In celebration of Pride Month, thinkbridge highlights these ten inspiring LGBTQ+ tech leaders including some amazing CEOs, entrepreneurs, and engineers who have broken down big barriers facing the LGBTQ community, making lives better for others in the STEM fields. As a result, diverse teams are more likely to achieve scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations by bringing different perspectives to a problem and offering other solutions.
By the Numbers
The LGBTQ+ community faces discrimination in their daily lives and their careers and academic pursuits. According to Pride in Stem, 28% have considered leaving their jobs because of a hostile work environment or discrimination. 33% of American physicists have been urged to ‘stay in the closet’ to progress in their careers. 50% of transgender or gender non-conforming physicists were harassed within their academic departments (2015 American Physical Society Survey). According to the STEM study, gay and bisexual students are less likely to follow an academic career (2018 Coming out in STEM). These stats indicate we have still got some significant barriers to remove. Recognizing the LGBTQ+ community’s contributions to innovations in science, technology, engineering, and math that help advance our society is key to eliminating these barriers.
Tim Cook: CEO at Apple
Tim Donald Cook joined tech giant Apple Inc. in 2011. Tim was the Chief Operations Officer at the company before taking on his current position as CEO. In 2014, Tim was the first Fortune 500 chief executive to publicly came out as gay.
Lynn Conway: Pioneering Designer at IBM
Lynn Ann Conway is an inventor, computer scientist, engineer, and activist for the transgender community. Lynn is also known as one of the most influential individuals in IBM‘s history. However, this was not always the case. Especially in the 1960s, while working as an engineer at IBM in the 1960s, she engineered supercomputer technologies. Barriers arose in 1968 when IBM fired her when she began to transition. After completing her transition, she would go on to work on chip design at Xerox and DARPA. In the early 2000s, Lynn came out publicly as a trans woman and has become an outspoken advocate for the trans community. IBM eventually apologized to Lynn in 2020.
Source: Robin Wauters/Wikipedia
Peter Arvai: CEO and Co-Founder of Prezi
Swedish entrepreneur Peter Arvai is best-known as the CEO and co-founder of Prezi, a software company specializing in cloud-based presentations. In 2009 the company was successfully funded, in part, by TED Conference. Arvai came out in a Forbes magazine article in 2015. He felt it was important for LGBTQ+ youths to have role models within entrepreneurship and STEM fields, which motivated him to come out publicly.
Ann Mei Chang: Former Chief Innovation Officer at USAID
Ann Mei Chang is the former CIO at USAID. She advocates for social innovation and is recognized by Global Shakers as one of the “20 Top LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs, Executives and Thought Leaders” in 2019. Ann served for eight years as a Senior Engineering Director at Google, where she also led the product development team for Emerging Markets. In addition, she was the CIO for the presidential campaign in 2020 for Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate.
Joel Simkhai: Founder and Former CEO of Grindr
As the founder and former CEO of Grindr, Joel Simkhai is an LGBTQ tech leader for today’s most popular dating app for gay men. In 2008, Joel launched the Grindr app and left the company after Kunlun acquired the app. He is a charter member of the Young Presidents’ Organization. Joel is an open advocate for gay rights and raises funds to support LGBTQ+ causes.
Megan Smith: Former CTO of the United States
Megan Smith was a vice president at Google and the former CEO of Planet Out. In 2014, Megan became the first female CTO of the United States, serving under President Barack Obama until 2017. A pioneer, she is the third person ever to hold this position. In addition, GLAAD and Out Magazine have recognized Megan among the top LGBTQ+ tech leaders.
Leanne Pittsford: Founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech
Leanne Pittsford founded Lesbians Who Tech, the most prominent LGBTQ+ community of technologists globally, in 2012. Lesbians Who Tech offers programming and career opportunities to LGBTQ+ women and non-binary individuals in technology. The organization now has grown to over 470,000 members. Leanne also led the LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summits at the White House in 2015 and 2016.
Claudia Brind-Woody: Vice President of IBM
Claudia Brind-Woody is one of the most influential and powerful women working in the tech world today. Having worked in many positions at IBM for twenty years, she is now the Vice President and Managing Director for IBM Global Intellectual Property Licensing. In 2011, Claudia received the Out & Equal Trailblazer Award. In addition, Claudia served on the boards of many LGBTQ+ organizations throughout her career and continues to be a global advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.
Chris Hughes: Co-Founder of Facebook
Chris Hughes is the Co-Founder of Facebook and an among the most innovative LGBTQ+ tech leaders. During his high school journey, Chris’s life changed as he soon realized he was gay. While attending Harvard University, he met Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, and they started up Facebook. However, in 2007, he left Facebook and volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Peter Theil: Former CEO and Co-founder of PayPal
Peter Andreas Thiel was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1967 and settled with his family in California in 1977. Now a billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist, he was one of the Paypal co-founders, in addition to Palantir Technologies and Founders Fund, the first outside investor in Facebook. Chris has supported mostly conservative gay rights causes such as the American Foundation for Equal Rights and GOProud. In 2016, Chris confirmed that he had funded Hulk Hogan in the Bollea v. Gawker lawsuit because Gawker had previously outed him as gay.
The best solutions to business challenges can often be found in the creativity and innovation of a diverse spectrum of thinkers and problem solvers. These exceptional LGBTQ+ tech leaders are just a select few of the many brave and brilliant minds willing to speak up, rethink, and reimagine our evolving technology landscape’s future roles and possibilities.