Peggy Johnson announces M12 Female Founders Competition winners

Earlier this year, our corporate venture fund, M12, took an important step in helping identify promising women entrepreneurs and accelerating their access to capital. Partnering with EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group, we launched the Female Founders Competition, awarding $4M to two women-led companies building innovative software solutions for the enterprise.

Those following this industry are well aware of the hard truths women founders face when seeking funding: just 17 percent of all startups boast a single female founder; and of that small percent, only 2.2 percent of total global venture capital funding went to female founders over the past two years. While the numbers clearly indicate there’s a need to do more, many investors struggle with where to start.

There are plenty of women entrepreneurs focused on solving enterprise technology challenges, but we needed a better way of finding them. With the previous success in sourcing incredibly promising portfolio companies from our Innovate.AI competition, we decided to try a competition again, but this time focused on surfacing female founders. And the results spoke volumes.

We received hundreds of submissions from female founders building enterprise solutions that spanned a multitude of industries and countries. This competition, while a small step to shift how we sourced deals, not only showed us that there is more than one way to effectively discover talent and expand networks, but it’s our responsibility as venture capitalists to begin leveling the playing field so those companies receiving funding are a truer reflection of the world in which we live.

Today, it’s my pleasure to share the results of the Female Founders Competition, and the stories behind the two incredible women whose companies will now join our portfolio.


Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta, began her journey as a software engineering student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where she developed an interest in robotics and autonomous vehicle systems. While working on a research project with Sebastian Fischmeister, a professor at the university, she became fascinated with recent developments in connected and autonomous vehicles, sparking a career that led her to work with and learn from automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier-1 manufacturers before returning to her roots in research. Cutulenco, Fischmeister and another colleague, Jean-Christophe Petkovich, would go on to create Acerta, using machine learning to provide real-time malfunction detection and failure prediction in vehicles. To commercialize their work, Cutulenco spent time in local incubators and attending business and sales courses before securing Acerta’s participation in the Techstars Mobility accelerator in Detroit. Just over two years later, Acerta has grown from a team of three to nearly 20, with Greta recently being named to Forbes 30 under 30 for Manufacturing and Industry, the company gaining traction with some of the largest auto manufacturers as customers, and now becoming a winner of the Female Founders competition.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to work with M12, EQT Ventures, and SVB Financial Group,” said Cutulenco. “The funding and ongoing support will bring a big boost to the company’s long-term growth.”

 Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas, trained as an architect before becoming a world-class computer scientist specializing in computer graphics. Her appreciation for, and expertise in these two disciplines inspired her to create the core technology behind Mental Canvas, which reimagines sketch for the digital age by augmenting it with spatial strokes, 3D navigation, and free-form animations. As supported by its early customers, Mental Canvas is a platform that addresses a wide and varied market, with early customers spanning a variety of industries from architecture, concept development for movies, animation and games, product design, education, and scientific illustration. Dorsey is also a professor of computer science at Yale University, and previously was on the faculty at MIT, where she held tenured appointments in the departments of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Architecture. She is an inventor on more than a dozen awarded and four pending patents, and for the past two years, has devoted herself full-time to her vision of enhancing visual communication by fundamentally elevating the way people draw.

“It is a great honor to be recognized in this way,” said Dorsey. “Of course, we are pleased with the funding, but even more, we are thrilled by the recognition and affirmation this prize provides. It says to me and our team that the technology Mental Canvas is developing to bring sketch into the digital age is groundbreaking and impactful. We look forward to working with M12, EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group to make our company’s vision a reality.”

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

This afternoon, I’ll join the next generation of female leaders at a forum focused on building and nurturing this community and preparing them for what’s next. While it’s a great way to welcome our winners to the M12 portfolio, it’s also an opportunity to continue this journey – one that is very personal to me – of doing our part to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

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Microsoft co-signs Human Rights Campaign’s Business Statement on Transgender Equality


Relaunched Modern Muse website helps young women find their perfect career

A website that aims to help young women find their perfect career has been relaunched with help from Microsoft.

Modern Muse contains more than 100 female role models, who share their experiences of work in the hope of inspiring youngsters to find a path to their dream job.

It was founded in 2009 by Maxine Benson MBE and Karen Gill MBE, and has now been revamped by interns and apprentices at Microsoft to mark this year’s International Day of the Girl on October 11.

