LGBT tech pros thrive and lead in supportive workplaces
“I vet potential employers for non-negotiables: do they value diversity, offer domestic partner benefits, participate in LGBT and women’s events?” – Kari Escobedo, T-Mobile US
“My contributions, accomplishments and career progression have all accelerated exponentially” because of NBCUniversal’s inclusive workplace – Chris Baker
By Angela M. Hutchinson
Diversity as a business strategy is giving companies a competitive global advantage. Hiring gay engineers or lesbian IT professionals is no longer just “the right thing to do.” Most corporations now realize that it makes good business sense to hire and retain talented men and women from ethnically diverse groups and the LGBT community as well.
“In talent acquisition, we have a defined diversity recruitment strategy, and we attend recruiting events that let us connect with LGBT students and professionals,” says Lissiah Hundley, director of diversity and inclusion at cable company Cox Communications (Atlanta, GA). “We have college recruiters who connect with LGBT student associations. Many of our recruiters also have relationships with LGBT community centers in their areas.”
Many companies take pride in their LGBT recruitment efforts and workplace retention. According to Barbara Williams, director of HR, diversity and inclusion at computer technology company Oracle (Redwood City, CA), the company has achieved a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for the last six years. “We leverage our HRC standing as a Best Place to Work when we sponsor LGBT community events, and we note that on our corporate citizenship site,” Williams says. Oracle regularly attends job fairs designed to serve the LGBT community.
Wireless communications company T-Mobile US, Inc (Bellevue, WA) finds professionals through LGBT organizations like Out and Equal and the LGBTCareerLink database. Leaders want word of mouth to play a bigger role as well. “I would love to see even more employee referrals drive our diversity recruitment,” says Holli Martinez, director of diversity and inclusion.
Thriving and leading in an open environment
Companies that hire and retain LGBT technical professionals are seeing these techies become leaders in the workplace.
Many LGBT executives now play a critical role in ensuring a diverse workplace. “As a member of the LGBT community, I know the importance of working for a company where you can live an open and proud life,” says Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal. “NBC-Universal’s long history as an employer of choice for LGBT people is one of our most powerful recruiting tools.” NBCUniversal and its parent company, Comcast, also work with a number of external partners, like the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, to attract new employees. “OUT@NBCUniversal and OUT@Comcast, our company’s LGBT employee resource groups, are great allies in helping recruit new talent,” Robinson adds.
IT program management VP Chris Baker: NBCUniversal embraces diversity
In 2005, Chris Baker joined NBCUniversal. As the VP of IT program management, he oversees and leads a number of IT governance and business operations groups at NBCUniversal. He works in Los Angeles, CA with a team of fifty-two employees plus contractors in North America and India. He also has indirect process management oversight of another 450 technical professionals.
“The variety of my days here at NBC-Universal is one of the aspects of my role that I really enjoy,” says Baker.
Baker earned his bachelors in humanities and English with a minor in computer information systems. He chose to work for NBCUniversal primarily because of its reputation. “I’ve had an affinity for NBC television and for Universal Studios ever since I was a kid, growing up in the neighborhood of the Universal Studios back lot and the NBC Burbank studios,” says Baker. He remembers as a teenager watching the construction of the skyscraper office building that he works in today. At the time, he reflects, “I said to myself, ‘one day I’m going to work there.’”
Opening up accelerates success
He first opened up about his sexual orientation to his friends and family in 1991. “It seems I was the last one to know this about me,” says Baker. “With my employers, however, I was out to only a few trusted co-workers and was never fully out to my management until I came to NBCUniversal.”
When Baker came to NBCUniversal in 2005, it was the first time in his career when he felt his workplace was a safe space. He was working for and alongside people who truly valued and embraced diversity. “Because of that, I have been able to bring my whole self to work every day in a setting that rewards and recognizes hard work and achievement,” says Baker. “As a result, my contributions, accomplishments and career progression have all accelerated exponentially.”
Baker feels that diversity is “a crucial differentiator in successfully doing business in a modern world whose people, by virtue of technology, are becoming more interconnected with one another every day.”
Baker finds his work rewarding and his company a great place to work. He says, “NBCUniversal and our parent company, Comcast, are more than supportive of diversity. It is an operational imperative that the talent we have at this company in the office, and in front of and behind the camera, reflects the communities we serve.”
Advanced product development engineer Vicki Evan discovers the right fit at 3M
Vicki Evan is an advanced product development engineer for multinational corporation 3M (St. Paul, MN). She’s been there for eight years. She works in the commercial graphics division, where she manages several product categories. “I address customer complaints and develop new products in my categories. Our products include graphics on semis, airplanes, RVs, cars and more,” she says.
Evan, who was born in Minnesota, got her 2004 bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Iowa State University (Ames). In 2012, she earned her masters degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis).
