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Women who inspire: LGBTQ execs leading in technology

In honor of Pride Month, Know Your Value is spotlighting just a few exemplary LGBTQ leaders who are creating more inclusive opportunities in tech.
Image: Pride rainbow flags outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City
Pride rainbow flags outside the Stonewall Inn on June 5, 2019 in New York City.Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images file

Despite the national conversation about getting more women in technology, women are still greatly underrepresented and underpaid compared to their male counterparts. Women make up 28.8 percent of the tech workforce today, with some experts estimating it could take 12 years before the United States sees equal representation in the industry.

In particular, minorities working in tech (including members of the LGBTQ community) continue to face significant obstacles in career advancement and quality of work life. The good news is that a number of initiatives aimed at LGBTQ people in the tech industry have emerged in recent years, including Lesbians Who Tech, Trans Tech Social Enterprises and StartOut.

In honor of Pride Month, Know Your Value is spotlighting just a few exemplary LGBTQ leaders who are creating more inclusive opportunities in tech:

Martine Rothblatt, creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, CEO of United Therapeutics

Creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, founder and chairwoman of the board of United Therapeutics, biotechnology companyAndre Chung / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

As a lawyer, author, scholar, entrepreneur, biotechnologist and advocate, Rothblatt is used to making waves.

Rothblatt founded two companies: WorldSpace and Sirius Satellite Radio. WorldSpace became the first global satellite radio network, while Sirius provides commercial-free broadcasts from satellites.

In 1994, motivated by her daughter’s life-threatening diagnosis of pulmonary arterial hypertension, Rothblatt founded the PPH Cure Foundation and United Therapeutics, a medical biotech firm. That same year, Rothblatt came out publicly as transgender and is a vocal advocate for trans rights.

“I think trans rights is up to us, and that we should never rest until everybody can be true to their soul no matter what gender that might be,” Rothblatt told The Advocate.

In 2014, Rothblatt was the highest-paid female U.S. CEO. In 2016 she helped create the world’s first electric helicopter. And in 2018 she oversaw creation of the world’s largest site net-zero sustainable office building. Forbes magazine honored Rothblatt as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds of the past century.

Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital, author of “It’s About Damn Time”

Founder and Managing Partner, Backstage Capital.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Hamilton is the first Black, queer woman to create her own venture capital firm.

She built a venture capital fund while fund while homeless, sleeping on the floor of the San Francisco International Airport and couch-surfing. She launched Backstage Capital in 2015, a venture capital firm that invests in high-potential founders who are women, people of color, and LGBTQ community members.

Hamilton became interested in venture capital when she was working as a tour manager for artists. Hamilton took notice of celebrities investing in Silicon Valley and began teaching herself venture capital fundamentals. She eventually discovered a two-week course at Stanford for investors-in-training and raised funds to attend. Hamilton made invaluable connections at Stanford with her first investor coming from the program.

Hamilton’s dream was to start a fund for people who looked like her. In 2015, she wrote a viral blog post titled “Dear White Venture Capitalists” which criticized how venture capitalists viewed investing in minority founders. A few months later Hamilton had her first angel investor who put in $25,000.

Backstage has now raised more than $15 million and invested in more than 160 startup companies.

Megan Smith, CEO of Shift7, former U.S. chief technology officer

Founder and CEO, Shift7, former first U.S. Chief Technology Officer.Richard Mcblane / Getty Images for SXSW file

Smith joined Google as an engineer in 2003, rising to VP leading new business development. Smith also became general manager of Google's philanthropic arm, and in 2012, she started Google’s WomenTechmakers initiative.

In 2014, Smith left to become the third U.S. Chief Technology Officer under President Obama.

With a focus on how technology could be harnessed to advance the nation’s goals, Smith recruited top tech talent to collaborate on pressing issues, including artificial intelligence, economic structural inequalities, STEM/STEAM engagement and criminal justice reform.

In 2018 Smith founded Shift7, which works on tech-forward solutions to systemic economic, social, and environmental challenges.

She is a “tech evangelist” and after speaking at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, in response to Smith’s fervent appeal for technologists to work in public service, a group of Harvard students created a non-profit Coding it Forward.

Angelica Ross, founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, actress, activist

Founder and CEO, TransTech Social EnterprisesCraig Barritt / Getty Images for Tory Burch Foundation file

Ross made her acting debut in 2005 and later had a breakthrough role in the hit FX series “POSE.” She went on to star in “American Horror Story: 1984” and is currently developing other television projects.

While unemployed, Ross, a transgender woman, taught herself how to code and also learned graphic design and photography. She was later hired by the Chicago House'sTransLife Center, an organization that helps transgender people find housing, employment and medical care.

Ross is emphatic that technology saved her life, and in 2014, she founded TransTechSocial Enterprises, a non-profit incubator for LGBTQ talent, with a focus on economic empowerment and teaching practical, career-ready skills.

Ross’ remarkable story was told in a 2015 MSNBC documentary and she was a featured speaker at the 2015 White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit. In 2019 she hosted the 2020 Presidential Candidate Forum on LGBTQ issues. And this month Ross was named to Fast Company’s second annual Queer 50 list.