Donna Robertson, a Director at Modern Muse, said: “Raising aspirations and empowering girls to make informed career decisions by showcasing a diverse array of female role models is what Modern Muse is all about.

“This website is the gateway to help girls, from all backgrounds explore all the opportunities available to them, so they can aim high and have rewarding futures. The idea behind having this tool designed by young women is in line with our unique ‘led by girls for girls’ approach and keeping girls and young women at the heart of all we do, ensures we stay relevant to our audience.

“We are eternally grateful to Microsoft, one of our founding partners, for their investment in time and resources to help us achieve our social objectives.”

Girls can use the Modern Muse website to explore subject choices and where those decisions may lead. They can also learn about the muses’ responsibilities, career paths and the subjects they studied while at school, what it’s like to work at certain companies and career opportunities at a variety of firms.

Six women and three men from Microsoft worked on the redesign, taking ideas from female students at a range of schools.

Girl at home looking at tablet
Teachers and parents have a five-year window (between 11 and 16) to grow girls’ interest in STEM before it starts to wane

Ellen Murley, a Microsoft intern who is studying for a degree in Information Management and Business at Loughborough University, was one of the women who worked on the project. She said: “In my role as Website Design Lead I’ve developed key project management skills, learned how to work with stakeholders and felt my confidence grow. I have now become a member of the Modern Muse youth ambassador board.”

The site has reached more than 1,000 young women, who have gained an insight into over 20 companies, including Lloyds Bank, Tesco, British Airways, BP and Microsoft.

Ella Cockerell, a Business Development Manager at Microsoft, was named Muse of the Month for October.

“It has been amazing to help these young women develop the new Modern Muse website,” she said. “It’s so important to inspire the next generation and I recognise from my own experience that there is a lack of role models, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and maths [STEM] sectors.”

A Microsoft study last year found that teachers and parents in the UK have a five-year window (between 11 and 16) to grow girls’ interest in STEM before it starts to wane. Less than half (43%) of those surveyed said they would consider a career in those fields.

International Day of the Girl is run by the United Nations to highlight the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to gain skills for employability. The organisation said that of the one billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – who will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.

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Founder and head of 343 Industries Bonnie Ross: How technology led me to the best job in the world

There are many days when I’m convinced I have the best job in the world. That feeling is compounded in moments when I’m meeting with our team of engineers and creatives, reviewing game storyboards, character designs, and what’s next for the Master Chief, knowing millions of dedicated fans are eagerly awaiting the release of our next Halo game. Or I’ll be sitting with a team of creatives, reviewing scripts for our upcoming Showtime television series, and I’ll take a step back and think to myself, “this is the most phenomenal job! How did I get here?”

I’m Bonnie Ross and I’m incredibly honored to lead of one of the most iconic and beloved video game franchises in the world, in Halo.  Our team at 343 Industries tells epic sci-fi stories, we build incredible worlds and I’ve enjoyed a more of a creative career than I ever thought possible: one where technology empowers art. I lead the most amazingly talented team of engineers, computer programmers, artists, and storytellers – all working together to bring the world of Halo to millions of passionate fans globally. Halo is a universe worthy of devotion, a universe in which you can tell thousands of stories – and technology brings all this magic vividly to life.

Throughout middle school, high school and college, my dad encouraged me to think about pursuing engineering and science as a career.  In high school, he pushed me to take the advanced math and science classes, even though I didn’t understand the “why.”  I couldn’t see the opportunities that lie ahead.  I needed that push.  I needed those words of encouragement.  I couldn’t be more thankful that my dad gave me that support.

When I graduated from college, I managed to land a job with Microsoft working on operating systems. While it was an amazing job – especially for someone fresh out of college – I don’t think I would have stayed at Microsoft or in tech, if I didn’t eventually find my passion.  At that time, I wasn’t able to connect the dots and see why technology mattered to me.  Luckily, four years after I started at Microsoft, I found video games.  For me, video games made that connection to what I could do with technology…be creative. Gaming is this amazing merging of art and technology.  Gaming is technology empowering art, creativity, and storytelling.  Gaming opened my eyes to the extraordinary things I could achieve with technology. 

For me, pursuing and remaining in technology, as a career, wasn’t something I would have done without a little help. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to inspire and encourage girls and nurture other women to pursue careers in computer science and technology. There is such a need for talent – girls and boys – in technical fields, particularly in the United States.

