This month, join me in admiring a few of the many LGBT trailblazers and leaders who helped push forward equality for the LGBT community by leading or advocating in a business setting.
As a young gay entrepreneur, I remember not having many role models look up to when balancing my sexuality with my career expectations. I looked often to musicians or artists where acceptance felt much more normalized. I mean, Elton John could perform in a dress on stage without raising an eyebrow, but a certain expectation in corporate America and the business world seemed to keep me a little more restrained, right?
Today, corporate America has mostly embraced the LGBTQ community as part of a large consumer base, a strong and diverse workforce, and an economic and cultural engine for business. Corporations recognize that buying from and selling to the LGBT community is important. Many provide benefits and empowerment through DEI initiatives and tons of other special programs that encourage out professionals to express themselves and show up as their true selves.
Beth Ford, CEO, Land-O-Lakes
Born in the midwest, Beth Ford charted a 35+ year career in the food industry before becoming CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc., a Fortune 200 agribusiness company that is also a 100-year-old, farmer-owned cooperative. In 2018, she became the first openly gay woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Still today, nearly half of American LGBT employees are in the closet at work, according to a Human Rights Campaign survey. Ford has always been openly gay at work, not just when she began climbing the CEO ladder.
Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford, on being the only openly gay, female CEO of a Fortune 500 company https://t.co/heJT8nYPfq pic.twitter.com/Cwj0mQETHA
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 6, 2019
In addition to leading a $15B+ company, Beth is championing a number of initiatives that I find admirable and noteworthy. She is working to bring internet access to farmers and rural parts of the US in an effort to support her co-op’s partners and participants. She’s also working to change the narrative about rural America and showcase the vibrancy of these parts unknown as well as address food insecurity and access issues.
Beth is a shining example of a community-focused leader who is passionate about uplifting the communities she serves while growing an enterprise-class business that is critical to the U.S. economy.
Tim Gill, Co-Founder, Quark, Inc and Founder, Gill Foundation
Tim Gill is often associated with his eponymous Gill Foundation, one of the largest and most impactful LGBTQ rights charities. But before that, Tim was a software engineer who created QuarkXPress, now a little-known alternative to the modern day Adobe Pagemaker or Adobe Photoshop. This was a pioneering piece of software from the late 90s that enabled the desktop publishing movement.
After selling his stake in the company, Tim dedicated a substantial portion of his wealth to fight for LGBT rights and advocate for positive change both on an issue and political basis. Ever the technologist, Tim recently founded Josh.ai, a home automation technology company.
Tim is part innovator, part advocate, and part community leader. Smart, humble, and thoughtful, I have always admired his approach to business and community investment.
Stephanie Lampkin, CEO & Co-Founder, Blendoor
Stephanie spent 18 years in tech before founding Blendoor, a technology company that scores and helps companies achieve their diversity and inclusion goals by using real data. Think of this service as social impact intelligence to be used both by consumers, investors, and leaders of their own organizations to stay accountable and transparent. What’s super impressive about Blendoor and Stephanie is the impact they’ve both made in a very short amount of time. Investors include Sequoia Capital, a silicon valley fixture in the VC space.
Stephanie holds degrees from MIT and Stanford and has amassed accolades such as being a “Fortune 40 Under 40.” She’s clearly passionate not only about the work she is doing at Blendoor, but also about being an example to creative entrepreneurs and sharing knowledge and opportunities around technology, VC funding, talent issues, and more.
Stephanie demonstrates that your personal business journey can uncover a successful market opportunity, and that you can do good while also doing well. She clearly loves her role right now, and I have every confidence she will continue to make positive change for many talented people for years to come.
So, please take a moment to explore and admire these leaders. But while they deserve some attention, there are even more people working each and every day to advance LGBTQ equality. Find these champions in your community and support them. With recent turns thanks to SCOTUS, our focus on equality, access, and advancement has never been more important.