LGBT tech pros find success at
Progress in EEO policies, the repeal of DADT, and mindful leadership are encouraging openness at work
There are still challenges, says one tech pro: “No one told me I’d have to keep coming out again and again until everyone had gotten the memo.”
By Claire Swedberg
Most companies have equal opportunity employer policies that include explicit language related to sexual orientation and gender identity. But how much the companies adhere to those policies can often depend upon the company, the management and the individual programs in place, employees say. So it benefits any job candidate to carefully research the policies, programs and workplace realities of any potential employer.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) technical pros work across the gamut of industries. Here’s a window into some of their experiences as LGBT pros, and a look at some of the companies that go the extra mile to make them feel at home.
Yelp engineering manager Yoann Roman advocates for diversity
Yoann Roman is an engineering manager in Hamburg, Germany for website and mobile app company Yelp (San Francisco, CA).
Roman attended the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta), and graduated in 2005 with a BS in computer science and a minor in German. During college, Roman worked part time for the Fulton, GA County Board of Education doing website design. He also worked at Alta Language Services in Atlanta during high school and through college. He was offered a fulltime position after graduation. “My role there evolved from individual contributor to manager as we started building an engineering team,” he says.
When Roman’s partner was offered an opportunity with a company based in San Francisco, CA, he began looking for jobs there. “I was already a user of Yelp and really enjoyed the quirky, fun attitude of the company and its community managers. When I saw they had openings on their engineering team, I decided to give it a shot and apply.”
Roman joined Yelp in 2011 as a member of the company’s internal applications team, which handles a wide range of internal administrative and operational tools. As the team grew, it split into two parts, and he became technical lead of the newly formed business analytics and metrics team. “When the manager of that team moved on, I was promoted to the team’s engineering manager.”
Eventually, that team also split in two with one overseeing Yelp’s internal data needs and the other handling external partnerships and integrations. In August, Roman took an expat assignment and relocated to Yelp’s Hamburg office to take over management of the engineering teams there. His college studies in German are proving useful in the new location.
Roman says his coming out has been smooth. “My experience was incredibly positive. I’m not the type of person to wear an LGBT badge on my sleeve, so I never found a need to explicitly come out at work.” He says, “If the topic of significant others came up, I’d mention I have a partner. Similarly, at social events, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my partner as my ‘plus one.’”
Roman says he has been very fortunate to live in cities like Atlanta, San Francisco and now Hamburg, which he found to be very accepting environments. “I think it’s important to choose an environment that welcomes you whenever possible.”
Side job: cultivating inclusion
Roman has taken an increasing role in recruiting and is watchful of individual dynamics within the company. “I’ve realized how important it is for a company to be proactive in creating a welcoming environment and actively supporting diversity among its employees.”
But, he says, that work is never quite done. Companies and workplaces have a strong opportunity, even a responsibility, to help move the conversation forward. “Beyond the often-touted benefits of diversity, I’ve also observed how it helps open up the minds of individuals who come from far more conservative parts of the country.
“I don’t believe being LGBT affects how you should prepare for a career in engineering,” he says. “Find a way to be true to yourself and to others as early on in life as possible, and move to an environment that allows you to do so comfortably if that’s not the case right now.”
Yelp values meritocracy
Yelp stands behind its promise of equal opportunity for LGBT employees. “Because we value equality, diversity and merit, we are committed to an employment environment free from all aspects of unlawful discrimination,” says Jose Martin, Yelp global head of human resources.
Yelp offers two employee-organized special interest groups to support LGBT employees. Registered domestic partners and legally married same-sex couples are eligible for its benefits program.
“We seek to hire a team with varying cultural backgrounds, life experiences, ages, genders, sexual orientations, religious and political beliefs, educations, opinions and more,” says Martin. He adds, “If you can demonstrate Yelp’s five company values – protect the source, play well with others, be unboring, be tenacious, and be authentic – you’re well on your way to becoming a Yelployee.”
Martin urges job candidates to familiarize themselves with Yelp’s mission of connecting people to great local businesses and products, read up on what it’s like to work there, and “come prepared to share your story of what makes you passionate to tackle the challenges of whatever role you’re interested in.”
Principal director Cheryl DeMatteis found complete acceptance at the Aerospace Corp
Principal director Cheryl DeMatteis has been with the Aerospace Corporation (El Segundo, CA) since 1995. The nonprofit organization provides R&D; and advisory services for space mission success on behalf of clients that include the Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence community.
