The US Is Way Behind on LGBTQIA+ Equity. Meet the CEOs Who Are Championing Change.

Arlan Hamilton at The Riveter Conference, photographed by Renee McMahon

Note: The Riveter uses the designation LGBTQIA+. Variants used in this article reflect how the companies mentioned use the acronym in their programs and initiatives.

It’s no secret that our country is still painfully behind when it comes to LGBTQIA+ equity. As recently as November 2019, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education each proposed or finalized regulations that adversely affect transgender Americans. The ACLU reports that in 31 states there are no explicit employment protections for transgender people. And 29 states lack laws that explicitly protect workers from discrimination regarding gender identity and sexual orientation. But there’s also powerful movement forward afoot. And in the American workplace, statistics reflect glimmers of improvement: The HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index for 2019 reports that 571 businesses earned the CEI’s top score of 100, meeting higher benchmarks — including a record number offering transgender-inclusive health care policies. The CEI rates companies in four categories:

  • Non-discrimination policies.
  • Employment benefits.
  • Supporting an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility by including public commitment to LGBTQIA+ equality.
  • Responsible citizenship.

In How Openly LGBTQ+ Fortune 500 CEOs Are Changing the Corporate Game, we met high-powered, out leaders who are breaking barriers in order to build environments that support everyone’s success. Now we’ll introduce you to 17 CEOs — some out, some allies — who are promoting LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies, and therefore, diversity in the workplace. Their business approaches may differ, but their missions are aligned when it comes to intention and action. Here’s to some movement in the right direction.

1. Leanne Pittsford – CEO & Founder, Lesbians Who Tech

April 2020 will bring the 7th annual Lesbians Who Tech & Allies San Francisco Summit, the largest LGBTQ professional event in the world, where past speakers were 80% queer women, 50% women of color, 25% black and Latinx, and 10% transgender and/or nonbinary. The Lesbians Who Tech community counts 40,000 members in 40 city chapters worldwide. The mega-connector behind this feat is entrepreneur Leanne Pittsford, whose earlier work included managing data for Equality California, which raised millions for the No on Prop 8 campaign. In 2017, she launched, a mentoring and recruiting platform that fights bias in technology by scaling access to direct referrals for underrepresented candidates. The programs in LWT today include a coding scholarship for nonbinary and LGBTQ women; a mentoring program; Bring a Lesbian to Work Day; and a leadership program that supports members as they move into more-senior roles. 

2. Elizabeth Rutledge – Chief Marketing Officer, American Express

Named as CMO in 2018 after 25 years at American Express, Elizabeth Rutledge is keeping the nearly 200-year-old company ahead of the times with her modernization strategies and her commitment to drive and support diversity and inclusion efforts there. As she told The Points Guy, “You need to have diverse perspectives around the table in order to make great work and in order to drive growth.” This year the company’s Leadership Academy brought in more than 70 leaders in the LGBTQIA+ nonprofit space to provide advice, coaching and networking opportunities for staff in the early stages of their careers. As a member of AdWeek’s first Diversity & Inclusion Council, she works alongside other executives to fuel inclusion in the marketing industry, and these efforts have branded her as an innovator to watch.

3. Angelica Ross – President, TransTech Social Enterprises

As the force behind TransTech Social Enterprises, multihyphenate Angelica Ross built a creative design business outside of the formal education system, making a career out of helping others navigate the challenges that come with being a member of more than one minority. Since 2014 TransTech has provided professional training and employment opportunities to LGBTQ youth and adults, concentrating on trans and gender-nonconforming individuals. As she says, TransTech has “created a space for trans people to come together, work together, laugh together, go to lunch together. There’s strength in numbers. They’re building networks, and down the line they’ll think of each other when it comes to jobs.” Ross is a Navy veteran, actress (Her Story, Pose) and advocate named the “1st Foot Soldier of the Year” in 2015 by Melissa Harris Perry.

4. Arlan Hamilton – CEO, Founder & Managing Partner, Backstage Capital

“We invest in the very best founders who identify as women, people of color, or LGBT, in the U.S. I personally identify as all three,” says Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, who built her fund from the ground up in 2015, while homeless. Today Backstage has invested more than $5 million into 130 startup companies led by underestimated founders. The fund is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders. Furthering her mission of inclusion, Backstage Studio was co-founded in 2018 to launch four accelerator programs in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and London. Hamilton was the first black woman non-celebrity to be featured on the cover of Fast Company.

