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LGBT History Month 2021: Celebrating Landmarks in STEM

Written by: Pragya Khanna & Kashika Jain

“If you haven’t hired a team of people who are of color, female, and/or LGBT to actively turn over every stone, to scope out every nook and cranny, to pop out of every bush, to find every qualified underrepresented founder in this country, you’re going to miss out on a lot of money when the rest of the investment world gets it.”— Arlan Hamilton, Co-founder, and CEO of Backstage Capital

Many fields of STEM foster persistent beliefs that success emerges from innate genius, which interacts with deep biases we all share about genius in race, gender, and sexuality. Confronting our assumptions and breaking down these stereotypes would greatly expand the talent pool for these disciplines and subsequently open opportunities for those that don’t fit the stereotypes.


A variety of industry groups and independent organizations are devoted to improving policies and practices for LGBT+. We, at Techvik, have also taken a lead, by devoting its logo and blogs, to support the LGBT+ community.


Keeping this in mind, we have compiled a list of LGBT+ scientists and leaders who have broken those stereotypes and set standards for the generations to come. Some techies on this list have harnessed their gender identities and sexual orientations to speak out about and further the presence of LGBT+ people in tech. For others, being LGBT+ is simply a part of their personal life, which they strive to keep separate from business.

Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple:


An influencer who inspired “The Cook Doctrine”- a remarkable piece of work, under whose leadership, Apple grew from a $400 billion firm into a corporation valued at $2 trillion. Cook’s streamlining of the company's supply chain and operations, calling Apple a dairy where products should be sold while fresh reduced Apple’s turnover from months to days.


Despite being the private person he is, he came out boldly in an essay for Bloomberg Business, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me”. Portraying that nothing can hold him or anyone in the LGBT community back he wrote, “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my privacy.”


His fundings to a gay rights initiative in his native Alabama dilettante his adherence and support towards the LGBT+ community. Cook believed that Alabama was too slow to change during the civil rights movement and was still dragging its feet on LGBT rights. “We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future.” Being gay gave Cook a broader perspective and a window to the lives of minority groups and the challenges they face in day-to-day life.

Chris Hughes, Co-Founder of Facebook:


When we talk about LGBT+ in tech, how can we forget about the ‘Golden Power Couple’.


Hughes met Sean Eldridge on a blind date and found him different from others, a social media virgin. They quickly became a couple and on New Year’s eve 2010, Hughes proposed to Eldridge.


The couple threw a big fat wedding promising each other to be patient, faithful, and honest.

It was a strong couple, representing it all- Facebook, Obama, and Gay marriage. Hughen’s perspective is deeply influenced by the fact that he is gay. It made him skeptical of people who say “I’ve got it all figured out.”


Being nicknamed “The Empath”, Hughes is the least socially awkward of the cluster. This is evident from his career path. Hughes’s main contribution was to translate Facebook to the real world and to bring some human, or “user,” experience to his tech-minded co-founders. He tested features of the site to see how a real person would experience them.


Hughes left Facebook to take part in Obama’s campaign, soon became a prominent political leader, and was on the cover of Fast Company as ‘The Kid Who Made Obama President’.

Claudia Brind-Woody, Vice President of IBM:


This global LGBT+ leader and the winner of the Out & Equal Trailblazer Award is the vice-president and managing director for global intellectual property licensing at IBM.


This powerful leader once said “In 1984, when the corporate leaders were discussing adding sexual orientation to our non-discrimination policy, the discussion was pretty simple. One of our senior leaders said, ‘We want everyone to be able to succeed here.”


Her strategies were clear, “When our employees don’t have to think twice about struggling for the same benefits and recognition… then productivity goes up.”


Her life was not easy, from having no guidance, no awareness, and no role models at a juvenile age, to being strong enough to suppress her feelings and not coming out as a lesbian for a greater good, Claudia Brind-Woody has pushed through it all. With role models like Pat Summit, who provided her support, inspiration, and a friend, Woody never let anyone outwork her.


“Being LGBT+ is not bad. It’s who we are, it’s ordinary. I use the word “ordinary” very intentionally. Enabling those everyday conversations is very powerful. A coworker might ask me, ‘Where’d you go on holiday?’ If I naturally respond, “My wife and I went horseback riding,” then the conversation generally turns to horseback riding, not to the fact I have a wife.”


