Forward-looking companies gladly bring in savvy LGBT techies
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender technical pros are out & about in companies of every description
Gay pride is at work in the hiring companies as well as among the techies themselves
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
Senior Contributing Editor
Sadly, in the majority of states it's still legal for employers to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. But there's hope that the practice is fading, as more and more forward-thinking companies are proud to include members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in their technical workforces as part of a positive work environment that promotes key values of diversity and inclusion.
Today, LGBT technical pros are out and about in companies of every description, from technology and insurance to consumer products and the auto industry. Here are profiles of nine LGBT techies and the progressive companies that support their careers.
Tech advisor Lee Hughes: "all very supportive" at CVS Caremark
Lee Hughes is a technical advisor at CVS Caremark (Woonsocket, RI). CVS Caremark is a pharmacy healthcare provider in the U.S. with business in mail order, retail and specialty pharmacies, and "MinuteClinics," health clinics located in CVS pharmacies across the U.S. Its Caremark business manages pharmacy benefits and provides additional services. Hughes works on a team of twenty at CVS Caremark's Scottsdale, AZ support center, providing technical expertise in voice communications for the company.
The work involves researching and testing new technical solutions for the business units, managing technical projects in voice communications, designing voice solutions that meet business requirements, sourcing solutions, managing the installation process and providing advanced-level support.
"My job is to make sure we not only provide basic phone service for our pharmacy customers, but also provide voice technology that enhances the customer experience. We use automated technologies for self-service, assisted dialing for patient follow-up, and enhanced call routing and call distribution technologies to ensure that the patient gets to the right CVS Caremark associate the first time," says Hughes.
Hughes grew up in Searsville, New Brunswick, Canada. He got a BA with honors in Latin from the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton, NB) in 1989, and studied Roman imperial history at the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH). In 1993 he went to work as a clerk with Hook SupeRx, Inc, a Cincinnati-based drugstore chain.
A year later he moved to Revco (Twinsburg, OH), another drugstore chain, in client services. That chain was bought out by CVS in 1997 and Hughes joined the new company as a technician in IS site support. He went on to telecom manager, and, in 2007, his current job.
"We were working to integrate the CVS and Caremark systems. I volunteered for multiple integration projects and applied my decade-plus of experience in the CVS PharmaCare division to support the process. Senior management offered me the technical advisor job based on my expertise," Hughes says.
Although he didn't start out in technology, Hughes has always liked the technical side of the job. "I asked lots of questions and volunteered whenever there was a need. I also had several good mentors within the company and I participated in technical training opportunities that arose as the prescription benefits management industry continued to develop," he explains.
Hughes says his experience as an LGBT person has been very positive at CVS Caremark. He's currently working with the diversity office to establish a Scottsdale, AZ chapter of the company's LGBT affinity group, and he's a repeat recipient of Trio, a CVS Caremark service award that requires a nomination.
"The atmosphere here is positive," he says. "My co-workers have all been very supportive, and I am pleased to have my husband as both a beneficiary and a dependent of my health benefits, even though I work in a state that does not recognize the relationship."
Design engineer Suzanne Wait: "as out as you can be" at Ford
"People need to stand up for themselves and be willing to be out. The more people out, the better it is for everyone, and I'm about as out as it's possible to be!" says Suzanne Wait, a product design engineer in the power-train control area of Ford Motor Co (Dearborn, MI). Wait notes that Ford offers domestic partner benefits and has received a corporate rating of 100 percent on the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC, www.hrc.org). HRC is America's largest LGBT civil rights organization.
Wait is responsible for programming computer controls for engines and transmissions. She's currently working with a team on Ford's EcoBoost engine.
"EcoBoost has a turbocharger," she explains. "I design the appropriate software for it based on the engine spec. I also implement and test it. The turbocharger allows a smaller engine with more power and better fuel economy."
The turbocharger is her main responsibility right now, but like most techies she likes to expand her technological horizons. "I'm involved in improving the work processes in the hardware area as well," she says.