DeMatteis earned her BS in computer science in 1993 at California State University-Los Angeles. Three years later she got an MSCS at University of California-Riverside.
DeMatteis started in Aerospace’s engineering and technology group. In 2002 she was promoted to advanced extremely high-frequency mission planning lead. She was briefly responsible for the company’s global positioning system control segment. She was named associate systems director in 2006, and in 2009 she became a principal director.
Today DeMatteis manages the engineering and integration subdivision of the space-based surveillance division. “I am responsible for mission assurance and performance, system testing, program execution, systems engineering and architecture and technology,” she reports.
She provides independent assessments of the space-based infrared system (SBIRS) program’s execution status for the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center. She also supports product teams and conducts readiness reviews for program milestones, and offers technical counsel and program support to the SBIRS chief engineer.
Openness: not always possible
Throughout her career, her sexual orientation has played a part, but not the lead role. DeMatteis came out as a teenager and was open about her sexuality in school.
“At work, I have encountered nothing but acceptance of who I am from those who knew me. However, I was not free to share openly until the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT).”
DeMatteis’s wife Lani is a retired military member and now a government civilian. The two met before the 2010 repeal of DADT, and being open about their relationship would have been considered a violation of DADT. “It was challenging for me to be closeted while Lani was in the military, but her career and service to our country as an Air Force officer were very important to us,” DeMatteis says. “But now, Lani and I are very open about our relationship and attend government and corporate social functions as a couple.”
Advice to all
DeMatteis encourages other technical LBGT professionals to pursue work at a company like the Aerospace Corporation. “The work is exciting, the ability to make a positive impact on national security is rewarding, and the people are among the finest in the industry.”
She recommends what she calls Employment 101 for anyone seeking a career in aerospace, whether LGBT or not. “Understand what the job requires and what your manager expects from you. Details matter, quality matters. Be professional, treat everyone with respect. If you don’t know, say so, but offer to come back with the answer or find someone who does know.”
Cheyne Anderson: software development engineer at Amazon Game Studios
Software development engineer II Cheyne Anderson has an enviable job at Amazon Game Studios (Seattle, WA): he develops tools for video game design.
He attended game development college Digipen (Redmond, WA), graduating in 2011. He majored in real-time interactive simulation. “In other words, I have a degree in making video games,” he says with a smile.
Anderson’s career plans weren’t very specific in school. “I mostly just wanted a job I didn’t hate, and to earn enough money to pay off my student loans,” he recalls wryly.
During school, Anderson got a job working for Bally Technologies (Reno, NV), a company that makes slot machine games. “It wasn’t exactly the job I was expecting, but I decided to take the road less traveled.”
Anderson was hired as a firmware engineer II and was put on a team with other students who had been similarly recruited. “We’d been hired to develop a 3-D game engine. Before that, all of Bally’s games used only pre-rendered, 2-D sprites.”
Bally was Anderson’s first exposure to the corporate environment. “I’d worked on teams in college, but there was relatively little external influence. That’s not the case in an office. In an office, there are schedules and deadlines and constraints all over. I learned how to deal with those.”
After two years at Bally, Anderson left to work on personal projects. Throughout 2013 he worked as a freelancer. He created his own Minecraft-like game, learned terrain simulation, designed a programming language and developed brain simulations, among other projects. In September, he accepted a job offer from Amazon Game Studios.
Coming out to himself first
His sexual orientation has never been an important part of his identity, Anderson says. One of the hardest parts of coming out, for Anderson, was realizing what his sexuality actually was. “I didn’t expect to be bisexual,” he says, “and didn’t come out until late in my senior year of college.
“The biggest benefit to coming out,” he says, “is the sheer relief of it: to finally be able to tell the truth and to stop worrying about slipping up.” He cautions that just how an individual comes out can be challenging as well. “No one told me I’d have to keep coming out again and again until everyone had gotten the memo.”
His orientation, he says, isn’t something that comes up often at the office. He recalls a conversation that occurred early in his career. “During some idle chitchat, my manager asked if I had a girlfriend. I told him I actually had a boyfriend. He was a little surprised, but completely respectful, and the conversation continued normally. I remember feeling incredibly grateful for that.”