Girls start losing interest in STEM in middle school:

  •  Studies show that girls lose interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and computer science as time goes on. In middle school, 31% of girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that percentage jumps up to 40%. By the time they’re in college, 58% of girls count themselves out of these jobs.

And yet the opportunities for girls and women have never been greater:

  •  In the next two years, there will be an estimated 1.4M jobs in the US that require some form of technical experience or degree. Based on the number of students enrolled in technology and engineering degrees today, it’s predicted we will only be able to fill 400,000 of these jobs in the US. Such a profound worker shortage carries global implications for the US and our economy.
  •  Research shows a diverse workforce brings with it diverse perspectives that improve everything from better product development to better teams to better profits. We need women engineers. And it’s not just a nice thing, it can change everything. Anatomically female crash test dummies, with associated differences in physique and physics, weren’t used until 2011 and women were less safe for it. A 2011 University of Virginia study found that women had a 47% higher change of serious injuries compared to men and a 71% higher chance of a moderate injury.
  •  STEM jobs tend to be higher paid. The lack of women going into technology or engineering or science is contributing to the salary gap between men and women. And here’s the not-so-secret secret: If you have a degree in tech, companies around the world aren’t just looking for you. They’re fighting to hire you since we’re all competing for a very small pool of qualified female candidates.

We know how to get more girls into STEM: 
Microsoft recently conducted research
 to learn more about what causes the gender gap and how to close it. We know why girls or young women either don’t go into STEM or leave. The research echoes my own story growing up. And we know what girls need to stay in STEM. It’s also what I personally needed.

  •  Connect the dots for girls. Girls often leave STEM because they don’t understand the potential and opportunities a technology or engineering degree can provide. 91% of girls say that they’re creative and 72% say it’s important that they have a job that helps the world, so I’m sharing my story to show that they can achieve both of those goals with a STEM qualification.  As a parent or educator, you can do the same. Seek and tell the computer science story. When girls learn about real-world STEM jobs, their perception of the creativity and positive impact of STEM double. Coding is the fabric our modern lives, built on and technology, and continues to shape and improve our world. Let her know she can define, drive and be that change. 
  •  Be a mentor. Girls need encouragement to stay in STEM. I was lucky to have my dad and I’m convinced that without his encouragement of my STEM education, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  65% of middle school girls who are encouraged by a parent say they’re likely to study computer science in high school, compared to 36% who haven’t been encouraged by either parent. With mutual support from parents and teachers, girls are twice as likely to consider studying computer science in high school, and three times more likely to consider studying computer science in college. You don’t need to be an engineer to encourage girls to pursue STEM and inspire their confidence in math and science. Just help them imagine their future with a computer science education.

This summer, I had the privilege of spending the day with 11 amazing young girls to work on a project for the Ad Council’s latest communication campaign, to encourage more girls to pursue careers in STEM. These girls are our future.  They were surprised and enthused to discover how math and science can be creative and can lead to a career making video games.  We talked about what games they play, what experiences and stories they want to create, and I made sure to tell them that they could achieve that and that would change the world.

Technology is the most powerful and the most creative tool we have today to create impact; to change and improve the world. Join me in raising the next generation of world-builders and world-changers. Connect the dots and be a mentor for the girls and young women in your life. Please share your story, my story, share the #SheCanStem videos and inspire the next generation. #MakeWhatsNext.


Microsoft UK Chief Executive Cindy Rose: Taking Pride in being an ally for the LGBT community

By Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK

This year’s London Pride Festival will be held on Saturday, July 7. I see this annual event as a great opportunity to celebrate the diversity and inclusion that makes the capital – and this country – such a great place to live and work.

Hundreds of Microsoft staff will take part in London Pride, with thousands more joining similar celebrations across the world, including Cambridge (August 11), Manchester (August 25) and Reading (September 1). These can be a beacon of hope, and I have loved reading about our employees in Scotland, North America, Brazil, Japan, Poland and elsewhere joining Pride events to embrace who they are as they do what they love.

This is why Pride and being an LGBT Ally is important for everyone at Microsoft.

Many of those taking part are members of GLEAM, Microsoft’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee resource group, which has a strong following globally. Microsoft has a long history of diversity and inclusion that continues to this day, and I believe it is one of our strongest assets. In 1993, our company was one of the first in the world to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners; while last year we hosted our first LGBT leadership conference, in Ireland, featuring leaders from more than 20 countries.

