The World Needs More Out LGBTQ Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders
Here’s a great innovation story: In the 18th century, Smallpox devastated many populations. The disease had a mortality rate of 30%, it killed 400,000 people per year in Europe alone, and the medical community was stumped. A solution came from an unexpected place: A farmer named Benjamin Jesty—a man with no medical training—noticed that milkmaids who’d contracted a different, relatively harmless disease (cowpox) didn’t get smallpox. He tried to protect his family from smallpox by deliberately infecting them with cowpox. It worked, and Jesty’s idea became the first widely used vaccination against the disease.
This story shows how innovation sometimes comes from unexpected places, and how diversity (i.e. including different types of people) can deliver break-through innovation. Today, the business world needs more innovation, and our society needs innovative problem solvers. Including the voice of LGBTQ business leaders and entrepreneurs is an important way to get that innovation.
Amazing advances and big challenges
We live in an era of amazing human advancement—perhaps rivaling that of the industrial revolution. Technology is moving forward at an astonishing pace, and it’s turning things that were once science fiction into everyday reality—self-driving cars; intelligent machines that can help with complex tasks, like interpreting medical tests; and creative applications of technology, like Amazon’s “Go” store with no cashiers or checkout lines. And, technology is connecting people in a way never seen before—for example, by 2017 81% of the U.S. population was on social media.
However, progress has come at a price. Advances in technology are also displacing workers and increasing economic inequality. Bold new business models also create tremendous disruption and uncertainty in industry—for example, almost 50 percent of S&P 500 companies are expected to be replaced over the next 10 years. And, the Internet—a tool that was intended to create positive connections—has been used to spread misinformation, hate-speech, and violence.
We need even more innovation
Our technological advances created the need for even more innovation—companies need innovative leaders to stay ahead of the curve; we need innovative entrepreneurs to create businesses that use technology responsibly and positively; and our society needs innovative thinkers to ensure that our advances create prosperity for all.
The reason Jesty found an innovative solution for smallpox is because he came from a very different life-experience than the doctors; he had access to different information; and he was able to look at the problem from a different perspective. People from communities that have traditionally been excluded from business leadership (like those of us in the LGBTQ community, as well as women and communities of color) have the same value to offer—we too come from a different life experience than the majority community; we have access to different information; and we look at problems from a different perspective. We need to engage the value of LGBTQ diversity to solve the big problems at hand.
How to bring your experience and voice forward
1. Be out and visible—The most important part of making your voice heard is to be visible. Unlike many other marginalized groups, some LGBTQ people have the option of remaining invisible; and invisibility is disempowering. To deliver value you must be visible.
2. Value difference – In order for your difference to matter, it must be valued. Often diversity programs fall short because they only seek to have different types of people in the workplace. The key is to look at the difference as delivering unique insight and value.
3. Be proud of who you are, and of what you bring – Unfortunately, our culture still seeks to pathologize those who are different, and to minimize their contributions. In presenting ourselves as LGBTQ business leaders and entrepreneurs we must always be proud of who we are, and of what we bring. Ultimately, pride is the foundation for everything.