Anderson says if he could do it all over again, he would have come out sooner. “Coming out hasn’t hurt me in any way that I can tell, but it’s definitely helped me be happier and more content with my life.”
To others, he recommends flexibility. “Be good at what you do and never stop learning. Take things slow and steady and don’t get hung up on sticking to your long-term goals.”
Empathy helps John Stotler thrive as a technology manager at Wells Fargo
With nearly twenty years of technology experience in the financial services industry, John Stotler is technology manager for Wells Fargo’s enterprise talent planning and development (ETPD) technology in Charlotte, NC.
Stotler earned his BS in management in 1995 from the University of North Carolina-Asheville.
He went to work in IT administration for Virginia Power (Richmond), where he provided desktop and network administration and support. A year later, he went to NationsBank (Charlotte) and was responsible for network support for the call center system and conversion for acquired companies.
A steady rise in finance
In 1998 Stotler took a job at First Union. He provided web development and database development for a project management system. In 2001 he began directing technology for the corporate relations division of First Union, which merged with Wachovia that year. Four years later, he became project manager supporting corporate marketing at Wachovia.
In 2007 Stotler was promoted to technology manager supporting government and community relations, enterprise marketing and team member recognition. In 2008, Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia.
In 2014 he took on his current position. He oversees a large technology group supporting Wells Fargo’s learning and development systems and talent management applications in support of the ETPD services group. “I determine how technology can help solve challenges at Wells Fargo, and I work on strategic direction for technology in this space.”
Last May, Stotler was named an Emerging Business Leader by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce/ Northeastern University.
He’s also president of the Pride Team Member Network, Wells Fargo’s LGBT resource group. He’s been president for two years and will serve for two more.
From fear to empowerment
“During college, I realized that I needed to accept myself for who I was. Over the next several years I came out to friends and family. But there was one place that I still wasn’t ready to be out. That was at work.”
He explains, “I feared that being out would impair my ability to advance in my career. I became involved with the workplace LGBT organization, but even they met after hours in secret.”
He recalls a day when things changed. “My department manager approached me and said, ‘If anyone ever says or does anything that makes you uncomfortable, you let me know.’ I knew exactly what she was talking about,” he says. “And then I started to realize that I needed to work harder to make sure all LGBT team members had an opportunity to feel as safe and secure as I did.”
He still, however, feels the challenge of starting in any new situation. “As out as I have been in the company for a lot of years, I still am personally challenged whenever I change jobs or start with a new project team or group. I’m not sure if everyone will be okay with me.” Though the challenge has eased over the last ten years, “it’s still something I think about when I look at opportunities across the organization.”
Empathy is key
Stotler finds that being gay at work has provided him with a keen understanding of how to treat others to ensure they feel safe at work. Regardless of their differences, he points out, everyone needs to feel safe to be productive and to contribute to the goals of the team and company. “Empathy is key, and it’s one of my greatest strengths. Is that because I’m gay? I don’t know for sure, but empathy has been a great help, particularly as a manager dealing and working with diverse groups of team members every day.”
He also believes that LGBT individuals shouldn’t have to be afraid to bring their whole selves to work. “If they aren’t sure it’s safe, it’s probably not the right place to work.”
Reza Rahaman leads specialty R&D; and the Pride ERG at Clorox
Reza Rahaman is vice president of research, development and innovation in the specialty division at the Clorox Company (Oakland, CA).
Rahaman is also the leader of the Clorox Pride employee resource group. “I realize that being out and living my work life with authenticity has consequences beyond me, and that I have a responsibility to act as a role model for others.”
He earned his BS in chemical engineering in 1984 from the Imperial College London and an MSChE at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge) a year later. He completed his PhD in chemical engineering at MIT in 1989.
Following his PhD, Rahaman got a job with American Cyanamid Company (now Pfizer). For nine years he was a research chemical engineer, senior research engineer and group leader of process development, responsible for development and scale-up of the company’s agricultural chemicals and animal health products. He was also group manager for international product development and senior group leader for the metabolism and residue department.
In 1998, Rahaman moved to Zeneca Crop Protection, a division of AstraZeneca (London, England), as function manager for dietary exposure.
Two years later he came to the Clorox Company, first as department manager of product safety for microbiology, environmental and regulatory compliance, then as department manager of home care product development.
