Lisa Gann shares her story about how her life has become more open the more experience she has garnered. She talks to myGwork about what has changed and how her engagement in Diversity and Inclusion has begun to grow.
BY LOUISE SINNERTON, MYGWORK
For the past 14 years working as a Customer Service Manager at Allied Electronics, Lisa has always been out at work. She tells me she has never been openly discriminated against, but that she hasn’t always been happy to share her personal life with others. Lisa describes herself as an open book while being someone that keeps her life on the downlow.
“I’m not in the closet by any means. Me and my wife live our lives like any other married couple. At the same time, I’m conservative in nature and I’m not one to be shouting about my sexuality all the time”.
In fact, until Lisa joined Allied Electronics, she had never talked about her sexuality openly and was actively encouraged to hide it growing up. For the most part she was brought up in a two-female household. When Lisa was about eight years old, her Mum left her Dad to start a relationship with a woman. This was a tumultuous time for the family; her Dad convinced her Mum’s own family to testify against her in court. Subsequently he was awarded custody of the children and took them to his Mother’s house, which is where they stayed. Thankfully, he eventually allowed for them to go back home to their Mum.
“I guess we were so miserable at our Grandmother’s that my Dad decided to make a pact with my Mum. He said he would give us back to her if he didn’t have to pay the divorce settlement – he effectively sold us back to her.” Lisa is at peace with her childhood and says she and her siblings are all successful adults, so things turned out okay. Her Mum was so incredibly happy to have her children back, but she was aware of how her situation was seen as taboo and how it had effectively cost her her children.
“She told us: never ever tell people what is going on here. We were always told to tell our friends and acquaintances that my Mum and her partner were cousins. She was so afraid of losing us.” It became second nature for Lisa to hide the truth and over time she had learnt to never let people know about her authentic self.
“I’m Texas born and raised. It’s a great state and there are so many friendly people, if you stay away from politics you can get along fine with people. Typically, it cannot be so open minded as a state and not open minded people.” Being used to hiding things growing up meant it wasn’t until high school that Lisa did tell people about her Mum, at which point nobody batted an eyelid. However, in terms of her own sexuality things took a little longer.
Her Mum suspected she might like women, but she had instilled in her that she should never tell anyone about the nature of her relationships. Lisa really battled with not wanting to be gay and blamed her Mum for being the way she was. There were other family members to contend with too. “Being left for another woman hurt my Dad’s ego and one day I was sitting in his office, just shooting the breeze with him, and he looked right at me and I remember the look in his eyes when he said, “if you ever turn out to be one of those I’ll kill you”, I guess he had his suspicions at that time, so that wasn’t easy.”
Although she never thought he would act on those words, it was another barrier to her breaking those built in habits. “Man, I fought it hard, I did not want to be this way.”
Things started slowly, with Lisa coming out to close family and friends at first. Then she started her new role and started to feel more comfortable with the idea of being out at work. “Until Allied I never talked about it and I tried so hard to fit in and mesh. I’ve just turned 54, so you know back then it might have been a non-starter, I was just deny, deny, deny and I was out to very few people. Trying to “fit in” was important to me. Frankly I still do it as it can be a default, it isn’t something that I flaunt”
Lisa has now been with her wife for 18 years, and they’ve been married for five of those years. Her Dad also knows about her sexuality, and even though it was hard at times, he has learnt to appreciate Lisa for who she is and even gets on with her wife. “We have a house, three dogs, and we are just ordinary people.”
At first it was scary for her to come out, and though it became easier over time, Lisa is honest about how it can feel. “When somebody is the boss of you, to this day it’s a little difficult… I still get a feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even though I don’t actually care, there are some things that are ingrained, I guess. There were some bits that were weird about talking about my relationship, but I wasn’t going to start hiding it.”
The current president of Allied Electronics is very open and encourages an honest exchange and dialogue at work. Now the company is starting to take a deeper look at different types of people and acknowledge them. “It’s a good start to shining that light on that. It’s great that we’re starting on the journey and I hope we can keep going down this path. It’s a slow roll and if we keep on the journey it will get easier for people.”
Not that Lisa is shouting from the rooftops, she just quietly and confidently is who she is. She has owned her own company, started from the bottom to work her way up in sales (without a college degree) and now has 14 years dedicated to her role with Allied Electronics. She doesn’t see herself as a role model and there’s a few things she would still change. “I’m not qualified to give anybody advice, but to a younger me I would say be more true to myself. Especially as I was so hungry to be and do more than the opportunities that were there. I started working with zero skill in anything and I wish I had pursued a college degree.”
Lisa is self-made and immensely proud of where she and her family are today – her sister is a registered nurse, and Lisa herself is sharing her very personal life story for the benefit of everyone that she works with. “I love the way that the company is being pushed towards being more open and more involved in D&I. It’s more than gay people that are benefitting from this, people of colour and all kinds of other diversity. I agree with the cause and it helps putting the light on our stories.”
Lisa talks about the work that her company is doing with pride and about how the business is in a new era. “The need to have a D&I group hasn’t always been fostered, it just wasn’t talked about. Now, we are on the precipice of a whole new level and it’s really exciting, I think it’s a great place to work.”
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