In this blog, IBMer Louise Erasmus, IT Infrastructure Integration Lead for IBM Middle East and Africa, tells us all about her experience participating in this year’s international Out & Equal Summit in Philadelphia, USA.
By Louise Erasmus
“Congratulations: You have been nominated.” This was the subject line of one of the most remarkable emails I received this year. When I opened the email, I was surprised to learn that I was nominated to attend the Out and Equal Summit 2017. Emotions started flooding through, and I felt absolutely humbled and honored. Travel approvals came in quickly, and before I knew it, my managers and peers from around the world were congratulating me. I was on cloud 9!
On top of being able to attend the prestigious summit, I was also selected as part of five nominees to be part of the planning committee. This means that I will be working with fellow nominees from the US, Mexico, Brazil, and UK to serve as role models for all attendees, and preparing an experience that will be unforgettable for all.
From South Africa to the USA
I had to pinch myself to make sure that this was real. Frantic, I started with the planning of my journey, which would take me around 25 hours, which included getting a nice outfit for the gala dinner. On the 8th of October I left South Africa and headed to the US (for the first time), to begin one of the best experiences in my 25 years at IBM.
I was exhausted when I arrived in Philadelphia. But as I waited for my room in the hotel reception, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the planning squad members who had been the leading light during our planning sessions. I was immediately energized. That evening we had an introduction session where I got to meet the most amazing IBMers – nominees and executives. We had a fantastic facilitator who guided us thru introductions in a very special way, by bringing an artifact that represents your leadership style. Best of all, we got our t-shirts with the IBM LGBT logo. Now, where in this world do you find a company that allows their logo to be color coded for the LGBT community?! I was so proud to be wearing that t-shirt!
Hearing Stories of LGBTQ+ Communities Around the World
The event officially started the next day. There were 4,500 attendees from across the globe, and from many different organizations! IBMers arrived early morning at the conference center, before the hustle and bustle, spending time learning together! How great was that.
I was asked to be on a panel in one of the sessions, which was something totally out of my comfort zone. The opportunity showed me that you need to step outside of your comfort zone in order to grow. It gave me the chance to speak about what it is like being part of the LGBT community in my country. I was so proud to share that South Africa was the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in our constitution (1996). This was thanks to a great man called Nelson Mandela.
IBM delegates also shared the great work being done by our colleagues across the world. It was here that I realized how IBMers are truly changing the landscape of the LGBTQ+ community, by opening doors where there weren’t any. Listening to fellow IBMers tell their stories of their journey brought tears to our eyes as we heard some of the horrible situations they had to deal with. The great thing is that they are there walking tall and proud, and being a shining examples of determination and courage. There were also many allies there and it was wonderful to listen to them share how they are working to change the workplace.
After hearing everyone’s stories, it became evident that we have a lot of work ahead of us and many countries in the world are not as accepting as others are. It is our duty as members of the LGBTQ+ community to play our part in changing the world one step at a time, by spreading the word and reaching out to allies to ensure we work together to build a workplace that will be totally free from of discrimination.
Driving Change From the Top
On the last day of the summit, I attended a round table session with Out Executives from different corporations. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have such an opportunity to speak with these executives. They shared with us their views and what they have been doing to strengthen and build a more inclusive workplace. It is great to see and experience change being driven from the top down.
Inclusiveness is no longer an option in today’s world. It is a necessity for all companies, as the workforce of tomorrow is looking for a totally inclusive environment, where everyone can be authentic and true to themselves, while getting support from leadership to grow and become the best they can be.
This was a truly amazing experience and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life. I plan to be more active in my day to day, by working on making IBM an even more inclusive workplace.
I will always remember the great IBMers I got to meet, the stories they shared, and how great it is to be a Gay IBMer!!!
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