Wait grew up in a small Michigan farming community. She received a BSME from Michigan Technological University in 1982, but for most of her career she's worked in software. She started out at Stouffer Robotics, a small firm outside Detroit, doing a bit of everything. In 1986 she began work as a contract employee doing embedded controls at Ford, and in 1989 she became a Ford employee, working on the Taurus. In 1990 she moved into electronic transmissions.
"I've done a number of lateral moves into different areas and really enjoyed it," she says. Her moves covered a new version of a power train control and work on the Aston Martin platform. In the mid 2000s I started on the EcoBoost," she says.
As an LGBT employee at Ford, Wait says the important challenge is "establishing a comfort level within yourself. I haven't heard of any issues in the office. But I find that if we're more accepting of ourselves, others will often be so as well."
She describes the environment at Ford as good. Ford Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees (GLOBE), Ford's LGBT employee resource group, was started in 1994 with Wait as one of the original members. She's been the chair and on the board as well. "I am pretty strongly involved," she says.
Wait clearly enjoys her work. "The EcoBoost technology is leading edge, and there's a lot to learn and many technical challenges. It makes work very interesting. It's also a lot of fun to see a vehicle on the road and know there's a little piece of me in it!
"This is a great place to work," she adds. "People have high standards and we all work together to make sure everyone has downtime and family time." In 2005 Wait received a diversity award from Ford and a volunteer of the year award from the Detroit area Pride organization.
Kellogg's Julie Whalen: "Embraced by the company and her colleagues"
As a senior launch program manager at Kellogg Company (Battle Creek, MI), Julie Whalen is responsible for launching new products at the global cereal and convenience foods company. She leads a cross-functional team that assesses project risks, resolves issues relating to projects and ensures that senior management has the appropriate information to make timely decisions.
Whalen grew up in Mt. Clemens, MI and has a 1993 BS in packaging from Michigan State University. She has spent most of her career as a packaging engineer.
She started off with Scott Paper Co (Dover, DE) in 1993, moved to Lever Brothers Co (Owings Mills, MD) in 1995 and on to Amway Corp (Ada, MI) as a research scientist and packaging engineer. In 2000 she became a packaging engineer with Kellogg, responsible for all aspects of new package development for several Kellogg convenience foods.
In 2002 she became a lead packaging engineer for morning foods and frozen foods, and in 2004 she rose to specialty channels packaging business partner, in charge of new package development for Kellogg's $1.2 billion specialty channels business unit.
In 2007 she became packaging manager for Kellogg's wholesome snacks, Pop-Tarts and fruit flavored snacks business units. She had been working at Kellogg packaging for nearly ten years when she applied for a job in the launch program management group.
"The jobs I've gotten over the years have been predicated on my strong work ethic, networking and connections," she says. "Developing relationships and trust with my colleagues has opened many doors in my career, including my current role."
As part of the LGBT community, "I can honestly say I haven't experienced any direct difficulties on my career path or in school," Whalen says. "However, I was not openly gay until I came to Kellogg in 2000. That was when I made the decision to be my full self.
"I feel I have been embraced and respected by the company and my colleagues, and I feel very comfortable talking at work about my partner and our kids."
Kellogg has provided domestic partner benefits since 2007 in most regions, including the U.S. The company's LGBT employee resource group is K-Pride & Allies. Whalen is one of the founding members and has served on the leadership team since its inception. In 2012 she will take over as a national co-chair for the group.
Whalen thinks the relationships she's developed at work are the most rewarding part of her job, but she has plenty of awards as well. In 2007 she was awarded a U.S. patent for packaging for Kellogg's Special K Bliss Bar cartons; in 2009 her new carton packaging enhancements brought her an award from the Paperboard Packaging Council for achievement in packaging.
Opportunity and diversity at Kellogg
Mark King, senior director for diversity and inclusion at Kellogg, says, "We know diversity and inclusion are business imperatives for succeeding in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. We think a diverse and inclusive workforce is more adaptable to change, more innovative and more open to new ideas. It also reflects our increasingly diverse consumer base."