This year I want to do more for our LGBT staff, partners and customers. I am delighted to announce that Microsoft Rewards users can now turn the points they earn into cash and donate it to Stonewall, an LGBT equality charity based in the UK.

Stonewall has been supporting the LGBT community for 29 years, working to transform institutions and change hearts, minds and laws so people can feel free to be themselves. I am proud that Microsoft is helping people support this cause to change lives for the better.

Find out more about Microsoft Rewards

To get involved, sign up for a Microsoft Rewards account and earn points by using the Bing search engine, completing online quizzes and buying certain products via the Microsoft Store. You will then be able to give these points to Stonewall in the form of cash.

Microsoft and Stonewall share a mission: to empower individuals. Whether it’s empowering people to achieve more or make change happen, the goal is the same – to help everyone be the best they can be.

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How to ‘come out’ as an LGBTQ+ ally at work

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I want to help my coworkers feel respected for who they really are. But sometimes I’m not sure what to do or say to show that I’m an ally, and I don’t want to mess up or hurt anyone’s feelings. How can I be a better ally?

Answer: The first step to becoming a better ally is wanting to be one—so you’re on the path already! There are many ways to be an ally in your professional realm, including connecting with coworkers to learn what they face and care about, stepping in when someone isn’t being treated with respect, and educating others. These Microsoft employees, who are all allies or members of the LGBTQ+ community, have some advice.

Know what an ally is and why you should be one

An LGBTQ+ ally is someone who respects equal rights, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ social movements; stands up for members of the LGBTQ+ community; and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Allies increase protection, safety, and equality.

“Coming out” as an ally in the workplace sends a powerful message of affirmation and support to LGBTQ+ employees, which can help them feel more respected and able to do their work.

Spend a little time thinking about why you want to be an ally—and think about why allies are needed and how you could make a difference, said Andrea Llamas, a senior human resources advisor.

Often, the motivation to be an ally comes from personal stories and connections.

“Everyone has a friend or family member that is part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Llamas said. “To make the world a better place for the people in that community, [we need to get to the place where] sexual orientation or gender identity is not important.”

Once you know why you want to be an ally and what you might want to accomplish by being one—whether it’s as simple as making another person feel comfortable or as big as becoming a vocal advocate for change—you can figure out how to do it.

Set out to learn more

Many people feel unsure of their role as allies in part because they aren’t familiar with the experiences or realities of LGBTQ+ people. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a term means or if you aren’t familiar with an issue. Research is where to start, Llamas said.

“If you don’t have the information you need and if you are curious, ask,” she said.

If you do ask a coworker who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, make sure that you pose your question in a respectful way and perhaps in private. First and foremost, communicate your openness and desire to learn so that you can support.

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing to LGBTQ+ coworkers—such as using the wrong pronoun—respectfully ask them how they prefer to be addressed or how you should refer to something. You might also ask how they would prefer that people address mistakes when they happen, suggested Michael Tan, a Microsoft manager of a transgender employee.

But don’t rely on LGBTQ+ people to educate you on everything; do your own research. Morty Scanlon, a business program manager, suggests using resources from Straight for Equality, The Human Rights Campaign, and Outstanding to learn more.

Members of Microsoft’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group GLEAM, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft, have helped create resources and workshops for coworkers who want to be allies. Find out whether your company has similar resources, suggest that they be created, or even help compile them, said Scanlon, cochair of GLEAM.

“When people have resources at their disposal, they can see a path toward their own allyship to materialize,” he said.

As you do your research, look at your own assumptions. Take the opportunity to recognize and move past bias. Use these questions as guides:

  • What assumptions have you made?
  • Do you know if they are true?
  • How could you find out?

Show support and speak up

Some gestures by allies might seem small, but they can mean a lot. For example, Llamas said, “Don’t hide any relations you have to someone in the LGBTQ+ community, such as friends or family members.” Talking about your gay brother or transgender cousin the same way that you talk about any family member or friend shows that you value people equally regardless of their identities.

You can also communicate your support in simple ways, such as by putting stickers on your computer or signs at your desk, by attending LGBTQ+ support events, or by joining an advocacy effort. These actions show people who have faced challenges or who have previously not been accepted for who they are that they have your support in little and big ways.

