Thursday, June 12, 2008

What Lesbian Leadership Looks Like

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


"When I was a high school junior in Junior Achievement (JA), I never imagined I'd be here with you, having this conversation... though I was self-aware [of my lesbianism] by age 11."

The lesbian leader from the company that sponsored my section of JA smiled at me in response.

"I mean, who knew that when I was selling our products, Berry Pretty Pine-cone Wreaths and Plexi-pocket picture-frames, to colleagues outside the cafeteria at your corporate headquarters that we'd be here in the future, having this exchange?"

Twenty-four of us from 16 firms met tonight at the Times Square office of Ernst & Young for a forum on women's participation in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employee networking groups.

With all the work I've done over the past 13 years in behalf of the GLBT business community, I'd never before had the opportunity to join a forum just of women, who likewise dedicated themselves to our advancement. Afterward, I called my mom and said, "You know how you've said you're proud of the work I've been able to do with IBM for human rights? Well, I was in a whole room of women like me tonight, from many different firms..." featuring:

  • Ernst & Young
  • Time Warner Cable
  • McDermott, Will & Emery
  • Bank of New York Mellon
  • IBM
  • Goldman Sachs
  • International Paper
  • Accenture
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Morgan Stanley
  • UBS
  • Lehman Brothers
  • Showtime Networks
  • American Express
  • Citi
  • Credit Suisse

...And Dressed for Success

They were pin-striped, salwar-kameezed, jewel-bedecked, modestly-bejeweled, silk-shelled, starch-bloused, long-haired, short-haired, readable, unreadable, gorgeous, attractive, handsome, brilliant and hopeful. Tonight, I felt a hunger satisfied that I didn't even really recognize prior: a hunger to know women like me, who had taken risks and been bold in their careers and lives in ways similar to me. They allowed themselves to have a voice -- and one that wasn't necessarily always initially welcome, but which was included ultimately.

It's weird how affinity can work: While I was talking with one of the women, another walked in, wearing a white, subtly-patterned salwar kameez. I had to excuse myself to speak with her. It was like I was doubly-home, seeing her.

My 16-year-old self as a JA participant couldn't have predicted tonight's first-of-a-kind conversation, as I mentioned; likewise, prior to last year, I'd not have imagined a particular affinity for Indians in Indian clothing. Something about her being not only Indian, but dressed hiply and traditionally in parallel made me feel extra-comfortable, speaking with her.

Both of us, we discovered, were Americans, who had completed assignments in Bangalore last year. "I almost wore one of my salwar kameezes," I said, since it was so hot today, "but I chickened out."

She was encouraging. When we said good night, I pledged that if another event occurred while it was still warm enough, I'd definitely wear one of them next time.

...And as Compelling as Disco Rollerskating

My new friend and colleague couldn't know how therapeutic it was to meet her. The whole time I was in India in 2007, I never met any out lesbians, and my partner and I tried to operate on the "down-low" when we were not with IBMers. Yet here she was, a visibly Indian woman, who identified as lesbian, and who had worked to make her company in India even more inclusive to GLBT colleagues, just as I had done with mine.

This evening reminded me of the hours and hours and hours of rollerskating I did by myself as a pre-teen, which enabled me to show off my skills and finally find peers during roller-skating parties when it became a mainstream craze while I was in high school. I don't know if that translates....

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