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OutFront: Lesbians Who Tech Founder Invests in Diversity

Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech Betsy Kershner

Leanne Pittsford is an entrepreneur with a love for data. And as the founder of the professional network Lesbians Who Tech, she spends a lot of time thinking about how data can influence relationships.

"I'm a big numbers person. Numbers are just so black and white, but at the same time can paint a really, really big picture. And they give you the information you need to make decisions," she said.

The 35-year-old is a leader and risk-taker. Pittsford majored in political science and started her career at the LGBTQ rights group Equality California. She volunteered to build a fundraising tool, and in order to do that began the daunting task of teaching herself how to code. At the time, Equality California was working to help overturn Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that denied same sex couples the right to marry in California.

"I really taught myself those skills and really fell in love with the power of technology and the impact it can have. And after I saw that in real time during the Prop 8 campaign, I knew it was something I wanted to focus on in my career," she said.

Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech, with members of the professional networking group Marisa Erin Photography

Pittsford started Lesbians Who Tech in 2012 after realizing there weren't enough networking opportunities specifically for LGBTQ women.

"It was clear when I went to both queer spaces and women spaces, that lesbian and queer women were missing from those communities," she said.

One thing that was especially missing were mentors who LGBTQ women could relate to, according to Pittsford.

"I asked people, 'Who do you look up to who's an LGBT woman in tech?' And 95 percent of the time they would not even have one name."

The San Diego native has worked hard to connect LGBTQ women with influential mentors in tech. Pittsford talks fondly about 87-year-old Edie Windsor, who spoke at the organization's New York summit last year. Windsor, a lesbian, is best known for her role in overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in the landmark ruling United States v. Windsor. She's also a pioneering woman in tech who climbed the ranks of IBM in the 1960s. Pittsford named a scholarship program after her.

"We're trying to connect her story for generations to come. She literally won awards. She was the first person ever to have a personal computer in all of Manhattan. That's just such a good image. To think about the groundbreaking work she was doing back then," Pittsford said.

Pittsford isn't just focused on building relationships. Diversity is also a priority.

"The trick is we really have to be intentional around diversity. Every time [Lesbians Who Tech] has a summit or a panel, we have 50 percent LGBTQ women of color. That's the goal. And that's really, really important to our community."

Pittsford has grown her startup from a few friends to a network of almost 20,000 LGBTQ women and allies worldwide. It holds two major summits in San Francisco and New York every year and also organizes smaller events in and outside the U.S. It's a niche community, but to Pittsford it exemplifies the power of diversity.

"We have speakers who are curing cancer and building rocket ships. We also happen to have speakers who are 50 percent queer women of color. If we're this small startup with really limited resources and we can do this, I'm pretty sure tech companies can figure it out, too. And that's what we're fighting for."

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