LGBTQ+ individuals continue to face discrimination in their daily lives – this includes those in the STEM fields. According to Pride in Stem, 28 percent of LGBTQ+ people have considered leaving their jobs because of a hostile workplace or discrimination toward them. Further, one in three physicists in the U.S. has been urged to avoid coming out to progress their careers.
It’s evident that many barriers are still working against LGBTQ+ individuals. Despite these, we’re still finding moments to celebrate their achievements and remember that it gets better. For example, July 5th, 2018 marked the inaugural International Day of LGBTQ+ People in STEM, where the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math are recognized and applauded.
It’s vital to ensure everyone in the community feels welcome and included in workplaces and gets the recognition they deserve. With that in mind, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most inspiring LGBTQ+ CEOs, engineers, and entrepreneurs in STEM fields.
Note: The individuals listed here are in no particular order and have not been ranked.
Tim Cook – CEO of Apple
Tim Cook has been at the helm of the technology giant, Apple Inc., since 2011. Prior to becoming CEO, he held the position of Chief Operations Officer at the company and is credited with giving Apple’s inventory and outgoing expenses a much-needed overhaul.
Cook publicly came out in 2014, though he had always been open about his sexuality in his personal life. His announcement made him the first chief executive of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay.
Alan Joyce – CEO of Qantas Airlines
Irish-born Alan Joyce rose to the position of CEO of the Australian airline, Qantas, in 2008. Prior to working for Qantas, Joyce had worked in numerous positions for Irish airline, Aer Lingus.
Joyce has been open about his sexuality throughout his career even led a campaign for marriage equality in Australia. He became a Companion of the Order of Australia – the highest civil honor that can be bestowed upon someone by the state.
Lauren Esposito – Co-Founder 500 Queer Scientists
Lauren Esposito is the world’s only expert on scorpions. As an arachnologist, her work focuses on documenting the world’s arachnid biodiversity.
She is the co-founder of 500 Queer Scientists, a visibility movement and professional network that boosts the recognition and awareness of LGBTQ+ people working in STEM fields. She created the network after learning that 40 percent of LGBTW+ scientists were not out to their colleagues.
Martine Rothblatt – CEO of United Therapeutics
In 2018, Martine Rothblatt, founder of United Therapeutics, became the highest-earning CEO in the biopharmaceutical industry. Her fascinating and storied career has spanned the fields of law, aerospace, and medicine.
Rothblatt came out as a transgender woman in 1994 at the age of 40 and remains a fierce advocate for trans rights. She’s married with four children and dedicates much of her time to transhumanist efforts.
Leanne Pittsford – Founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech
Leanne Pittsford founded Lesbians Who Tech in 2012, the largest LGBTQ community of technologists in the world. The community offers programming and opportunities to give visibility and opportunity to LGBTQ+ women and non-binary individuals in the tech sector. The organization now has more than 40,000 members.
Pittsford also multiple LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summits at the White House in 2015 and 2016.
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 that specializes in cloud-based presentations. In 2009 the company was successfully funded, in part, by TED Conference.
Arvai came out in a Forbes article in 2015. He felt it was important for LGBTQ+ youths to have role models within the fields of entrepreneurship and STEM, and this is what pushed him to come out publicly.
Hayley Sudbury – Founder and CEO of WERKIN
Entrepreneur Hayley Sudbury is the founder and CEO of WERKIN, an analytics platform that utilizes behavioral science to improve diversity in company hiring practices. Before founding her own company, Sudbury was an executive at Barclays.
Sudbury campaigns for LGBT+ rights and diversity in the tech industry. She is a member of the committee for LB Women and is a mentor for Stemettes.
Joel Simkhai – Founder and Former CEO of Grindr
Joel Simkhai is the founder and former CEO of Grindr, arguably, the most popular dating app for gay men. Simkhai launched the app in 2008 and announced his departure from the company following the app’s acquisition by Kunlun.
Simkhai has always been open about his sexuality and has used his platform to promote gay rights and raise money for LGBTQ+ causes.