King notes that the Human Rights Campaign recognized Kellogg as one of 2011's "best places to work for LGBT equality."
Kellogg hires technical experts
Rebecca Bartlett, director of human resources, reports that the company recently introduced the Kellogg IT Career Foundations Program (ITCFP), an entry-level, two-year program that lets recent college grads rotate through multiple IT areas.
In engineering, Kellogg primarily hires biosystems engineers, MEs and ChEs, along with some industrial engineers. The company is primarily interested in technical experts in engineering and people with expertise in capital project management. "We create a lot of career movement for our engineers, typically through global engineering, manufacturing operations and R&D," says Randy Scherer, senior director of engineering.
Supply chain manager Don Butler: an open, honest environment at Harris
Don Butler describes the work environment at Harris Corporation (Melbourne, FL) as open and honest. "I've had the pleasure of introducing my partner of sixteen years to three presidents of my business as well as to the entire senior staff and all my coworkers," he reports with pride.
Harris Corporation is an international communications and IT company that serves government and commercial markets worldwide. Butler started there in 1983 as a junior tech helper in the stock room, and today he's a senior manager of supply chain for the Harris IT Services business segment.
Over the years he took on various roles and increasing levels of responsibility in supply and procurement; in 1994 he transferred to Alexandria, VA to support the Washington operations as a procurement administrator.
"I was the only buyer for three or four years, and that's when I first got into the IT Services operation. Gradually the procurement department grew and now there are twenty of us," Butler says.
His current responsibilities include management and support of all supply chain activities, including sourcing, commodity management, procurement and proposal pricing. PeopleSoft is the manufacturing resource planning system used to run procurement.
Butler grew up in Satellite Beach, FL, one of seven boys. Both parents worked in the space program. "My fascination with engineering and technology began at a young age, and my career at Harris has included many proprietary support programs for the aerospace industry," he says.
Over his career Butler has experienced changes in attitudes toward the LGBT community. "One day a co-worker told me I was the first openly gay person he had really gotten to know, and working together taught him that he could no longer judge people for things he didn't understand. He had a gay uncle he had always rejected, and somehow knowing me made him want to make peace with his uncle, and he and his uncle are now friendly."
Butler has received a number of awards for his work over the years, including a March 2000 letter of commendation from the White House for work on a videoconference in support of an African peace conference and a June 2006 letter of appreciation from the Defense Information Systems Agency for quick response supporting a secure video teleconference between senior government leaders.
BJ Kamigaki: trail-blazing transitioning at Hewlett Packard
BJ Kamigaki is a hardware quality engineer and section manager at Hewlett Packard (Palo Alto, CA), a technology company that provides everything from PCs and printers to technical solutions for data centers. Kamigaki is in the inkjet and Web solutions group.
"Our team provides infrastructure and resources to test the quality of our inkjet products," she explains. "I interface with my direct team and managers to ensure that spend is on track and tools and resources are in place. Recently we moved the Vancouver, WA facilities and that has taken a lot of my time."
She notes that such a move is infrastructure-heavy, involving test chambers, shake tables and ambient test facilities. "It's challenging to do that without interrupting the development of programs," she explains. "Right now I'm figuring out what we're doing next in terms of new programs and responsibilities. We're talking about gaining efficiency across the whole infrastructure of testing and across inkjet and Web Solutions."
Kamigaki has 300 people in her section, including groups in San Diego, CA and Vancouver, WA. She lives in Iowa, where her partner is retired, and works from home. "The technology offers tremendous freedom," she says.
She has worked for HP her entire career, starting after high school as an assembler. It was immediately apparent she could do more, and she was given a new job within a week. Over the years she worked her way up the technical ladder and has done coursework toward a BS in electronics engineering, but most of her technical skills were acquired on the job. Product reliability, regulations and safety are her current focus.
