Lori McDowell: Featured Chemical Engineering LGBTQ+ Ally

19/24   in the series Featured LGBTQ ChemEs & Allies
Above: Lori on vacation at Hacienda del Mar in Cabo San Lucas. 

AIChE presents the most recent post in this series featuring LGBTQ+ engineers and their allies as part of an ongoing effort to share stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Other related efforts include a variety of LGBTQ+ programs and events at this year’s Annual Meeting and those held at least year’s meeting. These programs and events were all supported by the AIChE Foundation’s Doing a World of Good Campaign.

In this installment of our series, we interviewed Lori McDowell, who shared her story as an LGBTQ+ ally and Director of Business Development for Matheson, an industrial gas company.

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

I am Director of Business Development for Matheson, an industrial gas company. In my day-to-day activities, I help identify new business opportunities for Matheson and I’m also responsible for some of our largest customers. I work closely with operations, sales, upper management, legal, projects as well as with our customers and prospective customers. I am often the face of Matheson at conferences and trade shows that serve the chemicals and refining industry, such as at AIChE and AFPM events.

Can you recall an experience or the first experience when you identified as an ally of LGBTQ+ people?

It is hard to say exactly what the first time was, but I was probably in college. Prior to that, I don’t think I knew anyone who openly identified as LGBTQ+. It wasn’t a conscious effort to be an ally, I just met people who identified as gay, we became friends, and I supported them as needed and as I supported all my friends. 

While it isn’t always easy, my biggest suggestion is to always speak up. Don’t avoid difficult situations or just quietly disagree, but be willing to take a stand for what you know is right.

In the workplace (industry or academic), what has been your experience of working with LGBTQ+ chemical engineers? Can you recall a specific experience where you showed support or welcomed an LGBTQ+ engineer? If so, what was that like? 

My experience in the workplace has been mixed. I have worked very closely with people who identify as LGBTQ+ in our immediate work groups as well as customers. I felt they were treated with respect, like everyone else, and there was really no difference.

However, I have been in professional settings where people have made comments which were inappropriate and offensive. I have tried to point out how those comments were wrong, but I have not always been successful. It seems sometimes the same people who are colleagues and friends with someone who is LGBTQ+ will also make inappropriate comments in other settings about groups in general.

Are there instances when you have felt at risk when acting as an ally? If so, please elaborate. Do you have suggestions for other allies regarding resources that provide support for people in the role of ally?  

I have never felt at risk, but I have felt uncomfortable or that I would be made fun of or ignored. I just think you have to take the risk. I think AIChE is providing resources through its conferences and webinars. I also think the best advice is if you don’t know how to be an ally, just ask. And the book What if I Say the Wrong Thing by Verna Myers is useful.

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

While it isn’t always easy, my biggest suggestion is to always speak up. Don’t avoid difficult situations or just quietly disagree, but be willing to take a stand for what you know is right.

In your opinion, why is AIChE’s LGBTQ+ & Allies initiative an important one? 

I think AIChE’s LGBTQ+ & Allies initiative is important for many reasons. First, it provides a safe space, second, it provides visibility and support. And, perhaps most importantly, it is an integral part of AIChE – with participation from students, faculty, staff, working engineers, and even C-level executives. This shows that AIChE is committed to equality, equity, and diversity for all, and it is an integral part of the organization.

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

AIChE can help me by providing leadership and speaking opportunities and by providing networking and connections.

Lori whale watching with friends in San Cabo.


Tell us about your personal life.

 I live outside Houston, I’m married and I have a 17-year-old son. My husband has health issues, so he does not work and I am the primary breadwinner. I enjoy Crossfit and running, and I’m very active. I also enjoy volunteering, and I’m active in AIChE, as a Fellow and on the EDI Task Force. My son plays competitive baseball and I work closely on helping him play college baseball.

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

I cannot think of anything specific, but I’m very encouraged when LGBTQ+ people become more a part of everyday life. I like to see television shows feature main characters who are LGBTQ+, and I liked hearing about my son’s friend’s parents who are both doctors. I learned later they were two moms and it didn’t even raise an eyebrow. I just hope these situations become even more common.

What’s your dream getaway?

A scuba diving trip to the Galapagos Island or a tour of Italy.

Do you have a favorite LGBTQ icon?

My favorite LGBTQ icon is Megan Rapinoe.

Join AIChE’s LGBTQ+ & Allies Online Community

This community is open to professional AIChE members who are LGBTQ+ and allies. Topics of discussion will include the ongoing development of LGBTQ+ initiatives at AIChE, plus issues concerning, and opportunities for, LGBTQ+ chemical engineering professionals.

Sign up 

Learn more about the community.

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.”