“Remember that there are many ways to let people know that you are an ally,” said Llamas, who serves as the GLEAM Mexico lead.

Being an ally also means speaking up when some voices aren’t heard, when someone is excluded, or when something harmful is said. Listen fully to others’ ideas, contributions, and stories. Intervene when someone is being discounted or ignored or if harmful language is used. If someone has been treated with harm, approach them to see what they need and offer support.

And people who need allies themselves can also be an ally to others, Scanlon said.

“In the same way that allies are essential to the LGBTQ+ community, we also have a responsibility to be allies for others. The lessons I’ve learned in working to be a better ally to the transgender community are lessons that I can apply to evolve my allyship beyond my own community and apply more broadly to the workplace: examining my assumptions, listening to understand, identifying and addressing my blind spots, and being brave.”

Let empathy lead

When Michael Tan, director of strategy, learned that a member of his team was transgender and would be transitioning, he set out to determine how he could help.

“My first role was trying to make sure that the work environment would respond appropriately and that people were respectful,” he said.

But he didn’t immediately know how to be an ally.

“I was in the camp initially where you’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I saw other people also so afraid of saying the wrong thing or using the wrong pronoun that they took the path of least resistance and didn’t reach out at all.”

Tan invited the Ingersoll Gender Center to talk to his group. The speakers shared firsthand experiences, background about the transgender community in the workplace, common challenges transgender employees often face, and guidance on how to be supportive.

Listening directly to people’s experiences sparked empathy, Tan said. However you can, seek out others’ stories—they will help you feel connected.

Try to understand the emotional journey that someone else goes through, he said. It’s a powerful display of support “to find out, and then do, what they need to feel comfortable.”


Pride at Microsoft: Diversity and collaboration lead to better user research

What the Microsoft GLEAM Summit taught me about approaching user research with an open mind

Photo by Joshua Stitt on Unsplash

As a user researcher with Microsoft Research + Insight (R+I), I spend a lot of time listening for and addressing people’s articulated and unarticulated needs. I believe it’s important to give time and space to reflecting before acting, and to not look at things through a predetermined filter. Even though I recognize there’s a huge push for being numbers driven, I believe it’s also important to be open to information and stories that can potentially transform you.

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of hearing my fellow queer community’s stories at the second annual Microsoft GLEAM Summit. GLEAM is one part of Microsoft’s commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community. Microsoft also shows up for this community at the Seattle Pride Parade, multiple on-campus events, and advocating for LGBTQIA+ people internally and externally through legal actions, such as partnerships with the United Nations to develop global standards that eliminate LGBTQIA+ discrimination in business.

Although GLEAM is an acronym for “Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft,” its reach spans well beyond that. There is space reserved for all gender and sexual minorities (GSM) and their allies. GLEAM is one of Microsoft’s largest global employee resource groups with more than 1,000 members around the world.

GLEAM and the expansion of diversity

I attended our summit this past April in Toronto. My motivation for going was to understand interpersonal dynamics for different groups — not just employees who identify with the GSM community, but also race and other things not readily classified as “diversity.” In my mind, diversity is much broader — it’s also about working styles, how you identify and solve problems, and how you communicate. It’s richer than what people often describe.

I met Microsoft employees from different countries who work on various products across the company. Part of my role as a quantitative user researcher is curiosity, and I wanted to understand diversity from the perspective of how we all work within the system and how we think about the customer.

The experience served as a humbling reminder that even though we all serve unique roles, understanding how to think and act as an ally is paramount because it fosters the collaboration necessary for us to create innovative solutions together. In the closing of the summit, a colleague said it best: “If we are to empower our customers around the globe to achieve more, we must empower ourselves as employees first.”

How inclusivity and diversity affect user research and help us build better products

So, what does “empowering ourselves first” look like? To me, it means creating and supporting a curious environment where people question not only others’ perspectives, but also their own. Self-reflection is key.

I might not understand each person’s individual responsibilities and educational backgrounds, but I can be mindful that my colleagues are probably not going to do everything in the way I might predict they would. Further, when I’m conducting user research, remembering this helps minimize my expectations and assumptions to allow them to bring their best. If I’m putting them in a box, so to speak, then I’m limiting the success they can achieve.