A series of promotions within R&D; followed. In 2007, he became director of the health and wellness public policy office, leading efforts for automated communication to the EPA regarding health outcomes resulting from the use of disinfecting products.
From there he was vice president of global technology. “I led product safety, microbiology, compliance and public policy-influencing efforts,” he says.
In 2010 Rahaman was appointed to his current position. Clorox’s specialty division includes a range of brands: Burt’s Bees, Glad, Brita, Fresh Step, Scoop Away, Hidden Valley, KC Masterpiece, Soy Vay, Nueva Cocina, Kingsford and more. “I am accountable for developing a technical strategy for each of the businesses and innovation pipelines to deliver on those strategies.”
A thought-out process
“Coming out for me has been a gradual process. As I first got comfortable with my sexuality, I came out to friends and family. Work followed and was phased in.”
Rahaman believes that diversity drives innovation, and he has learned to be a strong and vocal ally for diversity in all its forms. “Recruiting, developing and leveraging diversity for the teams that solve work problems each day gives us a competitive advantage,” he says, “whether that involves recruiting LGBT talent, leveraging geographic and demographic diversity for different points of view, or drawing out the quieter voices in the room so their sometimes profound thoughts are on the table. We want to be a mosaic where each color shines brightly and individually, but the whole is beautiful and cohesive.”
Cited for equality
“The Clorox Company is a leader in advancing LGBT workplace rights,” says Erby Foster, director of diversity and inclusion. He notes that since 2006, the company has earned a top score on the Corporate Equality Index, the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies for LGBT employees, issued yearly by the Human Rights Campaign (hrc.org).
“One of the primary ways Clorox provides support is through the Clorox Pride employee resource group (ERG), which helps employees connect with each other and enhances recruitment, retention, development and engagement,” Foster says.
Foster encourages all job candidates, whatever their backgrounds, to share their passionate points of view. “Today’s global marketplace is very different from the one many of us grew up in. It requires new approaches and a diverse leadership team in terms of world views, experiences and thought processes,” he says.
“Diversity and a culture of inclusion are not only the right thing to do, but also good business for Clorox.”
Principal product engineer Phil Reeves finds his place at Comcast
Principal product engineer Phil Reeves joined Comcast Cable (Philadelphia, PA) in 2010.
He graduated from Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) in 1987 with a BS in computer engineering and earned an MSCS from Drexel University (Philadelphia) in 2000.
He began his career at Kearfott Guidance and Navigation Corporation (Totowa, NJ) as an intermediate engineer, then moved on to other companies in increasingly responsible tech roles. Immediately before joining Comcast, Reeves was unit manager, then lead member of technical staff, at L-3 Communications-East in Camden, NJ. “I believe my broad range of experiences gave me a great foundation to apply engineering solutions to a variety of problems,” he says.
At Comcast, Reeves works with Comcast’s set-top boxes. He designs, deploys and improves the technology and processes around staging and testing the set tops in Comcast’s regional warehouse system. “Every set top is configured and tested before it goes to a subscriber’s home. I am the subject matter expert on most of the technology that makes that process possible.”
A unique story
Reeves came out about his sexuality in the early 90s. Shortly after sharing his gay status at work and to family and friends, he met, fell in love with, and married a woman who was and continues to be completely aware of his identity. He was still active in the LGBT community and has identified as a gay man in most of his personal and professional life.
“When I joined Comcast, I came out to a gay co-worker. He invited me to get involved in Out@Comcast, our employee resource group.”
Reeves was asked to lead Out’s external focus group, which gave him the opportunity to engage with other LGBT ERGs in the Philadelphia area. Reeves formed the Philadelphia LGBT Exchange, where local ERGs exchange best practices and learn about how ERGs work in a variety of companies.
“My situation tends to not fit the traditional cultural narrative. I work very hard to be honest and open about my life.”
Reeves comments that he has never had a negative consequence from being honest about who he is. “Quite the contrary, being authentic, open and honest with others has often prompted others to be open and honest with me. That has been a great, positive reinforcement.”
Reeves acknowledges that his story is unique. “I don’t have a picture of a boyfriend or husband to put on my desk. I don’t have a same-sex partner to bring to company functions. Instead, I cultivate professional relationships, personal friendships and activities within the LGBT communities to express my authentic identity.”