Jon “Maddog” Hall – Board Chair for the Linux Professional Institute
Jon “Maddog” Hall is a veteran computer programmer and currently serves as the board chair for the Linux Professional Institute. He’s also the CEO of OptDyn, a tech company that produces open-source technologies to be used in P2P cloud computing and the Internet of Things.
In a 2012 article for Linux Magazine, Hall publicly came out as gay. His decision was made in honor of Alan Turing.
Lynn Conway – Pioneering Designer at IBM
Today, Lynn Conway is known as one of the most important individuals in IBM history. But that wasn’t always the case. While working at IBM in the 1960s, she engineered supercomputer technologies. However, when she began to transition in 1968, IBM fired her. After completing her transition, she would go on to work on chip design at Xerox, and eventually join DARPA.
She came out publicly as a trans woman in the early 2000s, and has used her position to become a vocal advocate for the trans community. IBM would later apologize to her in 2020.
Megan Smith – Former CTO of the United States
Megan Smith has had a storied career. She was a vice president at Google and the former CEO of Planet Out. In 2014 she became the first female CTO of the United States, and the third person to ever hold that position. She served as CTO under President Barack Obama until 2017.
Smith has been recognized by both Out Magazine and GLAAD for her visibility as an LGBTQ+ leader.
Arlan Hamilton – Co-founder and CEO of Backstage Capital
Hamilton founded Backstage Capital in 2015 while she was homeless. The fund invests in companies led by underrepresented founders including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals. To date, the organization has raised more than $15 million and invested in more than 150 startups.
In October 2018, Hamilton became the first Black, non-celebrity woman to be featured on the cover of Fast Company magazine.
David Bohnett – Founder of GeoCities
David Bohnett was behind one of the first-ever social networking sites, GeoCities, back during the early days of the Internet. After founding the site in 1994, Bohnett has gone on to found the David Bohnett Foundation which seeks to improve society through social activism.
Bohnett has been recognized throughout his career for his contributions to tech and the LGBTQ+ community.
Tim Gill – Founder of Quark
In 1981, Tim Gill founded Quark Inc., which produced an early and important software for the layout of graphics. Gill sold his stakes in Quark in 1999 in order to focus more on his interests in LGBTQ+ activism and philanthropy.
Gill married Scott Miller in 2009 and continues to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community through the Gill Foundation. He is believed to be the largest single donor to LGBTQ+ rights in America, having donated over $422 million to various causes throughout his lifetime.
Jennifer Pritzker – Founder of the Tawani Foundation
Jennifer Pritzker is best-known for being the first transgender billionaire. She served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and founded the Tawani Foundation in 1995. Through the foundation, she seeks to donate to numerous civic causes.
Pritzker publicly came out in 2013 via a statement to her employees. She has received many accolades for her work in advancing the visibility of and discussion around gender identity.
Vivienne Ming – Co-Founder of Socos
Vivienne Ming is a theoretical neuroscientist and entrepreneur and is the co-founder and executive chair of Socos. Socos aims to combine machine learning and neuroscience to maximize the potential of students. In 2013, Ming was named one of Ten Women to Watch in Tech by Inc. Magazine.
Ming came out as a trans woman to her fiancé, Norma, on her 34th birthday in 2005. She and Norma married the following year. Today, Ming sits on the boards of StartOut, The Palm Center, Emozia, Engender, and Genderis Inc.
Jason Grenfell-Gardner – CEO of Teligent
Jason Grenfell-Gardner is the current Chief Executive Officer, President, and Director of Teligent. Prior to working for Teligent, he was Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for West-Ward Pharmaceuticals. He is also a current Director at IGI Laboratories.
Grenfell-Gardner is one of the few openly gay CEOs of publicly traded American corporations. In a 2014 article with the New York Times, Grenfell-Gardner and C1 Financial CEO, Trevor Burgess, both said they were unaware of any other openly gay CEOs in their field.
Claudia Brind-Woody – Vice President of IBM
Claudia Brind-Woody is one of the most powerful women working in tech today. She is currently employed as the Vice President and Managing Director for IBM Global Intellectual Property Licensing. She has worked for IBM for over twenty years and has held multiple different positions.