Growing up in Utah and Colorado she always knew she was different from her peers, but didn't have the words to describe it. "I was about thirty-five when I realized I was transgender," she says.
In 2004 Kamigaki transitioned from male to female. "It can end a career when you do that, but our company has great policies in place," she says. "Today I moderate a group of HP employees dealing with transition and being gender-fluid. Transitioning here has become a well-known process, and I helped trail-blaze that. I was one of the most visible transitions, and now managers come to me and ask for help in what they should do.
"Helping others is my passion," she says, and adds that HP Pride, the company's LGBT employee resource group, was very supportive, as was the company.
"Coming out is a lifelong process," she notes. "My own experiences have helped me better understand individuality, and my ability to understand others helps make me a successful manager."
At General Mills, Jon Firebaugh is a member of Betty's Family
General Mills (Minneapolis, MN) is in the food business. "Our research involves learning about and improving food from the farm to the kitchen table," says Jon Firebaugh, a senior scientist at the company. He leads an innovation team that supports Latin America in the international division.
"I work with a number of other well-qualified people in operations, where I play more of a consulting role," he says. He travels between a quarter and half the time to manufacturing locations in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
General Mills has many global brands such as Nature Valley and Old El Paso, local brands like Diablitos, and innovation centers throughout the world. Firebaugh oversees lab work, makes trips to plants during the launch of new products to troubleshoot and validate new lines, and attends trade conferences to look for new solutions to problems. "We have a connected-innovation model: we partner with other companies to solve problems that we all have," he explains.
Firebaugh grew up in a small town in North Carolina and has a 2001 BS and 2004 MS in food science from North Carolina State University.
At school he interned with General Mills in QA, but his first job out of school was with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (Morris Plains, NJ) in Sanford, NC as a validation scientist. However he was soon drawn to work at General Mills again.
"Food is exciting to me," he says. "I liked the culture of the company and I wanted to use my food-science background and get back to working with brands. I still had relationships with people at General Mills and I worked those to get back here."
Firebaugh notes that simplifying a technical concept so others can grasp it is one of the important aspects of his job. "I work with people from areas like marketing and finance, so being able to convey technical information to a non-science crowd is crucial."
General Mills' LGBT affinity group is called Betty's Family, after company emblem Betty Crocker. Firebaugh notes that the company's values of fairness and equality are very strong. "As I've grown in my career here, I've become more confident and open about who I am. The corporation supports all employees. It's a very diverse environment!" he proclaims.
Rodney Frazier: always out and very comfortable at Dell
Dell (Round Rock, TX) offers technology solutions for a range of global customers from individual consumers through public entities and large corporations. For the last eight years the company has maintained a score of 100 percent on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index. In fact, "We're even a year ahead of the HRC. We already offer transgender benefits, including coverage for transitioning surgery, counseling and support," says Rodney Frazier, program manager for Dell's global e-commerce efforts.
Currently he's leading a global program to re-engineer the business processes and IT tools used to price, discount and merchandise configurable products on dell.com, he says.
Frazier has a BBA in finance with a minor in accounting from the University of Texas, Arlington and an MBA from Texas State University. Before he started grad school he was hired by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC, Washington, DC) as a systems analyst and then moved to Coopers & Lybrand as an auditor of IT systems for financial auditing.
In 1995 he began as a systems auditor at Dell. He moved into corporate IT, supporting finance, for three years, and in 2000 he went to e-Dell, the organization responsible for global
e-commerce. "I've directed project managers and led development teams, including geographically dispersed teams in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Brazil and India," he notes.
He's currently working remotely from San Francisco, "spending most of my work time on the phone." There's also international travel involved in the job and cultural aspects that he finds very rewarding.
Although his finance and accounting skills have served him very well, he loves the variety offered by IT. "Most complex business challenges involve technology in the end," he says.
