium or as course works at almost all colleges back then.

    I could be opiniated sometimes, but I am definitely open-minded and basically non-biased in sensitivity to my best self-sonsciousness about the phenomenon of GLBT. Hopefully, I think that the emission of such sensitivity should naturally reach to the spectrum of even the sub-consciousness.

    Meanwhile, I am also very interested in learning more about LBGT in current China, since I have not been there for a quite a few years by now.

    Ideologically, I am sincerely respectful of social, cultural and ethinical diversity. Whether heterosexual of GLBT are natural phenomena or democratic preference, as long as GLBT are consesual between their partners at their private time just liek the heterosexuals are, it really should not be too much of their colleagues business at any work places. People are not suppose to consider such behavorial difference an excuse for discrimination or deprivation of rights at work places at all.

    I consider myself with a rather healthy diathesis as an individual in this department, as such is also significant in the general pavement for proper qualities of being a teacher, a trainer and in any people oriented sphere (which I have been,) regardless of what race or sexual orientations the teacher him/herself may be.

    At any work place, I think one should judge a person not by the difference of his/her skin-tones or sexual orientations or preferences, but by what s/he may be from me. Rather one shoudl base on one's working performance and/or productivities. IBM is not an employee dating or match-making service for heterosexual, why would any heterosexual care about his/her colleagur might be or is actually a GLBT other than one's good record of works, sincere and friendly working relationship toward the betterment of a mutual and healthy IBM environment.

    In spite of all the ever trendy American gimmicky buzz word of diversity or almost soly-patented domocracy, it is only common sense in this area that even a heterosexual would admit the importance of working out differences and oddities when they could not simply get along, most of the time, even though every member are of the opposite sex. Why shouldn't each of us capacitate ourselves with a bit more breadth and broadmindedness with some humilities and humaneness towards our fellow-friends and co-workers for either common objectives at work or for some good causes?

    One may very well mock me for being a sentimentalist and idealist. when marvel over the various enforcement of laws in the area for LGBL/transgender job applicant, employees for GLBT, or other victims of discrimination from racial differences, or to certain sickness or disablities at workplace in general, I think each individual should try to treat each other more magnanimously in general and if possible than what's defined with information provided provided anyway, from promoting a fair and equitable workplace.

    Although strategically, I have not give time for too much thought yet, I hope I make sense if first though is what we usually considered to be more gut-felt-thought" (comment/response may still open to continue, :-)

    Sarah Siegel said...

    Emily, thanks for your hopeful posting. I like the sentiments, and I'm essentially an optimist, too, though a realistic one, I believe.

    I do believe we should value our colleagues not regardless of their difference, but because of it, among their other great talents and qualities.