12 LGBTQIA+ Leaders Who Are Shaping Major Companies and Shifting Culture in the Process

June 16, 2020
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Until now, over half (52%) of the people who identify as LGBTQIA+ in the U.S. were living in states where they could be fired, passed over for a promotion, denied training, and harassed in the workplace based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court took a long-overdue step in ending these discriminatory practices by ruling that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the historic six-to-three ruling.

In honor of this landmark ruling, which also just so happens to coincide with Pride, we’re using our platform to shine a spotlight on LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and leaders who are running cool companies and shifting culture in the process. Scroll on to meet just a few of the founders, executives, and leaders who are shaping some of the most influential businesses in our cultural lexicon—like Netflix, Facebook, and Reddit to name drop a few—and paving the way to the boardroom for the young LGBTQIA+ individuals coming up behind them.

Freya Estreller & Natasha Case

Co-Founders, Coolhaus

It’s safe to say Freya Estreller and Natasha Case have successfully disrupted the freezer aisle. The co-founders of the women-owned, women-run ice cream brand Coolhaus, which is known for its innovative flavors (think street cart churro dough) and “farchitecture” ice cream sandwiches, have built a formidable franchise complete with a fleet of ice cream trucks, two scoop shops, and premium placement in the freezer aisle in over 7,500 grocery stores from Safeway to Whole Foods. Earlier this year, we shined a spotlight on the innovative founders as Create & Cultivate 100 honorees.

Jimena Almendares

Product Executive, Facebook

Jimena Almendares’ résumé is impressive, to put it mildly. Before she landed her current role as product executive at Facebook, she helped shape other major companies like Intuit, OkCupid, and Meetup. While at OkCupid, she led the company through its IPO, and ad Intuit, she led the expansion of Quickbooks into Mexico and set the record for the fastest global launch the company’s history in the process. Not to mention, she’s on the board of Out for Undergrad (O4U), an organization dedicated to helping high-achieving LGBTQ+ undergraduates reach their full potential.

Rachel Tipograph

Founder & CEO, MikMak

Rachel Tipograph is making marketing cool again. With a client list that includes brands like L’Oreal, Hershey’s, Unilever, and Estée Lauder, the founder of MikMak is leveraging social media for major profits, something the 2017 Create & Cultivate 100 honoree talked about at our recent Digital Money Moves Summit. It’s no wonder the innovative entrepreneur has been honored in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Who Are Changing the World, Marie Claire’s 50 Most Influential Women in America, Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, and Entrepreneur’s 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs lists. She’s also an angel investor who’s passionate about funding women, POC, and LGBTQIA+ founders.

Jen Wong

COO, Reddit

Jen Wong’s career reads like a dream run on paper. Before joining Reddit, Wong served as president and COO of Time, Inc, where she was the highest-ranking female executive. Before that, she served as PopSugar’s chief business officer and even spent a stint as AOL’s global head of business operations. Under Wong’s leadership, Reddit is reportedly on track to reach $262 million dollars in ad revenue by 2021, which is more than double last year’s revenue.

Photo credit: @onewong

Leanne Pittsford

Founder, Lesbians Who Tech & Allies

In 2012, Leanne Pittsford organized a series of happy hour networking events for lesbians in technology. Fast-forward to 2020 and what started as a small gathering of just 30 people has grown into Lesbians Who Tech & Allies, a veritable tech community of 40,000 members with chapters in 40 cities. Since then, the 2019 Create & Cultivate 100 honoree has founded two more companies to help underrepresented people in tech land their dream jobs: Include.io, a mentoring and recruiting platform, and Tech Jobs Tour, a series of networking events across the country to bridge the gap between tech companies and prospective job candidates.

Lydia Polgreen

Head of Content, Gimlet Media

Earlier this year, Lydia Polgreen resigned as HuffPost’s editor in chief—a role she took on when Arianna Huffington, the founder, stepped down—to become head of content at Gimlet Media. In doing so, the seasoned storyteller, who spent nearly 15 years on staff at The New York Times before joining HuffPost, validated what many in media already suspected: podcasting is on the rise. In fact, Spotify paid nearly $340 million in a combined deal to acquire both Gimlet and Anchor, a company that makes easy-to-use tools for producing podcasts, in 2019.

Arlan Hamilton

Founder & Managing Partner, Backstage Capital

Here are some startling stats: Only 12% of venture capital funds are invested in companies with at least one female founder, according to All Raise. Additionally, of the $425 billion raised in VC funding since 2009, a mere 0.32% went to Latinx female founders and .0006% to startups led by Black women. Arlan Hamilton, the founder and managing partner of the venture capital firm Backstage Capital, is on a mission to tip these statistics in the right direction. Since launching in 2015, Backstage Capital has invested over $7M in 130 companies led by underrepresented founders, according to the company’s website. It’s no wonder we included her on our 2018 Create & Cultivate 100 list.

Emma Mcilroy

CEO, Wildfang

Emma Mcilroy started a feminist revolution in 2013 when she launched her clothing brand, Wildfang—remember this Wild Feminist T-shirt?—dismantling the patriarchy and gender norms in the process. And it seems a lot of people want to join Mcilroy for the ride.  Now a multi-million-dollar company, Wildfang is also a global community and a place for women to feel that they can conquer anything.

Denyelle Bruno

CEO, Tender Greens

As the CEO of Tender Greens, Denyelle Bruno is at the helm of a casual restaurant chain that serves over seven million customers across 30 locations in California, New York, and Massachusetts and, not to mention, brings in an impressive $100 million in annual revenue. But it’s not just about the bottom line for Bruno. In an industry where the gender gap is getting wider, not narrower, Bruno is leading the charge in gender diversity. In fact, by the end of 2020, Tender Greens achieved gender parity across the company’s restaurant leadership, from executive chefs to sous chefs, which is one of the many reasons we included Bruno on our 2020 Create & Cultivate 100 list.

Angelica Ross

Actor, Writer, Producer, Founder and CEO, TransTech Social Enterprises

You probably know Angelica Ross as Candy Ferocity on Pose, but she’s also a leading figure in the movement for trans and racial equality. When you consider the statistics—72% of trans homicide victims between 2010 and 2016 were black trans women and femmes—it’s easy to see why Ross wants to ensure that these women aren’t reduced to a statistic. As the founder of TransTech Social Enterprises, she’s is working to empower trans and gender-nonconforming people through on-the-job training in leadership and workplace skills. As a powerful speaker, she tours nationally to share her mission with business leaders, educators, and the President of the United States.

Cindy Holland

VP of Original Content, Netflix

As vice president of original content at Netflix, Cindy Holland, who has been with the company since 2002, oversees the production of the streaming giant’s binge-worthy original series and the multi-billion-dollar budget needed to bring that high-quality, programming to the platform’s 182 million subscribers and counting. Under Holland’s watch, Netflix earned 117 Emmy nominations in 2019, 17 Golden Globe nominations in 2020, and has secured deals with the likes of Shonda Rhimes and Janet Mock, who is the first openly trans creator to sign a major deal with Netflix.

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