Leaning In: Conversations with Women Business Leaders

| By Laura Berry


Earlier this month, in honor of National Women’s History Month, NGLCC joined partner organizations like the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Women Business Owners as well as corporate partners like Accenture, Google, and Pepsico, and many more became a platform partner in the LeanIn.org community based on the new book from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
"Lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face unique challenges in the work force and as business owners," said Justin Nelson, NGLCC President and Co-Founder. “NGLCC’s Women’s Business Initiative brings together hundreds of  LBT and allied women leaders at our National Business and Leadership Conference each year, and we strive to create the open atmosphere where women can discuss those challenges, share successes, and connect with one another.”
As part of NGLCC’s series of stakeholder interviews, we spoke with three women leaders who interact in the small business world, in the legal industry arena, and in local community movement-building. 
Interviewees included:
  • Lisa Howe, Executive Director at the Nashville GLBT Chamber;
  • Dawn Ackerman, President and CFO at 2012 Supplier of the Year OutSmart Office Solutions; and
  • Doris Bobadilla, Director at Galloway, Johnson, Tompkins, Burr & Smith, a PLC.

What are your experiences about the intersection of gender, LGBT, and business?

Howe: Because I worked in a career, in an environment, and in a geographic region where I feared bringing my full self to my job and my leadership role, I have spent the last two years trying to show people how common I am, rather than identify my uniqueness. Unfortunately, I feel like my role in Nashville right now is to raise awareness about one of the values of a lesbian business leader: I am pretty ordinary and not much different than my straight counterparts.  
Ackerman: As a woman in what has historically been a man’s business, I spent many of my early years having to work hard to gain the respect of my peers. Once I was able to be a woman and a lesbian in business, I actually found that I was taken much more seriously in my industry.
Bobadilla: In my experiences, women and LGBT persons aspire to fully participate in society without being subject to discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. In my opinion, the legal industry strives for that type of justice and fairness.  

What can we as a society learn from this intersection?  

Ackerman: With the overall change in the way society views LGBT, comes a change in the way LGBT people are able to work. When people can be who they are completely at work and in business without the fear of judgment or ridicule, their confidence level is higher and they are more relaxed and fluid in conversation and action. This demeanor then makes others see them as more knowledgeable and trustworthy.
Bobadilla: In my opinion, it's all about having opportunities and what one does with those opportunities. The NGLCC and organizations like it provide a forum [for our society] where people and business can blossom.  
Howe: There are Nashville business environments where diversity is valued. As Executive Director of the [Nashville] GLBT Chamber, it is my job to use those good examples to teach others who are less inclusive. Those businesses [that] appreciate the intersection understand that having employees bring their unique perspectives to a team expands the capacity of the organization. I speak at businesses all the time, and one of my key points is that an LGBT person who works in fear cannot reach his or her potential. This can be detrimental to the individual and the company.         

Does having layers of identity create difficulties, strengths, or both? What are your thoughts? 

Bobadilla: I chose to see my layers as strength. Each layer forms one's identity. The more layers you have--the more you have to offer.
Howe: As a coach, I always told my team to worry about the things we could control, and don’t worry about things that are outside of our control, like weather or officials. I use that same advice today. I can’t control that I am female or that I am a lesbian, and I can’t control how an individual may perceive female leaders or lesbians. I can control how I communicate with people, how I work with others, my actions, my professionalism, my work ethic, and a myriad of other skills.  If I stay focused on the process, then there will be fewer difficulties, and they will fall into that category of things I cannot control. 
Ackerman: It depends upon how you choose to use the layers.  If you trying to hide being LGBT, I think inevitably it will cause difficulties. You are always stronger when you can just be yourself.

Who are your heroes? Personal? Professional?  

Bobadilla: I cherish individuals who face life's challenges and succeed despite the odds.  My mother was abandoned at six months old.  An immigrant to this country, she obtained an education and a career.  Through her business, she provided for my education and fostered my ability to achieve.  She lost my dad and my brother in unrelated incidents in one year. She faced life's challenges and kept living a positive life.   
Howe: Two years ago, I went through a public separation with my then-employer.  I came out of that experience with many new heroes whom I admire for their passion, dedication, intelligence, and leadership: Shannon Minter, Legal Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights; Helen Carroll, Sports Project Director, NCLR; Abby Rubenfeld, attorney, Rubenfeld Law Office, PC; and  country singer Chely Wright.  Having a 2 year old, I have a newfound respect for working moms everywhere. 
Ackerman: I have respect and admiration for the life and accomplishments of my great grandmother Josephine Ackerman and Jodie Foster.