She is now married to a woman from California. Evan explained her sexual preference to her parents when she was twenty. “I did not do some big announcement. I talked to the rest of my family when I could after that,” she says. “I have been out at work since I started in 2005.”
Being a lesbian has not affected Evan’s day-to-day work at 3M. “I come to work and do the job like anyone else. But I think it has changed my career path. When looking for a new position, I made sure to find a work group that would accept me as openly gay and not let it affect our work relationships,” she says.
“With any sort of diversity, there can be challenges. The few times that someone has said something about my gender, orientation or age, I remember that there are many more people who don’t care and who support me in the work I do.”
A supportive environment
A number of employee groups at 3M openly support many kinds of diversity. “3M has a great reputation and as a large company they have huge internal opportunities. I can move around within 3M and get different experiences without leaving,” she says.
Her daily responsibility at 3M is to manage her product portfolio. “I ensure that any product changes are tested, and communicate the results to appropriate people,” she says. “When customer complaints or manufacturing issues arise, I need to make sure product information is available to those who need it, and I coordinate any additional testing needed to help with the issues.”
According to Evan, 3M truly values its employees. “Diversity in the technical industry is what will lead to future innovations. Different backgrounds, styles of working, ages, genders, abilities, and orientations all play a part in how people think and develop products.”
Support, direction and community inspire Cox data analyst Fahad Abuljedayal
For thirteen years, Fahad Abuljedayal has been working at Cox Communications in Las Vegas, NV. As a construction data analyst, he provides operational and financial support to the construction department. He tracks financial performance of projects and works with leadership to make adjustments that keep projects on track. He also works with leaders and corporate counterparts on new software implementations for construction management.
“I provide escalated assistance to our planners and contractors on jobs with high financial impact or visibility. The day can be pretty hectic, so managing my calendar is key to ensuring I provide the team with what they need to do their jobs.”
Orientation: a non-issue
“I have been open about my sexual orientation since I was twenty-three. I came out to a coworker first, then my mother and family shortly thereafter,” he says. His family has been very supportive from the beginning, assuring him that they wanted him to be happy in life with the choices he has made.
“In the workplace, I’ve found it to be a non-issue as it relates to expectations and performance of my duties. I’m surrounded by a team that’s bright and enthusiastic and provides support and direction to help me succeed.”
In 2001 Abuljedayal got his bachelors degree in information systems management from the University of Central Oklahoma-Edmond. “At the time, Cox was preparing to launch high-speed Internet as well as digital cable. I was fortunate to join the company at that exciting time,” he says. He had attended a vocational high school and was certified in computer information systems. “I was encouraged to apply at Cox by one of my vocational teachers. After interviewing for various positions within the company, an opportunity to join the data processing team opened up and I jumped on it,” he says.
Abuljedayal says that his openness about being gay has impacted him in many positive ways. “I’m more comfortable with my colleagues as a result of not hiding who I am. Before I came out, this was always a source of concern; how will I be perceived? Not being out added another layer of stress to the launch of a new product or a deadline situation,” he says. “I have not experienced any work challenges from being a member of the LGBT community; my leaders have always been proud and supportive of me.”
Cox has several visible achievers and mentors who are members of the LGBT community. “They provide footsteps that I can follow in achieving my professional goals,” he says.
The pride of community impact
Abuljedayal enjoys working at Cox for more than just the paycheck. “Cox is big in the communities they service and that’s important to me. I have a sense of pride about the work we do in the community. While working here, I’ve participated in school supply drives, blood donation events, even marching with my colleagues in the Las Vegas LGBT Pride Parade,” he says. “Cox does not shy away from any activity that has community impact.”
Diversity in the workplace is a way for companies to develop new ideas and discover solutions. Abuljedayal says, “There’s an art to technology, and diverse backgrounds and viewpoints allow that art to flourish.”
J. Chris Rebman is a master principal sales consultant at Oracle
In 1997, J. Chris Rebman joined PeopleSoft, now Oracle, as a master principal sales consultant. He works remotely from his home office in Los Angeles, CA. Rebman focuses on understanding prospects’ and customers’ key business requirements and challenges. “My role is to demonstrate how Oracle products provide value to our customers by meeting key business requirements and solving their business challenges,” he says.
“I came out in 1998 and have been out for both family and workplace since that time,” says Rebman. At Oracle, his orientation has been accepted much more easily than at his previous jobs in the rural Midwest. “At Oracle, I had options from day one for partner benefits. Since I have been here, Oracle has always made being gay a non-issue,” he says.
In 1984, Rebman graduated with an associates degree in applied business, majoring in data processing, from North Central Technical College (Mansfield, OH). Rebman also attended the Ohio State University-Columbus and Akron University (OH) and is working toward his bachelors in business administration.
After college, Rebman started his career in software development. “After working my way up the ranks in software development, I switched to selling software when I joined PeopleSoft.” Oracle acquired PeopleSoft in 2005.