The environment for LGBT people is very comfortable at Dell. "I've been fortunate," says Frazier. "I've always been out here, and open. I feel very comfortable talking about my partner." He is a member of Pride, Dell's employee resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight-ally employees, and for the past two years has been its co-leader.
Mike Paleos of MetLife: "Being out and successful are not contradictory here"
Mike Paleos is VP of international HR resources ops effectiveness for MetLife Inc (New York, NY). He started with the insurance and financial services company in 1989 after working for Marsh & McLennon (New York, NY), a re-insurance company, and Cushman & Wakefield (New York, NY), a global real estate firm.
Paleos started out in the audiology and pathology program at St. John's University (Queens, NY). But, "The microcomputer market was just starting and I was working at school in the IT department. I found I was more interested in that," he says.
He joined MetLife as part of the investments department in 1989. By 1993 he was director of IT and one of the architects of the State Street Realty Research Group, and in 1995 he led the technology and support organization to create a new MetLife trading environment in Madison, NJ.
Later Paleos became part of MetLife's individual business group, where he led the eService project. Then he headed the client acquisition team and new life business processing unit. In 2006 he joined the company's HR organization.
Paleos' current responsibilities include delivery and oversight of HR operational services to international business. He oversees deployment of the global Sapien international HR system to all the company's international locations, and the creation of HRIS products that can be distributed worldwide to more than sixty countries with different languages.
"The growth of our international organization is key to MetLife's success," he says. "We have to design systems and programs that are of benefit to them, and also HR systems that reinforce the company's focus on people and their importance."
The environment at MetLife is inclusive. "Being out and successful are not contradictory here," Paleos says. "MetLife has always been consistent about supporting diverse members; long before diversity was a buzzword it was championed here. We have received the Human Rights Campaign's perfect corporate score for the last eight years."
Paleos is a member of Global Insurance Professionals and HR & Talent Management Executives as well as Gays, Lesbians and Allies at MetLife (GLAM), the company's LGBT affinity group.
Susan Dery: "Great opportunities at Fannie Mae!"
Susan Dery is director of information at Fannie Mae (Washington, DC). She heads up the group that ensures the security of sensitive data that has been processed, stored and/or transmitted by the secondary mortgage company.
The mission of security engineering, she says, is to identify and implement technology changes to improve the security of the firm. Dery's group designs and implements IS solutions to protect the firm's information assets, and helps system owners protect their IT assets with integrated security controls that address threats and comply with regulations.
"We have a lot of information associated with people's mortgages. Protecting that information is part of my job," Dery notes. She has three direct reports and a team of eight.
Dery graduated from the University of Virginia with a 1983 BA in economics and a 2003 executive-format MS in IT management. After completing the BA she worked for Datrex Corp as a tech rep, and for Technology Applications Inc as a programmer analyst and then systems analyst.
In 1988 she went to work for the U.S. Department of the Army as a civilian computer specialist; by 1989 she had become chief of systems engineering at a major Army program management office.
Civilians with the Department of the Army in the early 1990s did not talk about being gay. "I felt I needed to stay quiet about myself there, although I did come out to the people I worked closely with, and that had absolutely no repercussions," she remembers.
In 1995 she left the military and joined Fannie Mae as a change control coordinator. As she gained technical expertise and took on more responsibility, Dery rose to director of regional operations and desktop solutions, then director of end-user technology services; then end-user technology deployment and support. In 2009 she moved up to director of information.
Dery revels in creative problem solving. She also enjoys managing, coaching and mentoring employees. And she clearly loves working with technology.
"Technology is like a puzzle to me and I love solving puzzles," she says. "As my responsibilities grew, the puzzles just became more complex."
"I've been at Fannie Mae for more than fifteen years now. The diversity program here has always been strong and I've never felt uncomfortable. I've had great opportunities at Fannie Mae!"
Dery volunteers through Fannie Mae's Serving, Engaged, Ready to Volunteer Employees (SERVE) program. She often works with the Burgundy Crescent, a gay and lesbian volunteer group in the DC area that coordinates people's participation in various community events.
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