Gayle Gibson: Featured LGBTQ ChemE Professional

In continuation of its drive towards diversity and inclusion, AIChE presents the most recent post in this series featuring LGBTQ engineers. Other related efforts include Safe Zone Workshops, which were held at the 2015 Spring Meeting and the 2016 Annual Meeting, and leadership receptions for LGBTQ members and allies. Here are photos from the most recent reception at the 2017 Annual Meeting.

All aforementioned initiatives are supported by the AIChE Foundation's Doing a World of Good Campaign.

In the sixth installment of our series, we interviewed Gayle Gibson, who shared her story as an LGBTQ process engineering professional working at DuPont.

Where did you complete your chemical engineering education?

Texas A&M University

How many years have you been a member of AIChE?

35

Tell us a bit about your job and your job responsibilities. What’s a typical day at work?

I worked at DuPont for 34 years and recently retired. I worked in engineering design, plant improvement, R&D, new product and process development, manufacturing, supply chain, and business improvement. I also ran the executive offices. 

My ChE background was a great foundation for the many roles I've held, and AIChE has been a touchstone of that foundation.

I retired after redesigning the central engineering department for DuPont to go into four new companies (one spinoff took place in 2015, the other three are in 2019).

Things are much better today for LGBTQs in so many countries all over the world, but those hard-won gains are fragile and we need to stay active to keep these rights and equality for everyone, everywhere.

Tell us a bit about your experience as an out LGBTQ professional working in chemical engineering.

I came out as a lesbian mid-career after the company published a non-discrimination statement that included sexual orientation and gender identity. I was at a manufacturing plant at the time in the Northeast. This was in the mid '90s and there really was not much dialogue happening in manufacturing regarding LGBTQ+. The dialogue was more focused on diversity to get more women into manufacturing.

After being out for 20 years, I can say it helped me become myself more and not be fearful of what others might say or do.

For the most part, allies and management tried to be helpful, but overall, management and HR needs a lot more education to be better equipped to handle possible LGBTQ+ issues and sensitivities.

What are the most important issues that LGBTQ engineers deal with in the workplace today?

The engineering profession already struggles with gender and ethnic or racial diversity and needs to get more women and minorities into the field. Progress is being made in these areas, but it has been too slow. Not enough has changed the past 15 years. Adding the LGBTQ+ topic on top of the other things can almost be overwhelming at times for leaders, but needs to be done.

I think leaders should engage and accelerate inclusion efforts that value difference and diversity. Engineering is a "team sport" as we engage with many engineers from around the world to solve global world challenges. Innovation is a key component in achieving this. It works best when different views, perspectives, and talents are able to join together. 

Therefore, leaders in industry and academia need to embrace more wholly all types of diversity. This includes AIChE being more active with WIC, MAC, and the new LGBTQ+ group.

Do you know others in the profession who struggle with being out in today's workplace?

Yes, coming out is fraught with potential risk and an LGBTQ person makes a choice many times a day as to whether or not to "come out" to new people they meet. This can be exhausting when weighing the pros and cons of coming out each time you meet someone new. 

Many LGBTQs are not out at work, but they are out in their personal lives outside of work. This is because many LGBTQs fear an impact on their career progression, choice of assignments, and many other factors. 

This may be due to assumptions, unconscious bias, and sometimes outright blatant bias.

To help fix this, everyone should work hard to foster a welcoming and accepting environment for all. This includes not making or allowing biased comments, jokes, or anything else that could be offensive. 

How can people help foster a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ chemical engineers?

Talk about it! People stay silent and just don't talk about LGBTQ+ topics. They aren't even acknowledged. It is easy to change this by having sexual orientation and gender identity talked about as diversity or minority categories, just like gender, race, ethnicity, etc. 

Data really helps too. Discussing data from surveys, focus groups, etc. helps make the "invisible" more visible.

Does your organization do anything to foster inclusivity for LGBTQ people?

Yes

If yes, please describe.

DuPont has had a long-standing employee resource group for LGBTQs and Allies. This group has fostered a lot of dialogue, training, awareness, and good progress for LGBTQs.

Executive sponsors are also important and can do great things to set standards and remove barriers.  

How could AIChE help you to fulfill your professional and personal goals?

I like the LGBTQ+ discussion group that was started and some of the awareness training done at the Annual Meeting in 2017. More of this is needed.  

Do you have any suggestions of what out LGBTQ chemical engineers can do to help make their professional climate more safe, welcoming, and inclusive for diverse engineers?

Seek to understand the unique perspectives and stories of others. If you don't know someone directly, go get the data on the numbers and percentages in school and the workplace and compare it to the general population.

We need more engineers, and we certainly need to work together to engage, welcome and keep the ones we have. We also need to help potential new engineers understand that it's a great career for any and everyone!

Tell us a bit about your personal life.

I have been with my wife for 32 years and i've lived in Oklahoma, Delaware, and Switzerland. We have visited all 50 U.S. states and 7 continents. We also enjoy travel and outdoor activities. We are both retired now and we enjoy spending more time with friends and family. My favorite food is dark chocolate.




Are there any LGBTQ inspirations, role models, or moments in history that are important to you?

As LGBTQ, we need to understand our history, and sometimes that history needs to be searched for. 

Most know of Stonewall and the mom that started PFLAG, but we may not know the heros of our own workplace.

Things are much better today for LGBTQs in so many countries all over the world, but those hard won gains are fragile and we need to stay active to keep these rights and equality for everyone, everywhere.

Do you have a coming out story that you'd like to share?

I came out at work during the middle of my career. I was in a manufacturing environment and the company had just published a revision to its non-discrimination statement to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This along with a new state non-discrimination law made me feel more comfortable coming out.

For the most part, I was treated very well. However, I did challenge the company policies when it came time to transfer to an international location. Various leaders became active allies to help, but it was quite a rollercoaster living through the process of doing something that the policies didn't address.

Do you have a story about an effecitve or inspirational professional ally you'd like to share?

I had several encouraging sponsors/allies that helped me. One helped me personally be more proud, more courageous and believe in my own power. Another helped me with getting the company policy changed to address LGBTQs. 

Both of these allies were strong outspoken women. Their careers were not advanced by their heroic advocacy, but they did it anyway. To this day I thank these role models.

What’s your dream getaway?

Hiking in the mountains

Who is your favorite LGBTQ icon?

The next young engineer who comes out and is proud to be LGBTQ!

Gaydar: Does it exist?

Yes! But it isn't 100% accurate!

Join AIChE's LGBTQ+ & Allies Online Community

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Learn more about AIChE's Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives.

Interested in helping?

Are you an LGBTQ chemical engineer and AIChE member interested in sharing your story to help create awareness around diversity and inclusion? Are you an LGBTQ ally interested in helping with diversity and inclusion efforts? Send us a note at chenected@aiche.org with the subject "Diversity and Inclusion."