Network and find your passion
Throughout his career, Reeves says good communications skills have been critical to his success. “During a discussion with my manager, he made a comment about how Comcast is built on relationships, and in order to succeed, I needed to work with others to accomplish tasks,” he recalls. “This was uncomfortable advice for me because I wasn’t comfortable reaching out to others for assistance.”
However, he started connecting with people and grew his network. “I now have a collection of really smart, capable people who are willing to help me accomplish goals.”
Reeves urges other LGBT professionals to try to find the thing that excites them most. “I was lucky enough to have found my passion at Comcast. Being excited about what I do is key to my success,” he says. “Being passionate about what you do will make your career seem less like work and more like play.”
He recommends that technical people know basic concepts and understand how technologies are related and how they rely on each other. “It is good to be in a position where you can take a little of what you know and apply basic principles to solve a problem in an area that might be new to you. Employers are attracted to candidates who have a breadth of knowledge and understanding.”
Reeves concludes, “Make sure you find a workplace that will respect you and respect diversity in general. Diversity is huge in corporate America, and most HR departments will be happy to share what they are doing to promote diversity and inclusion in their company.”
Comcast: as strong as its workforce
Comcast Cable’s talent acquisition VP Raúl J. Valentin concurs. “Our company is only as strong as our workforce. We can only succeed by investing in our people and ensuring a fair, inclusive and diverse workplace.”
Comcast and NBCUniversal, which was acquired by Comcast in 2011, have diversity and inclusion initiatives that are LGBT-inclusive and span governance, workforce, procurement, programming and community investment. “For example, our external joint diversity advisory council includes representatives from the LGBT community and national leaders in business, politics and civil rights,” Valentin says.
Comcast and NBCUniversal develop diverse talent through leadership, mentoring and sponsorship programs. They also offer transgender-inclusive health benefits and other employment and leave benefits to same-sex domestic partners. They support LGBT-owned businesses and are corporate partners of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Inclusiveness initiatives extend to services that reach the end user: the customer. “Comcast and NBCUniversal take great pride in providing the best entertainment experiences for all audiences,” Valentin notes.
Lockheed Martin HR VP Patricia Lewis has built a career advocating for all
Patricia Lewis has built her career with a focus on boosting diversity and inclusion in the aerospace industry. For the past three years, she has been VP of human resources for Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions (Gaithersburg, MD).
“Lockheed Martin has a very inclusive culture, where technical talent is important and best nurtured through inclusion,” she says. As part of that effort, Lewis is co-chair of the LGBT executive forum. “We work on initiatives to promote leadership, and also to promote the right environment to support those coming out.” The company also offers reassignment benefits for those who want it.
Be your best, authentic self
Lewis came out about her own sexuality while working at IBM. “I felt it was important to be genuine about who I was,” she says. She sent an email to co-workers and management when she was ready to let everyone know.
When she came to Lockheed Martin, she was discouraged from coming out by a colleague. She did so anyway, and was glad of her decision. She has been supported, not only as an LGBT individual, but as a leader in that community, within the company.
“It’s easier as an executive,” she believes, “to be open about your sexuality. I don’t think there’s as much risk.” With that in mind, she says, “I think it’s important for younger people to find networks and find people they can confide in until they are comfortable making the decision to come out.”
For any professional, she says, “I think you have to be your best, authentic self. Be comfortable in who you are. It takes courage to do that, but it pays dividends.”
LGBT employees are welcomed and included at GM
Auto manufacturer General Motors (Detroit, MI) offers jobs to qualified applicants and employees regardless of age, race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, says Joe LaMuraglia, GM’s broadcast, lifestyle and LGBT communications manager.
Last year the company extended spousal benefits to married LGBT couples in states that recognized same-sex marriage. It recognizes same-sex marriage status for employees, no matter their state of residence, as long as the couple was married in a state where it’s legal. The company has offered basic domestic partner benefits since 2000.
GM has an active LGBT employee affinity group, GM People Like Us (PLUS), with more than 300 members.
To job candidates, LaMuraglia says, “Bring your whole self and be yourself. And be aware of the significant awards and recognitions GM continues to receive from the LGBT community,” he says. GM PLUS was the first ERG at an automaker to be named ERG of the Year by Out & Equal Workplace Advocates in 2009.
He points to the comments of Mary Barra, GM’s CEO: “In today’s multicultural, interconnected marketplace, we believe a diverse workforce helps us design, build and sell vehicles that meet the needs of unique customers around the globe.”
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