That means we must be inclusive of so many walks of life, most of which are going to be different from the employees we hire. We must be cognizant of the differences we have internally and in how we work together, but also of the things that are not represented within our colleagues. As diverse as our teams are, our customer base will always be much more diverse. We must be flexible with understanding their needs, which involves having empathy and listening. This is essential for creating products that are relevant, usable, and valuable for people across the world.

How does diversity among research subjects and your colleagues affect your work? Do you have any additional thoughts or tips? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @MicrosoftRI.

Part of the LGBTQ+ community? Here’s what being welcomed at work looks like

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s important to me to work at a place that accepts me for who I am. What’s the best way to figure that out, even before I apply?

Answer: When you choose a job, you’re choosing more than the actual work you’ll do. You’re becoming part of a whole culture: the environment around you, the coworkers and leaders, and the role the company plays in the broader world. Our workplace becomes a significant part of our lives. And how we feel there can influence our focus, our ideas, and our sense of well-being.

As Claudia del Hierro, a senior program manager at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, puts it, “You’re going to live that culture every single day.”

Whether you’re actively seeking a new job or casually curious about what other companies are like, how do you decipher if a workplace is somewhere all employees, including those who are LGBTQ+, feel supported? We spoke with a few employees who have sought that answer for themselves. Here are their tips and advice.

Investigate the company’s track record

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) releases an annual Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool that tracks corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBTQ+ people. Checking that index is a good place to start, del Hierro said.

“Is the company you want to work for rated? What’s its score? That alone tells you a lot about the culture. Some companies have jumped on the LGBTQ+ train for marketing or to gain consumers but don’t really live those values,” she said. “HRC digs into policies so you can assess more deeply.”

Don’t stop there, said Sera Fernando, an assistant Microsoft store manager in Santa Clara, California, who identifies as a trans female. Fernando already worked at Microsoft when she made the decision to transition. At the same time, a transgender friend of hers was also interested in the company and was asking her about its culture. Fernando set out to learn more about how the company approached transgender people, employees, and issues. She began to research both internally, where she found Microsoft’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group GLEAM, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft and includes the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum and their allies, and externally, where she found helpful news coverage.

“Read news stories. Enter all the search terms. See what comes up. Do the research,” said Fernando, now the community codirector of GLEAM.

See how the company shows up

Supporting and participating in local and national Pride events and parades does not guarantee a welcoming workplace year-round, but it’s a clue, said Dena Y. Lawrence, a pre-sales manager for Microsoft in Dublin.

“When you’re out at a Pride parade, see which companies are showing up. You can see from a public corporate perspective which ones have embraced LGBTQ+ equality.”

Once you know whether a company lends its support publicly to the LGBTQ+ community, look closer, Fernando adds. Does the company advocate for equity, at events and in the public sphere?

“Are all LGBTQ+ groups being represented—nonbinary, genderqueer, transgender, intersex? Are those stories being shown and told? Are there signs that the company is in tune with the message year-round? Are they just rainbow-fying everything, or are there deeper commitments? What is the senior leadership team doing and saying—what is its involvement? Is it involved in the initiatives? How is the company amplifying efforts?”

See how it recruits

Beyond celebratory events, look at marketing.

Pay attention to how and where a company recruits, said Lawrence, who has served on Microsoft’s GLEAM board and has created a talk on how to assess how progressive a company is.

“Has a company taken the time and initiative to find advertising space in LGBTQ+ specific magazines or digital channels?” If so, she said, it’s an indication of a commitment to make those employees feel welcome and supported and to ensure that the company is recruiting all types of employees, she said.

See what it offers

Look as closely as you can at a company’s policies and benefits. Is there equity for LGBTQ+ employees? Are there family benefits and medical benefits that support the needs of LGBTQ+ employees?

“Go into the policies. Ask Human Resources for links to the benefits. Look closely at the language around leave, parental leave—does the language refer only to male and female partners? Updating that language means the organization has already done a lot of work internally to transform,” Lawrence said.

“If there are antidiscrimination policies that call out sexual orientation and—the holy grail—gender identity, then they have the core ingredients for inclusion.”

Talk to employees

If you have friends or networking connections who can put you in contact with employees—especially those who are LGBTQ+—grab the chance to talk with them.

“They live the culture every day. What’s on paper might not be the reality. Sometimes the reality is even better; sometimes it’s not,” said del Hierro, who serves as GLEAM’s Latin American director.