5. Beto Yarce – Executive Director, Ventures

In some cities, it’s easier to be yourself in public. Beto Yarce, who received an Outstanding LGBTQ Business Leaders award from Puget Sound Business Journal, said to the publication: “I am an immigrant who was undocumented that was able to start a business with only $250,” Yarce said. “Since the first day I walked on Broadway holding my boyfriend’s hand, I felt like Seattle was an amazing progressive city, but we need to continue creating policies that remove barriers for LGBTQ and other minority communities.” Ventures adapts the Grameen Bank model for the Puget Sound region with its training programs and financial services for those with “limited resources and unlimited potential.” Receiving a City of Seattle Emerging Leader Pride Award, Yarce is a vital advocate for LGBTQ equity in education, human rights, politics, business opportunities and philanthropy.

6. Stacey Friedman – General Counsel, JPMorgan Chase

When Stacey Friedman became the first openly gay partner at a Wall Street law firm, she realized the ripple effect that visibility can have, and decided to increase her efforts in fighting for LGBTQ rights. Her mission is to “create a culture of respect through everyday actions,” and to encourage young bankers and lawyers to understand that sexual orientation and gender shouldn’t be professional barriers. As a thought leader at JPMorgan Chase, Friedman has led initiatives including a review of how the firm’s infertility and surrogacy benefits were adversely impacting employees in same-sex relationships. This review led to the recommendation to waive the infertility pre-certification requirement to access pregnancy-inducing procedures.

7. Robyn Streisand – CEO, The Mixx

CEO Robyn Streisand was elected to Out Magazine’s OUT100 in 2016 for her contributions to promoting diversity in the workplace. “It meant the world to me to be recognized as a thought leader in the marketing space and for the visibility our work brings to the LGBT community,” she said. Titanium Worldwide is a certified-diverse collective of media, marketing and communications agencies operating as a single agency; The Mixx is a boutique strategic creative agency. As noted in Ad Age, Streisand’s mission is “to educate brands, agencies, and fellow entrepreneurs on the benefits of working with diverse-owned companies.” She’s also on the Board of Advisors for the Phluid Project, which is the world’s first gender-free shopping experience.

8. Lisa Davis – Managing Director, Global Head of Enterprise Services, Citigroup

Lisa Davis co-founded the Citi PRIDE Employee network and was co-chair of the NYC Chapter from 2011-2014. She participates as a leader in Citi’s diversity recruiting efforts specifically targeting LGBT+ people, and now represents North America on the PRIDE Affinity Steering Committee. At a Citi PRIDE networking event and panel for students, Davis and other panelists told personal stories that illustrated Citi’s commitment to providing a safe space for LGBTQIA+ identifying employees. Davis said of the event, “My hope is that the students walk away understanding the importance of a company’s commitment to diversity, not just from a business profitability perspective, but just as a good business practice, [and that] whatever my affinity is, it will be important to the firm.”

9. Joey Gonzalez – CEO, Barry’s Bootcamp

Joey Gonzalez is as committed to diversity and inclusion at Barry’s as he is to Barry’s, where he worked his way up to CEO over 11 years, starting as a customer, self-professed superfan and then instructor. He still teaches in the famed ‘red room’ at least once per week. 40,000 members are able to see the openly gay father of two leading the company and developing the brand’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by making each Barry’s studio unique to its community. During Pride month, Barry’s features United We Sprint, a frequency challenge that celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community. All proceeds from completed challenges are donated to the Family Equality Council, where Gonzalez is a board member. 

10. Cliff Hopkins – Global Head of Marketing, Instagram and Member of the Board, The Trevor Project

As noted on his Trevor Project bio, at Instagram Cliff Hopkins oversees the global marketing teams that communicate out how people can use the platform to express themselves and connect. He founded the LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group, which has a focus on giving back to the larger community. In 2017, Hopkins was recognized by the Financial Times as one of the top 100 LGBT+ executives in the world for the way Instagram speaks to the LGBT+ community through its programs and advertising. Hopkins sits on the board of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Trevor Project, which provides crucial crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under 25.

11. Hayley Sudbury – Founder & CEO, WERKIN

A former Barclays senior executive, tech entrepreneur Hayley Sudbury founded WERKIN, an analytics platform that uses behavioral science to improve diversity in company hiring practices. WERKIN’s “nudge” technology makes diverse talent more visible, and turns mentoring programs into sponsorships. WERKIN partners with companies for whom equality is a core value. An out lesbian, Sudbury is an active mentor for women in STEM careers, and an advocate for workplaces that let employees bring their whole selves to work. She was 2017’s Champion Winner in the We Are Tech Women’s Tech 50 Awards. Watch Sudbury’s TEDxShoreditch talk, How to hack the workplace in 10 minutes.

