Expressing my Identity with Courage and Confidence

Every year, IBM selects top employees and deploys them to emerging markets around the world on assignments related to society as part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program. Participants spend four weeks in groups of 10 to 15 to help solve economic and social problems. Teams work collaboratively with their government and community counterparts to understand how to implement socially responsible business practices with measurable results in a global context.

In this interview, Jacob Castañeda, IT Project Manager for Mergers, Acquisitions and Divestitures at IBM Mexico shares how he had a life-transforming experience during his IBM Corporate Service Corps program in Ghana and also how this experience gave him the confidence to come out at work.

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Tell us about your career journey.

I was 22 years old when I joined IBM Mexico in Guadalajara. It was my first job after my graduation as a computer engineer. Since then, I have had the opportunity to serve in different roles in this company that has helped me grow both professionally and personally. I started as a business analyst. Two years later, I had the opportunity to become team leader for a SAP team. And more than eight years have passed since I joined, and I have seen a transformation not only in IBM but in the roles I have had: SAP MM/PP worldwide support, SAP SCM Consultant, SAP project leader and, currently, IT Project Manager for Mergers, Acquisitions and Divestitures.

Can you share some personal development opportunities you have had since you joined IBM?

I have participated as a volunteer in lots of IBM initiatives and was selected to participate in different leadership development programs. Most recently, I served as a Social Business initiative co-leader where I co-facilitated a team of 20+ volunteers to promote the adoption of the Social business culture and tools. One of the most important programs is the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC); its main objective is “to help communities around the world solve critical problems while providing IBM employees unique leadership development opportunities.” As part of this CSC program, in 2016 I was assigned for one month with 11 other IBMers from different countries to work in Ghana with the Ministry of Education and an IT social enterprise that uses technologies to facilitate education around Ghana and other West African countries. My team in Ghana was the first pilot of a partnership IBM and Peace Corps started in 2015.

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In what ways did this experience help you?

This assignment in Ghana was a life-changing experience — perhaps one of the best experiences I have ever had at IBM. This assignment helped me grow in many different ways, but the most personal one is that it helped me realize the challenges that Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people face in countries with anti-LGBT legislation and culture.

Yes, I am gay.

Although I had no incident in Ghana related to my sexual orientation because the CSC program prepares its participants very carefully in security matters, all through the four weeks I lived with a deep fear that I could be imprisoned if my sexual orientation was discovered. I needed to hide part of my personal life from my amazing colleagues and from the great people we worked with in the organizations.  I needed to be very careful about the content I had in my social networks. I needed to hide part of myself to a world that does not recognize us as real people.

After I came back from Ghana, one thing was in my mind: I wanted to eliminate the fear within me and be confident of who I am.

Something I knew since I joined IBM is that IBM is one of the friendliest companies in the world for LGBT people. But I had not decided to be open about my sexual orientation at work, mainly because I was unsure of what to expect. Prior to my experience in Ghana, I had the opportunity to be mentored by openly gay executives at IBM that have shared their stories to inspire more employees to be open at work about their sexual orientation. My time in Ghana further helped me realize how blessed I am for being in a company that respects its employees regardless of their race, religion and sexual orientation. And I have never regretted coming out at work as my relationship with my colleagues was not affected in anyway. Now I can be myself with my colleagues, with my friends at work, and even with my leaders about what really matters for me as a gay employee. Even though our coming-out process never ends, each milestone in this process is a celebration because it shows us as people, as real people.

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I am hoping this article will inspire more LGBT people and allies to have the courage to come out because one of the things IBM has taught me is that fear does not add value, but courage does.


Take some time to read the experiences of some other IBMers during their #IBMCSC assignment across the globe here.

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