“Do they have an employee resource group that’s active? Could you be visible in that space if you wanted to be? Find people who are thriving; see what that looks like,” said Fernando.

See how the company responds to you

Don’t hesitate to ask directly in an interview about how the company supports diversity and inclusion. Take note of how those questions are received.

“There are so many companies embracing diversity and inclusion—you don’t want to work for a company where you can’t be who you are, in this day and age,” Lawrence said.

And if a company won’t support and welcome you, del Hierro said, you probably don’t want to work there.

“I was the cofounder for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, and I started my college’s LGBTQ+ alumni chapter. It’s on my CV because it’s important to me and relevant to my experience. If someone won’t consider me because of that, then I would not want the job.”


Profiles in Pride: Michelle Chen’s journey to live more freely in her own skin

Surrounded for the first time by a supportive culture and a community of LGBTQ+ friends, this software engineer is unlocking the key to self-acceptance

By Candace Whitney-Morris

Michelle Chen knew she was gay long before she came out. Growing up, she found it hard enough to admit to herself, let alone to say it out loud for others.

In high school, people would tease her with questions like, “Are you sure you’re straight?” Ever since grade school when she had to defend her choice to wear “boy’s” clothes and keep her hair short, she had to be quick on her toes, ready with reassurances. She’d reply, “Oh yeah, I’m straight! I have a crush on so-and-so. Don’t worry.”

Chen wasn’t ready to come out in high school, and the small town she grew up in wasn’t ready for her to come out, either. Neither were her traditional, Chinese parents.

“Any sexuality that isn’t straight is not accepted at all,” Chen explained of her family’s beliefs. “You have to conform to what everyone else looks like. You have to find a husband, have kids. That’s just your purpose.

“Even my parents believed that female children were lesser than male children. Navigating that space was really difficult for me growing up, because not only were they like, ‘Oh you have to have kids,’ but they were like, ‘You have to marry a Chinese man.’”

Chen decided to take her time before telling them that she was gay; she’d move away and get a job first.

In the meantime, the hiding was taking its toll: deep down Chen grew full of self-loathing, hating that she couldn’t conform to people’s expectations and suspicious that something was wrong with her.

The first taste of self-acceptance came during college where she met and befriended other lesbians. One summer, she traveled to New York City and experienced her first Pride parade.

“I saw everyone dressed however they wanted to dress; no one felt ashamed of anything,” she said. “I knew right then that I wanted to live my life this way, that I wanted to be as happy as these people.”

A fellow college student encouraged Chen to think about interning at Microsoft and then referred her and helped coach her through the interview process. The same year that Chen decided to come out, she got the internship and headed to Seattle for the summer.

“I was so excited, partly because I knew Seattle was super gay,” she said, laughing. She hoped that meant she could live more out in the open.

“When I came to Microsoft, I felt like I had found my place,” she said. Right away, Chen joined GLEAM, the LGBTQ+ employee resource group at Microsoft that, among other things, provides mentorship to new interns who identify as LGBTQ+.

She interned again the next summer, and now one year later, she works at Microsoft as a software engineer. Although Chen didn’t originally know anyone in Seattle, she quickly made friends through GLEAM and in her neighborhood of Capitol Hill. “Now, almost all my friends are queer, and I see most of them every day.”

“When I came to Microsoft, I felt like I had found my place.”

The same year she started at Microsoft, she decided it was time to come out to her mother. As she dialed the phone, she gave herself a pep talk: “OK, Michelle, now’s the time. You are going to come out.”

Chen’s mom answered with, “I heard you got a septum ring.”

Michelle ChenTaken off guard, Chen said, “What? Who told you that? How do you know these things?”

Her mom responded that she had her sources. “There are people in this town that tell me things.”

Chen was so frustrated that she just blurted out, “Oh, did they tell you I’m gay, too?”

“Wait, what?” her mom said, shocked. It took a minute for the news to sink in.

Chen recalled, laughing, “I mean, it was kind of nice because it took the focus off the septum ring.”

But then her mother said something Chen will never forget: “Oh, no, no, no. You should change. I can’t believe it. This must’ve been something I did wrong.”

Although Chen was not expecting an approving response, “it was still pretty shocking to hear from my own mother,” she said.

It has been a few months since that phone call, and while Chen and her mother maintain contact, she told her mom that she can’t visit her in Seattle until she’s comfortable with her daughter’s sexual orientation.

