- An IBM executive apologized to Lynn Conway, a former computer scientist at the company who was fired in 1968 because of her gender transition, at a virtual October event, a spokesperson confirmed in an email to HR Dive.
- Conway is known for her work developing Very Large Scale Integration processor technology and was presented with IBM's Lifetime Achievement Award at the event. Her achievements "helped define the modern computing industry" and "forever changed microelectronics, devices, and people's lives," said Dario Gil, director of IBM Research.
- IBM Senior Vice President Diane Gherson, who issued the apology, said at the event that IBM supports transgender employees through their transitions in the workplace and has helped to publish a handbook that provides guidance on the subject. "But all that doesn't help you, Lynn — probably our very first transgender employee to come out — and for that, we deeply regret what you went through," Gherson said.
IBM's mea culpa is a notable corporate atonement in a critical year for LGBT equality, highlighted by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga. The court held that employment discrimination on the basis of an employee's sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
A number of companies have taken steps to improve inclusion for all workers amid this year's societal focus on the subject. For example, financial services organization TIAA took specific steps to support employees who are transgender, gender non-conforming or who are considering or in the process of transitioning. The firm's policies addressed pronouns, restroom accessibility and dress codes, executives previously told HR Dive.
LGBT employees at many companies, however, struggle to bring their authentic selves to work, according to a July report by McKinsey & Company. Moreover, 2019 research from WFD Consulting found that workplace policies and core values may not be enough to create an inclusive environment for employees who are transgender, nonbinary or who are gender fluid. Transgender employees in particular value inclusive medical benefits, dress codes and leave policies, WFD Consulting said.
"For us IBMers, it was important — and in alignment with IBM's values — to not only express regret and apologize but to also celebrate Lynn for all her accomplishments as a world-renowned innovator," said Ella Slade, global LGBT+ leader at IBM. "The IBM trans community look up to Lynn and are familiar with her story, so this moment was truly healing."
Even as employers implement policies that support LGBT employees, they may still need to prepare for conflicts and misunderstandings that can arise. Organizations can also ensure their efforts go beyond cultural initiatives to address the compliance aspects of D&I, sources previously told HR Dive, including the language that appears on employment forms.