Beth Ford is the first openly lesbian chief executive to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Ford takes up the top job today at privately held agriculture and food products firm, Land O’Lakes. The company generated more than £14.6bn in revenue last year.
Land O’Lakes promoted Ford from chief operating officer to head the Fortune 500 agribusiness and foods company.
LGBT business leaders hailed the appointment, calling Ford a role model for aspiring female executives, Reuters news agency reported.
Business leaders welcome Ford’s appointment as CEO
‘(Being out at work) is a change-maker to be honest,” said Margot Slattery, country president of Sodexo Ireland, the Irish subsidiary of the world’s second-biggest catering services company.
‘When I look at when I was in the closet versus where I am now, it’s night and day’, Reuters reported her as saying. ‘It’s been a while since I came out, but it’s radically different.’
Amanda McKay, quality director for major projects at infrastructure group Balfour Beatty, said being out was empowering.
’Being able to be oneself at work is an incredibly empowering thing; it gives you so much more energy to get on with life.’
America’s most high profile gay boss is Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. Martine Rothblatt, the chairwoman of Nasdaq-listed, United Therapeutics, is one of the first publicly trans bosses.
Out gay businessman, Jim Fitterling, became CEO of DowChemical earlier this year. And former PayPal CEO, Peter Thiel, is now founding partner of technology investment firm Founders Fund.
While the number of gay male chief executives has risen in recent years, there remain few lesbian or female bi and trans heads of major companies.
Some said Ford’s appointment highlighted how much more needed to be done to deal with LGBTI issues at work.
‘(The appointment of) Beth Ford is brilliant news, but the fact that it is news shows how far we have still to go in making being LGBTI in the workplace a non-issue,’ said Ori Chandler, managing director of diversity business group INvolve.
‘Companies can reinforce this message by working to create visible, vocal role models’, Reuters reported her as saying. ‘It’s impossible to underestimate the power of being able to look up and see someone who ‘looks like you’.’
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