With a rare yet strong mentality of being able to influence the government, having the willingness to join hands with traditional competitors, and the courage to change the world, this lesbian tech maker has been an inspiration.

Vivienne Ming, Co-founder of Socos:


Ming underwent the process of gender transition in her 30’s — a decision she celebrates to this day. “I challenge anyone to say I’m not better in every way now,” she says. This journey towards self-actualization is what has driven her to simplify and enhance people’s lives.


Dr. Vivienne Ming is co-founder of Socos Labs, an entrepreneur, and a theoretical neuroscientist. She is also transgender and speaks frequently on issues of LGBT+ inclusion and gender in technology.


Moreover, she believes her battle has proved to be advantageous for her career — that navigating the world while trans better prepares people for the rigors of entrepreneurship. “Women and men who have gone through gender transition have proven they can do something enormously difficult, for the sake of positively changing their lives and the lives of those around them,” she noted.


She sits on boards of numerous companies and nonprofits including StartOut, The Palm Center, Cornerstone Capital, Platypus Institute, Shiftgig, Zoic Capital, and SmartStones. Dr. Ming also speaks frequently on her AI-driven research into inclusion and gender in business.

Her career has taken an interesting road with many forks along the way, and sometimes they may not even have been a road at all. But all these challenges pushed her to work harder making her one of 10 Women to Watch in Tech in 2013 by Inc. Magazine.

Arlan Hamilton, Co-founder, and CEO of Backstage Capital:


Arlan Hamilton is the only queer, black woman to have built a Venture Capital firm from scratch, she strongly believes for VCs to keep going they need to be thick-skinned and remain passionate. In 2015, she started the venture capital fund Backstage Capital, all while experiencing homelessness. The homepage of Backstage Capital reveals the premise the firm is centered on.


“Less than 10 percent of all venture capital deals go to women, People of Colour, and LGBT founders. Other VCs see this as a pipeline problem. We see it as the biggest opportunity in investment.” In 2018, Arlan co-founded Backstage Studio, which runs accelerator programs for underestimated founders in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and London.


In 2018, Arlan became the first non-celebrity Black woman to be featured on the cover of Fast Company, rapidly reaching new heights. Furthermore, she’s also been honored on lists like Forbes’ “40 Under 40” and Business Insider’s “Most Powerful LGBT+ People in Tech.” In May, Arlan released her book It’s About Damn Time, sharing some of the biggest lessons she’s learned throughout her career and teaches readers “how to turn being underestimated into your biggest advantage.”

Conclusion:


The journey of these few LGBT people (and many more out there) who are involved in STEM and other technological fields has made it pretty evident that they encounter more obstacles than their cishet counterparts, but despite higher rates of workplace bullying and discrimination, queer techies have established their means of support and growth.

In order to enhance the experiences of LGBT+ people in STEM, innate biases and dismissive and heteronormative perspectives must first be acknowledged, even by well-intentioned individuals. The LGBT+ community relies on a steady support network, made up of both fellow peers and non-LGBT allies. Societies need to play a more active role in uniting LGBT professionals and promoting potential mentoring schemes for staff and students. Our society will be extremely fortunate to finally have a strand of DNA of diversity and inclusion.


A little initiative by us to propel greater changes 🏳‍🌈

References:

  1. https://outleadership.com/outleader/vivienne-ming/

  2. Dr Vivienne Ming: Mashing up tech for humans

  3. From homeless to VC: Arlan Hamilton shares her remarkable journey at Black Wall Street

  4. Meet the woman who is exclusively investing in startups with underrepresented founders

  5. NEW documentary! Backstage Capital x Arlan Hamilton - 'jOURney'

  6. Power Couple Chris Hughes & Sean Eldridge

  7. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/08/tim-cook-teases-new-apple-services-tied-to-health-care.html

  8. https://outleadership.com/outleader/claudia-brind-woody/#:~:text=A%20Virginia%20native%2C%20Brind%2DWoody,England%20with%20her%20wife%2C%20Tracie.

  9. https://www.proutatwork.de/en/claudia-brind-woody/

  10. https://blog.zoominfo.com/diversity-and-inclusion-quotes/

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