The Starburst Effect of LGBT+ IBMers

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(3 min read) By Sarah Siegel

I am 54 and, unless I work until age 85, more of my career is behind me than in front of me. My career arc came to mind because I recently finished reading the new posthumously published memoir of IBM alumna and my personal hero Edie Windsor, “A Wild and Precious Life”. The book-jacket bio began, “Edie Windsor was an American LGBT rights activist and a technology manager at IBM.”

The memoir confirmed that Edie loved the inventive work she got to do at IBM, but felt continual pressure to hide from her colleagues the life she shared with her beloved Thea. Of course, among many US employers, one can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, as there is no Federal employment protection for LGBT+ people. But IBM already does offer such protection globally.

For years, IBM has been among the world’s most progressive companies for LGBT+ clients and employees. For example, Edie and her then-future spouse Thea and I first met in 2002 when I was in my LGBT+ business-to-business market biz dev role. They attended an IBM and United Nations’ co-sponsored event, featuring a panel of legal scholars discussing the future of marriage equality around the globe. They said they were doing research to inform their decision of whether to marry in Canada. Ultimately, they went to Canada.

Four years after Thea’s passing, as the memoir shared, Edie made history as, “the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court of the United States case United States v. Windsor, which successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act…a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.”

Sarah Siegel (left) and Edie Windsor at the 2017 LGBT Pride March in NYC – Edie’s final march. Photo by Pat Hewitt, Sarah Siegel’s wife

My Personal Hero and Role Model

How could Edie not be my hero and role model? Like Edie was, I am a Jewish lesbian IBMer and LGBT+ activist. Both of us were fortunate that IBM sponsored our Ivy League graduate school education. And as I discovered in the memoir, we were also active amorists until each of us found our fiancée. Each of us, too, has had to handle our spouse’s health issues, though so far, my wife’s were short-term, happily.

When I reviewed Edie’s life on the page, it seemed audacious to compare my life with hers. I didn’t mean to be nervy. Rather, it was comforting to see someone a generation ahead of me with whom I could identify so strongly, to whom I could relate so well. It was a mentorship, and then further mentorship-by-memoir.

Living with Protection: Equal Opportunity Employment Policy

Unlike Edie, though, I represent the first generation of IBMers whose employment from Day One was protected by an IBM equal opportunity employment policy that included sexual orientation, and later gender identity and expression, and a bit later, all protection globally. The global policy helped when my wife accompanied me for my six-month work assignment in India where homosexual activity was illegal at the time.

It is my hope that newer LGBT+ IBMers share accounts of their success 30 years from now for current and future generations of professionals. There is a whole constellation of stars that we are poised to marvel at.

Meanwhile, I am grateful for the starburst effect of my LGBT+ predecessors’ achievements, especially those of Edie, and for my full inclusion at work at IBM in this generation. Just as Edie’s book-jacket bio did, if I ever write a book, the bio on its book-jacket will proudly include my IBM role, too.

About the Author
Sarah Siegel is a long-time IBMer based in New York. She manages a team of premier learning designers and is leading the learning portfolio for Diversity & Inclusion at IBM.

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