12. Gabrielle Novacek – Partner & Managing Director, The Boston Consulting Group

“Diversity and inclusion are more than our ambition. They’re our advantage.” These words from Boston Consulting Group set the tone for the 50-year-old global management consulting firm, where Gabrielle Novacek has served as leader of the LGBTQIA+ employee group “[email protected]” since 2010. In straightforward language, BCG lets candidates know right away that LGBT employees will be respected and celebrated. The group offers a thoughtful approach to membership with three levels: general membership (out to all of BCG), confidential membership (out only to [email protected]) or a confidential subscriber to emails (out only to [email protected] leadership). Novacek has contributed to the expansion of internal benefits and policies, including trans and unmarried domestic partner health coverage in the U.S.

13. Monica Boll – Managing Director, Accenture

In 2018 Monica Boll became the global sponsor for Accenture’s Pride Employee Resource Group. As a woman in the LGBTQIA+ and Latinx communities, diversity is a core principle for this leader. In an interview with Out Leadership, Boll described how coming out and being LGBTQIA+ has influenced her leadership approach and style. “I am focused on finding common ground and intersection points with people. We have a lot more in common than not.  By finding that connection, and understanding people’s strengths, you can get to consensus faster and build high-performing teams.” In 2016 and 2017, she supported an Accenture partnership with the United Nations to create and launch their Standards of Conduct for Business: Tackling discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People.

14. Catherine P. Bessant – Chief Operations & Technology Officer, Bank of America

Considered one of the most powerful women in banking, since 2010 Catherine Bessant has led Global Technology and Operations at Bank of America, delivering end-to-end tech and operating services through nearly 95,000 employees in more than 35 countries. With this visibility and powerful position, Bessant serves as executive sponsor for the company’s Disability Advisory Council. Prior to that she was the executive sponsor for the LGBT Pride executive board and she led the creation of the LGBT Ally program. She was named a top OUTstanding LGBT+ Ally Executive by the Financial Times.

15. Karen Magee – EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer, Time Warner

At Time Warner, Karen Magee is responsible for corporate human resources, global compensation and benefits, global organization and leadership development, worldwide recruitment and executive search, and diversity. Speaking at an OutWOMEN breakfast for business leaders during 2017’s U.S. LGBT+ Senior Leader Summit, Magee shared her personal story. “What I do know is that coming out and living out in every aspect of your life is the single most powerful change agent we have,” she said. “The question for us today is how do we turbocharge that? What actions can we take that will leverage our power beyond just the companies we work for, so that future generations will realize the dream of true LGBT+ equality.”

16. Rosanna Durruthy – Vice President, Global Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, LinkedIn

In her role at LinkedIn, Rosanna Durruthy attracts and develops leadership with a focus on empowering all employees, members and customers to realize their full potential. She is a member of the Business Advisory Council of the Human Rights campaign, providing her expertise and counsel on LGBTQIA+ workplace issues. She has been recognized as one of the United States’ leading professional Hispanic women and an influential mind in the diversity & inclusion space, as noted in her Crunchbase bio. In this interview with the Good Life Project, she speaks about “the power of being open, finding your own voice and power, valuing others and creating a sense of welcoming, compassion and understanding in our lives in the name of making it a richer place to be being a catalyst for change.”

17.  Claudia Brind-Woody – Vice President, IBM

Claudia Brind-Woody is Vice President and Managing Director for IBM Global Intellectual Property and Advanced Technology Licensing, as well as co-chair of the IBM Executive LGBT Taskforce. In 2011, she received the “Out & Equal Trailblazer Award” for her work in LGBT diversity. Brind-Woody has done much to improve and support inclusion at IBM since the ’90s. In an interview, she was asked how being an LGBTQIA+ person has influenced her leadership approach and style. “Authenticity is the key one, because when you work with people, trust is the basis of how you work together,” she said. “Being LGBT+ is not bad. It’s who we are, it’s ordinary. I use the word ‘ordinary’ very intentionally … it’s very, very powerful to create an environment where people can be ordinary.”

For more inspiring stories, see the OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Model Lists from London-based organization and consultancy INvolve. Each year since 2013, they have highlighted executives, ally executives, future leaders and others that champion diversity and inclusion in business. As they say, “With powerful and visible role models providing concrete evidence and inspiration for what can be achieved within business, minority talent are able to see themselves in the leadership of the future.”

Rachel Shimp is a copy editor with a background in journalism on arts and culture.

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