52 years later, IBM apologizes for firing transgender tech pioneer Lynn Conway
"Thanks to your courage, your example, and all the people who followed in your footsteps, as a society we are now in a better place."
PHOTO OF CONWAY. COURTESY: WIKIPEDIA.
IBM has officially apologized to Lynn Conway for how the company treated her 52 years ago, several media outlets report. Conway, a University of Michigan professor of electrical engineering and computer science, emerita, and transgender activist, worked at IBM in the 1960s and is described as a “pioneer of microelectronics chip design.”
She is credited as the developer of generalized dynamic instruction handling, a key advance used by most modern computer processors to enhance performance.
Her groundbreaking career at IBM, however, was cut short. The company halted her research and fired Conway in 1968 upon learning of her plans to transition from male to female.
In an October 14, 2020 address to employees, IBM celebrated the life and career of Conway in an event that called her a “tech trailblazer and transgender pioneer.”
“I wanted to say to you here today, Lynn, for that experience in our company and all the hardships that followed, I am truly sorry,” Diane Gherson, an IBM senior vice president of human affairs who was leading the event, said.
In an interview with the LA Times, Conway says she was “surprised” by the apology.
“I didn’t know how to react,” Conway, 82, told the publication.
“I started to tear up. I didn’t know when it started that Diane was going to apologize on IBM’s behalf.”
The address also spoke about the progress IBM has made in supporting trans employees.
“For us IBMers, it was important — and in alignment with IBM’s values — to not only express regret and apologize but to also celebrate Lynn for all her accomplishments as a world-renowned innovator,” Ella Slade, global LGBT+ leader at IBM told HR Dive.
“The IBM trans community look up to Lynn and are familiar with her story, so this moment was truly healing.”
While companies are making strides to support LGBTQ employees, reports show more work is needed to create truly inclusive environments.
A June 2020 report by McKinsey & Company, for example, finds that coming out is challenging for women and junior leaders and that 1 in 5 senior leaders who participated in the survey shared they are not fully out at work.