“It’s not something I can just sweep under the rug anymore,” she said. “I’d rather be happy than hide my true self.”

Chen doesn’t regret waiting to tell her parents, and she hopes to encourage others to take their time.

“I had to get outside of my small town and see that being LGBTQ+ is not a bad thing. It’s not shameful. There’s nothing wrong with dressing the way that you want to dress.

“There’s nothing wrong with who you are.”

Meet more Microsoft employees who are changing hearts and minds and advancing human rights.

See how Microsoft is celebrating Pride 2018 and how you can be an ally.

Learn how Microsoft and its LGBTQ+ employees push for change across borders.


Not a cliché: when being ‘out and proud’ is a call to action

One of Microsoft’s directors of government affairs kept his authentic self quiet and closed off for too long. Now, he’s working to make that path easier and safer for fellow LGBTQ+ people.

By Candace Whitney-Morris

John Galligan spent half of his adult life as a closeted gay man, a time he describes as not truly living. In fact, he said he didn’t start to live his life until his early thirties.

“I was trying to be something I wasn’t,” he said. “And that slow release of power and energy, it’s exhausting and was always affecting my work. Being very good at acting like something I wasn’t . . . it’s the art that I’d perfected.”

That all changed when Galligan met his partner, now husband, 20 years ago, who helped him accept who he was, to live as a gay man proudly, and to even confront some of his own prejudices about what he assumed people could or couldn’t handle. “I thought I was protecting people by not confronting them with who I was,” he said. “I was wrong.”

The past two decades with his husband have been a journey not only of love and fun, he said, but also in helping Galligan be more accepting of his own sexuality, who he is, and who he could become.

Galligan is now out and active in his community. He’s also a senior director for Microsoft’s global government affairs team, working to protect and advance the rights of all people, including those who are LGBTQ+ and who don’t feel safe or welcome.

Across the globe, the cultural views and tolerance around being gay still vary widely. Galligan’s team focuses in part on making sure LGBTQ+ employees are safe and supported within the walls of their workplace wherever they live.

“Microsoft can be a safe place for people to bring their authentic self, even if the outside world is hostile to them, even if their friends and family might not accept them,” he said. “They can come to a place that will accept them not just for who they are but also for who they can be.”

“I thought I was protecting people by not confronting them with who I was. I was wrong.”

Because Galligan knows what it’s like to not live his truth at work, he’s determined to help Microsoft support the rights of its employees and live up to its values of empowering every person on the planet—even when the outside culture is slow to adapt and when equality for LGBTQ+ people is lacking.

Before moving to Seattle, Galligan and his partner lived in Singapore, where there are still laws criminalizing homosexuality. And while these laws are rarely enforced, he did feel the discomfort of living in ambiguity. “The middle path is in some ways the most uncomfortable because it doesn’t challenge you to actually go out and confront systemic intolerance.”

That’s why it’s important to him that he doesn’t get too comfortable—that he remembers what some LGBTQ+ people and employees face and does what he can to help. Working in a company where the culture is attuned to human rights near and far reminds him of what inclusion feels like and what to strive for in his advocacy.

“Microsoft can be a safe place for people to bring their authentic self. They can come to a place that will accept them not just for who they are but also for who they can be.”

“I’ve never felt, in any way, excluded [at Microsoft]. I think that’s a tribute to the company, but I also think that’s a tribute to the tens of thousands of people who continue to move the company increasingly toward a diverse and inclusive environment.”

Galligan reminds himself all the time that there’s still so much to fight against. But when feelings of powerlessness threaten to steal momentum, he focuses on the power of individual contribution.

“I think the most weak and ineffectual thing we can do is to not think about what can be done on an individual level. I may not be able to change laws, but I can be proud of who I am and show others to be proud of who they are.”

He hopes that being a visible, comfortable, and confident gay man will inspire others to also be themselves and to take up the fight, because “being out and proud is not a cliché,” he said. “It’s a call to action.”

“Everyone can make a contribution, even if that contribution is to be yourself and use whatever influence you have to make the world and workplace more inclusive, more diverse, and more welcoming for everyone.”

Meet more Microsoft employees who are changing hearts and minds and advancing human rights.

See how Microsoft is celebrating Pride 2018 and how you an be an ally.

Learn how Microsoft and its LGBTQ+ employees push for change across borders.