Out & Equal is committed to elevating the profile of members of our community who have diverse, intersectional identities.

Ella Slade (they/them) is IBM’s Global LGBTQ+ Leader, leading volunteers globally to ensure all LGBTQ+ IBM employees can thrive both personally and professionally. Outside of work, Ella is on the England Hockey DEI Advisory Group and a trustee of UK based social impact charity Mission Beyond.

Belonging to me is creating a safe space where you just take people exactly as they are, everything that’s going on with them, and just embrace that, and just soak it all up, and don’t question it, don’t try and change it, and just embrace it. That is the most wonderful thing.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey that led you to where you are now.

My name is Ella, my pronouns are they/them. I work at IBM as their Global LGBTQ+ Leader, which was literally a dream job of mine. I started working at IBM as an intern while in university and I absolutely fell in love with working there. I was fortunate enough to be able to come back once I graduated and then moved up within the organization. This role has continued to be a dream job of mine. I get to talk about LGBTQ+ equality every single day, and it’s just wonderful.

It’s also really helped me in terms of my own personal journey as well. I identify as trans, queer, and nonbinary. I was very much out as queer from the get-go when I started at IBM, but I only came out as trans and nonbinary in 2020. And it was partly to do with my role that helped me to understand my own identity better because I get to interact with so many incredible trans and nonbinary IBM employees and people from the community daily. Every single time I was training people about what it means to be trans and what it means to be nonbinary, a little voice in the back of my head was like, “That’s you.” And then over time, that voice got louder.

I also witnessed the wonderful diversity within the nonbinary community, and there’s so many different experiences and expressions and I came to realize that nonbinary doesn’t look a certain way and I can fit within this identity quite comfortably.

Why is it important to work in an environment that not only tolerates your identity, but helps affirm and support your journey?

Having a work environment that affirms my identity makes me extremely loyal. It makes me appreciate my company, my immediate team, and the work I’m doing. Because I don’t have to struggle with my identity or try to earn support at the company, I can focus more on my work and relationships, and it makes me better at my job.

Why is intersectionality so imperative in our conversations around workplace inclusion? 

From a business perspective, you get the most out of your employees if they’re able to focus on their work, if they’re comfortable, and able to really be themselves. Intersectionality in the workplace should be an absolute fundamental. We can’t split ourselves into different parts – it’s not like my arm is queer, my other arm is white, my leg is nonbinary.

It doesn’t work like that. We are these whole beings that have these experiences that we can’t really unpick. We can’t forget about the fact that we identify as multiple different identities and often multiple oppressed identities. Intersectionality forces us to go deeper and have conversations around, “What is the experience that you have had and how is that brought to life? Do we have similarities across multiple identities? Do we have similar life experiences?”

One way I’ve seen conversations around intersectionality and inclusion explode in the past few years is the number of people with LGBTQ+ kids. So many people have come to me and said “My kid is trans. Can you give me resources? How can I better support them?” IBM was able to create an LGBTQ+ families work stream and community space where members can share resources and support one another. When people come forward with their life experiences or disclose different parts of their identities, and others can see the different levels and facets of people’s lives, really powerful and impactful things are able to happen.

What would you share with young trans and/or nonbinary folks who are on a similar professional trajectory as you? What do you wish someone had told you early in your career?

I’d say if you’re interested in a career in inclusion and diversity, and you are trans, queer, nonbinary, or any marginalized identity, make sure you look after yourself and your own mental wellbeing. Don’t underestimate how emotionally draining and taxing this space is to work in.

When you identify with the communities that you are talking about every day and when legislation happens, or you’re having to educate people day-in and day-out, it’s exhausting, and it is a lot to deal with. I would recommend that people find healthy ways to deal with the emotional stress, through therapy, quiet time, setting clear boundaries, journaling, whatever works for you.

I wish someone had told me that you can’t fix everything. I need people to still tell me this. There are a lot of things completely out of your control, which can make this work frustrating or painful. But it is also just as important to push through as much as you can, make as much change as you can, and be your best self.

How does it impact your life to see trans and nonbinary people thrive? What does it mean to you?

It’s like you could only see life in black and white, and then suddenly you can see in color. Seeing representation is like suddenly seeing color. It’s phenomenal. When I was growing up, I didn’t know or know of any adult queer people. I couldn’t even name people on television until I was way into my late teens.

One distinct memory I have is when I was 18 and just before I went off to university, my science teacher came out to me. It absolutely blew my mind, completely and utterly blew my mind that here was this person that was a teacher, which, is such a phenomenal job, and she was truly thriving. Part of me was also really sad because she’d been my teacher for four years. If she’d been out earlier on in my school life it would’ve been even more amazing. And I think I would’ve understood earlier that queer people can thrive and have successful careers and be happy. I think that lacking that representation at an early age was huge.

When I think about representation that’s most impactful to me, its not necessarily about out executives/CEOs or people who are household names. What I’m blown away by is seeing the queer/trans community truly thrive, no matter who they are. It means more to me to just see these amazing queer, trans, nonbinary folk who were just absolutely killing it at their job, and then also want to give back to the community.

What does belonging mean to you personally? And what does it look like for you professionally?

Belonging to me is creating a safe space where you just take people exactly as they are, everything that’s going on with them, and just embrace that, and just soak it all up, and don’t question it, don’t try and change it, and just embrace it. That is the most wonderful thing.

Where I’ve seen belonging at IBM is recently, we held an event for Trans Day of Visibility, each panelist shared a bit about their trans icons/role models or anyone they looked up to. It was such a powerful session of inspiration, light bulb moments and shared experiences. It was one of those “I belong here” moments for me, and many others too.