Pride Month Panel: IBMers Discuss Intersection of Black and LGBT+ Journeys


Watch highlights from the Pride Month panel

By Elissa Gootman

“History, Solidarity and Community” was the topic of IBM’s 2020 LGBT+ Pride Month recent executive panel, which focused on how the company’s LGBT+ and Black communities intersect with—and can support—one another.

The panel was part of a series of virtual events for IBMers that took place throughout the month of June, to commemorate the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and the 50th anniversary of the Pride March. The commemorative events were open to IBMers worldwide, including members of the LGBT+ community and allies.

The panel was moderated by Carla Grant Pickens, IBM’s Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, and included IBMers who identify as LGBT+, Black—or both.

“The LGBT+ community and the Black community have a long history, and they face many battles together—and many battles going down our separate paths, as well as injustices in our journeys,” Pickens noted. “We can really learn a lot from one another, from both movements and the intersections of both movements.”

Throughout the hour-long conversation, panelists discussed the impact of recent events, including the growing momentum around the Black Lives Matter movement and the June 15th Supreme Court ruling that federal civil rights law protects LGBT+ employees from workplace discrimination.

Victoria Pelletier, IBM’s Vice President of Talent and Transformation for North America, raised the idea that to make further progress, members of different communities might support one another not just as allies, but as “co-conspirators.”

“Allyship is amazing, but co-conspiratorship means we need to take risks,” Pelletier said. “We need to use our voice, our privilege and our power to do more to drive things forward.”

The Importance of Being Seen

“We are at a critical inflection point globally,” said panelist and IBM alumna Ursula McNeill. Noting how the Black Lives Matter movement has changed the national conversation around racial inequity and injustice, she said: “We’ve done some really great things. We’ve ignited a grassroots effort. We are raising awareness. We are attempting to heighten empathy, and we’re starting a conversation. However, we have to engage more than just by simple rhetoric. We have to move to action.

“Being a part of two communities—the LGBTQ and the Black community—that have been silenced for too long, it’s now time to speak up and create change,” McNeill continued. “We must come together as a global community that has, at the center of our actions, common ideals, values and beliefs—driven by the desire to create equality and equity for all.”

Erica Webber, IBM’s Director of Research Alliances, who identifies as Black and as a lesbian, described “a history of invisibility and discrimination in each of those communities, to the other parts of identity—whether it’s in the Black community vis-a-vis LGBTQ, or whether it’s in the LGBTQ community vis a vis people of color.

“I want to be seen for all of who I am,” Webber said. “I don’t want pieces of me to be ignored. I want people to see that all of me is what creates whatever it is that I can bring to a given community, a given work environment.

“When we show up, we don't show up in spite of those pieces of ourselves. We show up, in all of our brilliance, because of all of those pieces,” Webber continued. “To create true community, we have to actively work against making people invisible within any of our communities.”

Benjamin Blackwell, IBM’s Vice President, Systems Server Sales, Public Federal Market, described his own coming-out process as a “journey of transparency.” Blackwell, who identifies as gay, said: “I filtered out so much of my life. But at some point, I made the decision that if I wanted to effect change, I had to show up and be who I was—all of myself, every day.”

Noting that his fellow panelists included IBMers of color, IBMers who identify as LGBT+ and IBMers who identify with both groups, Blackwell said: “We're multidimensional. And when we bring all of that knowledge and insight together and we work together, that's how we really begin to effect change.”