Brind-Woody has served on the boards of numerous LGBTQ+ organizations over the years. She was awarded the Out & Equal Trailblazer Award in 2011 and has spoken publicly on issues of diversity and LGBTQ+ rights globally.
Anthony Romero – Executive Director of the ACLU
Anthony D. Romero is the current Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He previously served as the Director of the Ford Foundation, where he facilitated as much as $90 million in funding for various civil and human rights projects.
In 2001 he became not only the first Latino man to be Executive Director of the ACLU, but also the first openly gay man. In 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Hispanics.
Trevor Burgess – Former CEO of C1 Financial
Trevor Burgess is the former CEO of C1 Financial and is known as being the first openly gay CEO of a bank on the New York Stock Exchange. Before rising to the position of CEO, Burgess worked as an investment broker for Morgan Stanley for ten years.
Burgess has been very vocal about his position as a gay CEO, in an effort to better represent the LGBT+ community. He was featured in The G Quotient-Why Gay Executives are Excelling as Leaders. In 2016 he stepped down as C1 Financial CEO following its acquisition by Bank of Ozarks.
Stephen Clarke – CEO of WH Smith
Stephen Clarke is the Chief Executive Officer of the British bookshop chain, WH Smith. Last year he spearheaded a training initiative in the company to better accommodate workers suffering from mental health issues.
Mental health is an important issue to Clarke, who has spoken in the past about his husband’s struggle with mental health. He also privately mentors fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community who work in the business sector,.
António Simões – CEO of Santander Spain
Portuguese banker, António Simões, is the current CEO of Santander Spain and former Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Bank. He previously worked for both McKinsey & Company and Goldman Sachs.
He has always been open about his sexualityty, and in 2015 was named number one in the Out at Work & Telegraph Top 50 LGBT Executives list. Prior to this, he was recognized by many publications for his status as an influential gay executive.
Gigi Chao – Executive Director of Cheuk Nang Holdings Limited
Gigi Chao was thrust into the media spotlight when, in 2012, her father and owner of Cheuk Nang Holdings offered $65 million to any man who would marry her. In 2014, Chao’s father raised the amount to $180 million.
Chao responded to her father’s offers by publishing a letter in the China Morning Post, where she revealed that she was gay had married her partner, Sean Eav, in 2012.
In 2008, Chao founded the Faith In Love Foundation, a charitable organization aimed at lifting underprivileged youths out of poverty.
Juergen Maier – Former CEO of Siemens UK
Juergen Maier is the current Chief Executive Officer for Siemens UK. Before rising to the position of CEO, he held numerous senior positions within the company, including Industry Sector Lead for the UK and Ireland.
Early in his career, Maier was worried that his sexual orientation might affect his career opportunities and remained secretive. In recent years, he has opened up about his struggles as a gay man and now speaks out against homophobia in the workplace.
Mark McBride-Wright – Chair and Co-Founder of InterEngineering
Mark McBride-Wright is a chartered chemical engineer and the chair and co-founder of InterEngineering – an organization that seeks to connect LGBTQ+ engineers and support them in the field of engineering. He is also the founder of EqualEngineers, an organization dedicated to connecting employers with diverse candidates working in STEM, and in consulting on matters of diversity within various companies.
McBride-Wright has worked tirelessly to provide more inclusive spaces within engineering for the LGBTQ+ community. He appeared on the Financial Times Future LGBT Leaders List in both 2015 and 2016.
26. Ann Mei Chang – Former Chief Innovation Officer at USAID
Chang is the former Chief Innovation Officer at USAID. She is an advocate for social innovation and has been recognized by Global Shakers as one of the “20 Top LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs, Executives and Thought Leaders” in 2019.
In 2020, she was the Chief Innovation Officer for the presidential campaign for Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate.
Angelica Ross – Founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises
Ross runs TransTech Social Enterprises, a firm that helps employ transgender people in the tech industry. She began her transition at the age of 19 with the help of drag queen Traci Ross.
A self-taught coder, she also founded the TransTech summit to foster skills in the technology industry, especially for trans people.