Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Journey from David's Bar Mitzvah to Lesbian [Role-]Modeling for IBM

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

Reprinted from GLBT IBMers & Friends Community Blog Behind IBM's Firewall

How did I get from the dance-floor of Congregation Agudath Sholom's reception hall to becoming a lesbian "poster-child" for IBM? In response, I considered three photos from 1978, 2002 and 2010:

In the first, the girl towered over the Bar-Mitzvah boy; she was me at 13. The boy's younger sister, now married with kids, just like the boy is, shared the photo with me via Facebook last week. It arrived while I was participating in Out & Equal's Workplace Summit, where IBM won the Workplace Excellence Award. The boy was sweet, but the girl that his twin-brother danced with nearby was a classmate on whom I had a crush.

This past June, in a letter to my younger self, I described how it felt to be attending a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school while being consciously aware of my lesbianism from age 11 onward. Paradoxically, I think that my years at that school were what motivated me to help represent IBM's GLBT Community so visibly; at our 8th grade graduation ceremony, I recall our principal, giving each of us a copy of *Pirkei Avoth* (*Ethics of the Fathers*) and telling us that he knew we would be among the leaders of our communities -- he was referring to Jewish communities, but I think I must have subconsciously taken it as a call to community leadership altogether.

Ten years after realizing my lesbian identity, I came out explicitly to my family and gained community leadership skills while living in Chicago; I volunteered as a GLBTQ youth group advisor and also co-anchored "The 10% Show," which was produced by the Chicago bureau of the Gay Cable Network (which no longer exists, unfortunately). These experiences were tremendously confidence-building, and profound; the youth group enabled me to help youth feel better along the way about who they were, and to speed through some of the same angst I had had, growing up, and the cable TV show taught me that I was part of a rich culture. Till then, I'd really only been taught to see the richness of Jewish culture. It was my gay community experience in Chicago that sewed the seeds for the work I would do at IBM.

Fast-forward to 2002, when Joseph Bertolotti and I (center of the photo) were leading GLBT Business Development, the coolest startup I've been part of so far, and which I'm proud is more global and more successful than ever through Yvette Burton's, Andreas Citak's and Tony Tenicela's leadership today. This 2002 ad was U.S.-centric by design, as it ran only in U.S.-based GLBT magazines, e.g., "OUT" and "The Advocate." My rabbi, openly lesbian herself, and leading the world's largest congregation of GLBT Jews and our friends, held up a copy of the ad from the pulpit when it first came out and celebrated that it featured one of her congregants. This was the same period when I was trying to conceive a child through IUI and an anonymous donor; unfortunately, I did not succeed. The other Sarah, in the foreground, gave birth to a girl some months later -- she's visibly pregnant in the photo -- and Rahel, between the Sarah's, gave birth to twin-girls. Ultimately, Rahel left IBM because she was part of GBS and did not want to travel so much with young children; she took a job at a financial services client, with no travel. And Marcelo on the far-left retired, so time did march on.

By 2004, I had moved from the GLBT business development role to what would become IBM's Center for Learning and Development, and was facilitating leadership development programs for our first-line leaders and emerging leaders, and then for new execs and our leader of India/South Asia and his direct reports. Six years later, I look at myself and see someone, who is as spirited as my 13-year-old self, who's happily paired with a Jewish woman for the past 18+ years, and who's dedicated to mentoring colleagues in their leadership development; I see someone who should make my principal proud.

Finally, by 2010, we launched a new campaign and when Andreas invited people from the New York area (which is where our ad agency is) to be photographed for the ad, I made sure to participate. I was talking with some new friends at Out & Equal, being self-effacing about my choice to model again for a GLBT-specific campaign; "Oh, it's only because I live in the NY-area, and maybe I like attention and..." but one of the friends challenged my vanity-explanation. She made me admit aloud that no, it's not only attention-seeking that drives me to pose for our ads; it really is a wish to raise our community's visibility. And I guess my rabbi, if not my principal in his Orthodoxy, recognized the act as a form of community leadership.


Sacha Chua said...

The recent IBM GLBT rainbow posters about diversity made me feel warm and fuzzy. I'm proud to be with a company that recognizes talent in any shape or form. Thank you for leading and inspiring!

Sarah Siegel said...

Sacha, affirmative leaders of any sort ought to be embraced, it's true, and all positively talented types, too!