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Women who inspire: The LGBTQ execs leading at Fortune 500 companies

In honor of Pride Month, Know Your Value spotlights women who are leading the way in business and representation at the largest companies in the U.S.
Image: The rainbow flag flies beneath the American flag
The rainbow flag flies beneath the American flag at the Stonewall National Monument in New York.Mark Lennihan / AP file

Though the number of women leading Fortune 500 companies is a record-breaking 41 this year, only two of those women are Black and only one is openly gay. As we look at the bigger picture and move to elevate more women to the C-suite at top corporations, the need for intersectional representation is stark.

Here are four must-know LGBTQ women executives who are at the top of their game:

Beth Ford, CEO, Land O’Lakes

Image: Beth Ford
Beth Ford.Courtesy Land O'Lakes

Ford grew up in Iowa and paid her way through college by taking on several jobs, including painting houses and cleaning toilets – all experiences she now considers blessings.

She joined Land O’Lakes in January 2012, with extensive operations management and supply chain experience at Mobil, Pepsi and Scholastic.

As CEO of Land O’ Lakes, Ford oversees a cooperative business model leading over 10,000 employees in more than 50 countries. Sales last year topped $14 billion, with net earnings of $265 million. Ford’s long-time supply chain experience helped her navigate especially well during the pandemic, and she continues to maintain familiarity with the farmers and their families.

On being openly gay, Ford has said, “I think it must be really hard if you feel like you’re in a culture where you can’t be who you are. Work is hard enough, and then when you have to feel as though you can’t be who are, that’s got to be incredibly difficult.” And speaking on her CEO appointment, she said “I made a decision long ago to live an authentic life…if my being named CEO helps others do the same, that’s a wonderful moment.”

Debra Chrapaty, COO/VP, Global Amazon Alexa

Image: Debra Chrapaty
Debra Chrapaty.Courtesy Amazon

While doing graduate work in the 1980s, Chrapaty got her hands on a computer and began doing forecasting and modeling at a time when there were very few women in technology.

Chrapaty’s resumé includes executive experience at the NBA, E*Trade Technologies, Zynga, and Wells Fargo, all of which prepared her for role leading global enterprise work for Amazon Alexa.

On being an openly gay woman, she said, “I get on stage and talk about [my wife] Ramona freely. I’ve gotten emails from people …saying, ‘I’ve never had a senior executive talk about their same sex husband or wife on stage in my entire career. Thank you for doing that…’”

Chrapaty noted the loss of opportunity for companies when they do not practice genuine inclusion. She said when people are not able to bring their whole authentic selves to work, and in some cases do not feel safe, everyone loses.

Jacqueline Guichelaar, Group Chief Information Officer/SVP, Cisco

Image: Jacqueline Guichelaar
Jacqueline Guichelaar.Courtesy Cisco

Guichelaar was born in Uruguay, raised in Australia, and has had a career that has taken her all over the world. Now in California, she is currently the Group Chief Information Officer at Cisco where she leads a multi-billion-dollar organization for the company’s global workforce.

With a background in finance and technology at companies including Deutsche Bank and Lloyds Banking Group, she experienced predominantly male work environments and understands the need for more diversity and inclusion in business.

She said, “I think learning people, building diverse teams, and trying to form teams which have that different thinking—some of them are strategists, some of them are deep engineers, some of them are really good in terms of understanding how to translate business into technology—I think you need all of the above...”

As a senior executive who is a regular speaker at industry events, Guichelaar is known for being refreshingly down-to-earth and open, particularly when discussing her own experiences with feeling different and leading an authentic life. When asked who inspires her, she described people who are fighters and never give up – “people who push boundaries, people who change the world, people who believe in the out of the possible.”

Sally Susman, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer/EVP, Pfizer

Sally Susman is Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer.
Sally Susman is Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer.Courtesy of Pfizer

Joining Pfizer in 2007, Susman came with a deep portfolio of expertise in business, government, and strategic communications, having worked at American Express, Estée Lauder, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. In her current role as head of corporate affairs, she leads engagement with all of Pfizer’s external stakeholders. She also serves as vice chair of The Pfizer Foundation, co-chairs the board of International Rescue Committee, a leading global humanitarian organization, and sits on the Council on Foreign Relations.

RELATED: How Pfizer's Sally Susman handled the interview question: 'What does your husband do?'

Susman acknowledged the intensity of Pfizer developing, manufacturing and rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine in record time. It was also a career-defining moment for Susman. She said, “The most basic human elements of leadership matter more right now. Strength, kindness, courage — people are looking for that.”

On a personal front, Susman described her decision to come out in 1984 as a watershed moment of her life. Susman’s family feared out of love and concern that she would never have a career, spouse or children. Having that early challenge gave her a personal north star for what she wanted for herself, and today Susman has a decades-long thriving marriage, a healthy happy daughter, and one of the biggest business jobs in the world.

Susman, an advocate for the queer community, believes coming out is a life-long process, “There’s always the neighbor you’ve not met, or the client you have to introduce yourself to,” she said. “It’s been a lifelong journey to be out and outspoken, and it’s something I’ll never stop doing.”