I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Momentum alumna Lindsay Sutton over lunch for an interview. Lindsay’s leadership as an openly queer woman in the tech industry makes her a standout in the community. Here’s what Lindsay has to share about that.
(April) – When you went through Momentum you were an entrepreneur and consultant. During COVID you decided to take a position with a fast-growing local company. At recent our lunch conversation, you shared your reasons for leaving that position, which were largely based on divergent leadership principles. Would you be willing to share what it was like to take a stand based on your leadership principles?
(Lindsay) – Standing up for what you believe in and being willing to make the hard choices in those moments can feel complicated and difficult. However, showing up authentically and being true to yourself, which is what I was doing as well, will always be worth it. I confronted the situation head on and made a decision to leave given the lack of change. When you know your worth and care deeply about people, sometimes the decisions are easier than you think. I’ve never regretted choosing to uphold my values and ethics. I have regretted it when I’ve abandoned myself and let myself or others down. A truism that plays in my mind is this – If we don’t change it, we choose it, so I opted for change.
I also get me having the option to walk away from a role and find something more in line with my values somewhere else just wreaks of privilege, but when you are afforded the opportunity to stand for something, truly embody those positions, when actions and words align, we are rising up to the potential we were intended for.
(April) – In your new role as VP of Strategy and Experimentation at Stella Source, you are the only woman and only openly queer leader on their leadership team. What has that experience been like for you?
(Lindsay) – My experience and expertise helped me find a fit in this role, right – the reasons they sought me out. My confidence in leadership, their commitment to inclusivity, and the team culture they were building (while building an industry-changing experience) are why I chose them. There is a respect and support in knowing that I am open about my sexual orientation and that with me comes my commitment to visibility and an investment in the LGBTQ+ community.
As the founder of Tech Equals, Alabama’s first professional organization in tech for my community, it was important to me that they knew I wasn’t just a woman on their leadership team, but an openly queer one who will be involved in how the tech community, not just our team, supports the unique challenges of LGBTQ+. To put it plainly, I have not had a single issue or concern in this new role. I feel safe and in a position to grow in my own skills and experience – and that is so incredibly valuable to me.
(April) – You and your partner recently got married (and I am so happy for you both!) How has your work life changed since tying the knot?
(Lindsay) – This is such a hard question for me because my wife and I used to work together and honestly have one of the best working relationships I’ve ever known and have an incredible complementary skillset. I get it. You’re probably skeptical about partners working together, but legit, my work product has always been made better by letting her get her eyes and brain on it. I actually miss working with her day to day, but now we just get to be more intentional in how we show up and support each other. I still love helping her think through her challenges and still love sharing mine. We are each others’ biggest fans and a wedding didn’t change that. If anything, we are so much more committed to the happiness and growth of each other. I can say being loved right has been a powerful change agent in my professional life. The Momentum family has come along front row to my journey and I can say now I am so incredibly happy both personally and professionally. But you all knew I would never settle for anything less.
(April) – How has your wedding been received by your coworkers in the Stella Source team, and by your peers on the O’Neal leadership team?
(Lindsay) – There has been literally nothing but so much love and support. I am truly made so full by the genuine commitment to people and empathic leadership shown by every person I have interacted with. We are building something special, not just in the product, but in the team, in the leadership, in the ways in which we show up. We are building a world-class organization not predicated on fear, command and control, and dog-trained obedience, but instead fostering each person’s curiosity, creativity, and helping them unlock their potential and perform at the highest levels. We have a team who wants to show up each day, wants to support their team, and contribute their skills and expertise to the goals. It is honestly very cool to see. It’s palpable and will show others, this is possible. You can have high performing teams showing up authentically while executing on goals.
(April) – What do you want the cisgender, straight people in the world to know about normalizing conversations about gay marriage?
