Progress on LGBTQ rights has evolved quite significantly in the last decade, and in most cases, it appears that this advancement is reflected by LGBTQ attorneys and professionals in the legal industry. In fact, many LGBTQ lawyers point to their sexual orientation as a career-enhancer among colleagues and clients. But can the same be said for law firm business professionals?
For Gillian Power, Chief Information & Security Officer at the law firm Lathrop GPM, the answer is a resounding yes. As an out trans-woman in a Midwestern city with a rich LGBTQ history, Power’s ascension to the C-suite at one of Kansas City’s most storied law firms was not as easy as one would think. Earlier on in her career, Power relied upon her own innate leadership skills to climb the ranks within a high-stakes, high-stress environment that requires diplomacy and patient resolve. “Technology leadership, and leadership in general, is the ability to see a better future and then the courage to bring about… change,” Power explains, reflecting on her career trajectory.
Power also embraces a quote from Nelson Mandela, who argued that “[c]ourage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Power also acknowledges her own personal insecurities and emotional barriers that initially hindered her own “coming out” journey.
Demonstrating natural leadership
Power credits her success as a leader to fully accepting her LGBTQ identity. “Acknowledging my trans-ness, embracing it, and then overcoming all of the fear around coming out and transitioning, was part of one of the biggest inflection points in my leadership journey because what it opened up to me was a level of self-confidence that I didn’t know I had,” she says. Indeed, the freedom of being her whole self in professional settings is liberating because she no longer must compartmentalize being one way at work and another way outside of work. There is no mental self-editing when she is interacting with her work colleagues.
“Acknowledging my trans-ness, embracing it, and then overcoming all of the fear around coming out and transitioning, was part of one of the biggest inflection points in my leadership journey…”
Her personal liberation is a common experience within the LGBTQ community. Indeed, the shared narrative around the freedom to fully be who you are without fear is a frequent topic within LGBTQ circles. “Coming out is a unifying and centrally defining experience for many people in their stories,” states Power.
At the same time, Power underscores how ongoing work and confidence are necessary to continue to be effective in the C-suite because of the ingrained mental patterns of fear that are very common for LGBTQ leaders before they come out. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of confidence to get to the C-level,” she explains, adding that to ensure consistency in leadership effectiveness, you need to focus on mental resilience, strength, and well-being. “It is easy to revert back to the fear-wiring because a lot of LGBTQ peers in my experience live with a lot of fear before they come out, and they overcome a lot of that fear to come out, but it doesn’t mean that those mental patterns go away,” Power says. “It takes ongoing support for people to stay out of those negative mental patterns about their safety.”
Key tenets to advancing LGBTQ talent
In terms of increasing representation of LGBTQ leaders within the C-suite, Power says there are several key ingredients that can help normalize the experiences of LGBT individuals and dissolve the heteronormative culture and assumptions. These elements are not a step-by-step process, she says, but rather a continuous circular process where one drives advancement of another. Indeed, there is a multiplier effect by employing all of these initiatives simultaneously.
Engaging the LGBTQ community — One obvious way to advance LGBTQ talent to the C-level is to engage the existing team members within the organization, such as through employee resources groups. Regular interaction between senior leaders and the community of LGBTQ employees is essential for continuous learning to understand the specific needs of the community, hear about the community’s challenges, and developing programs, policies, and processes to address these issues.
Developing the talent pipeline — Power also advises developing the pipeline of LGBTQ professionals from attracting potential entry-level professionals, recruiting them into the organization, and “implementing programs and messaging that signal to the organization the support of and validation of LGBTQ identities.”
Normalizing the LGBTQ experience by senior leaders — The organization’s executives need to promote people who are willing to be out. In order to break down the societal heteronormative experience, leadership need to demonstrate visibly the commitment to understanding the needs of the community, active support of LGBTQ peers and colleagues, and as allies, sharing their experiences with other firm leaders.
Resource the organizational commitment to LGBTQ talent — The requirement for ensuring that the proper resources are in place to support LGBTQ inclusion — both in terms of filling positions with LGBTQ talent and having roles dedicated to inclusion — need to be put in place to deliver on commitments and avoid the appearance of being just window-dressing, Power says.
One note of caution, however — it’s important for the organization to engage in honest self-analysis to avoid any kind of tokenism, Power says. “Many LGBTQ people smell tokenism like a bloodhound because so many people’s experiences of microaggressions or macroaggressions in their lives have had a counterproductive effect,” she adds.