Annual Gathering of the LGBTQ Alliance
Updated: Jan 1, 2020
“Careers are not a zero sum game”. As I was listening to Beth Ford, I could not help but notice I was witnessing the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey in action.
President and CEO at Land O’Lakes, Beth Ford (She / Her / Hers) was one of the many inspiring leaders I listened to and engaged with during the 2019 Annual LGBTQ Conference of the Alliance in Miami.
I endeavour to attend one or two of these conferences each year, where I take a back seat. I mostly listen, ask questions and learn to bring back with me a few “golden nuggets” and insights. I usually return home both humbled and energised.
The Alliance this year was again one of those that inspired me. As I sat in the room listening to these tremendous stories, I could not help but notice how much more I could accomplish. Being surrounded by such amazing people made me pause. It made me ask myself how I could be more positively impactful for the LGBTQ community.
"We Are in No-one’s Pocket!"
Beth Ford approaches her career with a 1+1 = 3 mindset. She invests in herself, develops new skills, stretches herself and develops people around her as she progresses.
As her career path takes her through intellectually fascinating places, she does not lose track of who she is: a married lesbian with a family. And in that context, not all options - however fantastic on paper - can work. For instance, why would she accept a fabulous job requiring her to move to places where being a lesbian would only be tolerated in pockets? “She is in no one’s pocket”, she said.
Her comment “Careers are a journey; allow yourself to go on that journey” resonated the most with me. Facing ups and downs is part of the journey and everyone’s biggest challenge is to know where we - not others - want to go.
Looking back at my own career path, I have been the most effective when I had a clear picture of the end game. I stayed focused and ignored the endless flow of distractions and faced up to the challenges that life threw at me. And I adapted, as my journey took me outside of my comfort zone, more times than I could count.
Moving up the ladder
As the conference continued, we went on to discuss a particularly insightful piece of research on the LGBQ women* in the workplace.
The figures were scary**. The relative number of women in senior positions in companies is a fraction of those at entry level, and LGBQ women (and men for that matter) fare far worse than their straight colleagues. This comes in addition to a feeling of isolation, poor workplace experience (e.g. derogatory comments, harassment) and a need to put far more work in for the same outcome compared to straight folks.
Though this presentation painted a rather grim landscape, it left me with a positive feeling. Indeed, the topic is no longer ignored and thrown under a rug. We have some very clear data and there is a willingness to help.
But the community needs to recognise that it will take time. We need more visible role models like Beth Ford to help LGBTQ folks build confidence and show we can make it to the top, whilst remaining true to ourselves.
Are we all Queers?
We discussed many more topics in the following hours ranging from the need to “decolonise” the workplace from its patriarchal culture to the importance of intersectionality and the 6 years it took to put diversity and inclusion on the agenda at Davos.
As the conference concluded, I was pondering Ana Arriola’s suggestion that we reclaim the term “Queer” for the LGBTQ+ community. I must recognise there is some beauty in the simplicity of the word, especially to replace “LGBTIQ+++” which seems to be never ending and de-facto excludes part of the population it covers (covered under the “+”).
Yet, there is no ignoring how divisive and loaded this term is. It also strikes me that there is a certain defiance in this suggestion and I wonder to what extent this would benefit the community or simply put it back. Food for thought!
* Not enough data was available on the trans community to feature in the research.
** Figures could not be communicated in this blog.