LBT women may face obstacles in the business world because of their sexual orientation, but according to a recent panel at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce conference, being female might still be the greatest hurdle.
A group of prominent women discussed both realities at the conference's Women Business Initiative Roundtable Aug. 10.
Panelists included Chicago Cubs Co-Owner Laura Ricketts, CIA Center for Mission Inclusion and Diversity Director Carmen Middleton, Jeanne Gang who designed the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel and Catherine Pino, a lobbyist and director of the documentaries "The Latino List" and the upcoming "The LGBT List." Janet Mock, the transgender advocate who was until recently an editor at People.com moderated the panel.
Mock told her own coming out story, which she said started at a young age.
"My gender was the first 'this I know for sure' moment, as Oprah likes to call it," she said.
Mock began her transition as a teen and endured years of bullying. But a diploma from the University of Hawaii and then a Master's in journalism from New York University eventually landed her an editor position at People.com .
Last year, Mock revealed she was transgender in Marie Claire magazine.
She was afraid, she said. Coming out might hamper her career or get her fired. But she recognized a trend among other trans women of color, whose stories rarely make headlines and are almost never told in uplifting, respectful ways.
"Girls like us are often deemed knock-offs of the real thing," she said.
But successful in her own career, she wanted to send a message: "Girls like us are capable of so much more."
Where many who come out as trans are met with violence she said, she wanted people to know that coming out might also be met with love.
Mock was promoted at People.com shortly after. She recently resigned from that position to begin writing her memoir.
Ricketts also had a successful career before coming out as a lesbian. The Nebraska native comes from a family of entrepreneurs, best known as the owners of the Chicago Cubs and TD Ameritrade.
Ricketts moved to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago and then went to law school at the University of Michigan.
She had a successful but unhappy career practicing law thereafter.
"I've always had this entrepreneurial bug," she said, adding that she felt limited as an attorney.
Ricketts gave up law and founded Ecotravel.com, a company that failed during the dot-com bust.
For a long time, Ricketts had not been out as gay. However, in 2004 she watched President Bush tell the world during his State of the Union address that he wanted a constitutional amendment to "defend marriage."
Ricketts immediately realized, she said, "I needed to stand up and be counted as LGBT."
Since becoming the first openly gay owner of a major league baseball team, however, Ricketts said she feels she faces more obstacles as a woman than as a gay person.
Pino, who is also an out lesbian, said her goal has long been to live and work authentically. Pino and her partner in life and work, Ingrid Duran, head D&P Creative Strategies, which aims to elevate women, LGBT people and Latinos in government and beyond.
The two live and work unapologetically, said Pino.
"If people don't want to work with us, then we don't want to work with them," she said.
Gang, who does not identify as LGBT, has also faced hurdles as a female architect.
Gang had been told repeatedly that she was entering a male-dominated field and that as a woman, she would never be able to design tall buildings.
"It didn't even cross my mind to let that affect my choice," she said.
Gang graduated with a master's from Harvard University and eventually started her own company, Studio Gang Architects. Years later, at a Harvard alumi dinner, she happened to sit down next to a developer. Six months later, he called her and asked her to design the Radisson's Blu Aqua Hotel. The hotel, which hosted the panel discussion, is currently the tallest building in the world designed by a female.
Finally, Middleton discussed her work at the CIA, where she has watched LGBT people become increasingly accepted over 28 years. Middleton noted that CIA has historically been conservative and reticent to accept LGBT people because they were seen as easier to exploit when being gay was taboo.
Today, that reality is different said Middleton, who like Gang is not LGBT-identified. CIA now sees that cultivating diversity and comfort among employees, makes them better workers.
"We can't afford to not have any CIA officer be their best," she said.
The panel discussion wrapped up with a brief question-and-answer session.
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