At Oracle, inclusivity spurs creativity
For Rebman, the Oracle workplace provides a secure feeling, one that he wishes he had experienced as a teenager in rural Ohio. “It certainly is nice to know that no one working at Oracle would get away with any kind of abusive comments or inappropriate behavior,” he says.
The software industry as a whole depends heavily on creativity, and Rebman believes that environments that allow employees to be themselves foster that creativity. “I can’t imagine expecting myself to be hugely creative while having to hide or lie about my sexual orientation,” he says. “I believe the overall acceptance and the value that Oracle places on diversity is a huge benefit to all employees, gay and straight alike.”
Enterprise systems development VP Kari Escobedo: leadership at T-Mobile US
For the past three years, Kari Escobedo has worked at T-Mobile. As vice president of enterprise systems development, she leads the technology team that supports the company’s enterprise systems and all back office applications and business functions.
She is responsible for aligning and guiding technology solutions, platforms and architecture. “I am a motivational leader who focuses on collaboration and solution design within the environment and helps lead this organization to focus on the customer,” she says. “In my career, I have focused on introducing new and diverse technologies that are always results-oriented and business-oriented, and that align with the technology strategy.” Her team of 800-900 IT professionals supports hundreds of business initiatives and projects at any given time.
“I grew up in the military on a variety of military bases, and that had a significant influence on my life. My dad was a career Marine, so the expectation of integrity and pride was instilled in me from day one,” she says.
Core values are critical
At age fifteen, Escobedo came out to her family and friends about her sexuality. In her mid-twenties, she opened up within the workplace. “I’ve never made a big deal out of it. However, I knew I didn’t want to work for a company that didn’t embrace diversity and inclusion as part of their core values. That has been critical for me,” says Escobedo. “I have never encountered outright issues or discrimination because of my sexual orientation; there was actually more challenge in me being a woman in technology than being a lesbian.”
Escobedo graduated in 1994 with a bachelors degree from California State University-Fullerton, where she studied business administration. “Before I decide to talk to any company about going to work for them, I have already vetted the company for what I consider non-negotiables: do they value diversity, do they offer benefits for domestic partners, do they participate locally and nationally in LGBT and women’s events and issues, are they leaders or have the potential to break out and lead in these areas?” says Escobedo.
“Over the years I have enjoyed the support of the LGBT community in both direct and indirect ways. I have built a network with other LGBT professionals in and out of technology across the Puget Sound area. And we have forged bonds with local companies and nonprofits that have advanced acceptance and benefits, benefits I have had the opportunity to enjoy.”
According to Escobedo, a diverse employee base creates diversity of thought in innovation, technology and business. She says, “If we don’t consciously seek out team members with such varied backgrounds and experiences, we will never be able to meet the changing needs of our customers.”
Execs on diversity and the LGBT community
At Oracle, a diverse workforce is considered a strategic advantage. “When managed effectively and embedded into the organization’s culture, studies show that companies that drive innovation by leveraging employee ideas and knowledge meet product revenue targets forty-six percent more often, and product launch dates forty-seven percent more often than industry peers,” says Barbara Williams of Oracle. “In 2013, we produced a video for the It Gets Better project, of which we are very proud. While the purpose of this project and our video contribution is to help at-risk LGBT youth, its release is meaningful to the broader LGBT community as well.”
When a diverse technical workplace is valued and leveraged properly, Williams says, “a spectrum of experiences, broader perspectives and capabilities fosters innovative solutions, products and processes as well as creativity, idea generation and problem solving.”
According to 3M’s chief diversity officer Rhonda Graves, “To remain competitive and meet the changing needs of our customers and employees, 3M continues to cultivate diverse perspectives. Developing an open and inclusive workplace that leverages the creativity of our global employees is fundamental to our innovative culture.
“Our recruiting efforts are focused on identifying the best possible talent, and we look for individuals who share our commitment to innovation and excellence. We recognize the business imperative for our workforce to reflect our communities and our customers, and we partner with professional associations and academic institutions to help identify diverse candidates for employment at 3M.”
At T-Mobile, “Diversity of thought is critical in technical fields as diverse perspectives and ideas lead to more creative innovation and outcomes,” says Holli Martinez, director of diversity and inclusion.
“Diversity is important in every area of our business, and the technical field is no exception,” says Craig Robinson of NBCUniversal. “As we all know, technology continues to drive every aspect of our business, and diversifying that workforce is an ongoing priority for NBCUniversal and Comcast.”
According to Lissiah Hundley of Cox, “Our diverse workplace promotes innovation in technology and enables us to develop products and services that appeal to our diverse customer base.”
Cox has strong relationships with national partners, works closely on LGBT initiatives and attends conferences like Out and Equal and Reaching Out MBA to recruit qualified talent. “Our national partner, HRC, also provides opportunities for us to connect with the LGBT community,” says Hundley. “It’s important for Cox to show our commitment to diversity so the LGBT community will consider us an employer of choice.”
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