(Lindsay) – Words matter. We carry assumptions in our heads that have been socialized our entire lives. Some I encourage us to challenge are the gendered ones – like knowing someone’s pronouns or assuming their partner is of an opposite gender. In stores, I still get the “Hey, you should have your husband come back and help with that” or “I’m sure your husband is going to love this.” It’s ok to make mistakes, I still do, with even my closest friends as I learn to normalize their pronoun preference. What isn’t ok is not respecting them, not making an effort, and being obstinate in the face of change.
As for my own marriage, I worry for us in this state. We are taking additional steps to legally protect the life we are building, so if the day comes when our state decides not to recognize the very true and very real love I share with my wife, our commitments are not undermined. Allies can support us in this – always. Ask questions, write your representatives, and support the people in your life who want to simply love and be loved.
(April) – You mentioned at lunch that you are at times lonely as the one of the only openly gay leaders in this community, that it’s easy to feel like the token gay woman, or the unofficial spokesperson for LGBTQ+ business people. That is often the case with any “first” leader. A customer once told me, “you can always recognize the pioneer in a space. They’re the person with the arrow in their back.” Tell me more about the challenges and the opportunities that come with many eyes upon you for your leadership–that is to say your leadership in general as well as your leadership in the LGBTQ community.
(Lindsay) – One of the commitments I made to myself, no matter how hard or how lonely, is that I would always be visible and would never cower. I would always be open, be a voice, be an example of what authentic presence and leadership is for tech, for women, and for the LGBTQ+ community. It has not been easy and can be emotionally crushing at times feeling like you don’t want to screw this up because so many are looking to you, that what you do carries so much more weight than your white, straight, male counterparts. But this is not new and I am not special in this. I lean on the strength and fortitude of so many women both straight and queer that have gone before me. I am simply showing this same group it can happen here in Birmingham, you can rise in the ranks if that’s what you want, and love what you do while being who you are. I have been told my presence in this professional position makes it possible. My presence makes it possible. That’s powerful and I want to keep doing what I can to ensure women, and queer women especially, know this can be their reality.
(April) – How do you think your experience in Momentum prepared you for some of the bold steps since your graduation from the executive program in 2021?
(Lindsay) – For me, the Momentum experience created new relationships, started new conversations, and emboldened us all to go back to our teams with strengthened conviction that we can confidently pursue our passions and find fulfillment by truly knowing yourself. Momentum became this sort of “strength exchange” where I could offer up some of mine if someone needed it and they could offer up some of theirs if I needed it. We cannot be islands. We simply won’t last, so Momentum gave me an amazing mosaic of champions that support me, challenge me, let me be vulnerable, and give me an opportunity to lean into them and do the same.
Literally, as I am writing this, I am sharing wedding photos with my co-mentoring group from Momentum. This is the kind of stuff that lasts. Momentum gave me that – this unending well of sound advice, support, encouragement, sometimes a kick in the *ss, and comradery in that I was not alone. Certainly, it has been easier making some bold moves knowing I have an army behind me. 🙂
(April) – Pride month is obviously important to shine the spotlight on the human rights of our LGBTQ+ fellow citizens. What do you want our community to know about supporting the LGBTQ community all year long?
(Lindsay) – Pride is one month a year, but we are who we are all year long. The hardships, homelessness, lack of access to appropriate medical care, unequal family protections, inadequate mental health options, bias in employment practices, and gender discrimination happen all year long. We get to choose everyday how we will show up, how we will treat someone, how we will impact change, how we will grow in hate or grow in love. And my choice is so very clear to me.
I have realized with my marriage that I made a very political choice, hell, being queer at all in this country is political. But what’s different now- I am fighting for my home, my person, my family. I now have so much more to lose. And people like me don’t like to lose. It is time we got on the right side of history, did right by people, led with empathy, and stand for humanity. We need to scrutinize our benefits packages, employment practices, team building, internal processes, and community resources as leaders to ensure we are doing what is right. People have said that when they are around me and my wife, they get it, they see it, they can feel how much we love and respect each other. And that is what I will always fight to protect, starting in my small part of the world right here in Birmingham.