Reflecting on Pride Month as an LGBTQIA Leader in the Aerospace Industry
Reflecting on Pride Month as an LGBTQIA Leader in the Aerospace Industry
In recognition and celebration of Pride Month 2023, we spoke to Anita Renteria, Barrios Technology’s Chief Growth Officer, about her personal LGBTQIA journey, and her insights on the status of the workplace for LGBTQIA employees within the industry. Anita has served on the boards of several non-profit organizations that support the LGBTQIA community and continues to donate annually to community causes through Barrios’ United Way campaign.
You’ve been open about being part of the LGBTQIA community and an outspoken advocate for diversity. But, starting out in your career, how did you navigate coming out in your professional life. Was it easy?
While in my first job, I also played in a band and was in a relationship with a woman that I performed with for many years. Some of my friends at work eventually knew about this and it came out that way, but it was never something direct and it wasn’t something I told my boss at the time. In the next couple of jobs, I decided that I would come out after I had received the job offer. I would talk to the manager or the person hiring me, and I would say, “If it’s going to be a problem for you or your management team or the employees, then let’s not do this, because I don’t want that situation either”; and they always agreed to hire me.
In one particular case, I was employed by a Canadian company, and they had domestic partnership benefits, so for the first time I could actually have that. After this I came to Barrios.
When I first approached Sandy Johnson about coming to work here at Barrios, she said ‘if we win this big contract then we can talk again’. So, in 2004 when Barrios won, I turned up again, and Sandy made me an offer. I let her know about being gay and I asked if Barrios offered domestic partnership benefits. She said she didn’t know, but would find out, and if not, she would get them.
And true to her word, she got domestic partnership benefits. So, me, and anyone else in the company in my situation, would be covered. It was fantastic and it’s been that kind of environment ever since. This company is the right fit for me.
The theme of Pride Month 2023 is ‘Rage and Resilience’. How do you relate to this theme?
In this bubble that I’m in at Barrios…at a company that is totally accepting of me, and that supports my family, I am very lucky to be in a position that nobody at Barrios has to worry about that. Where it does become difficult is in places where it isn’t accepted.
If you feel in a work environment that you are not free to be who you are, that you have to protect yourself against saying something or implying something that may reveal who you really are and other people may hold that against you in some way, by ostracizing you or bullying, or losing opportunities because of it, refusing to work with you, it’s very difficult. And that has caused rage. And it is unfair. It is also costly to the business.
People can’t do their best work if they’re spending so much energy putting up a facade and maintaining it out of fear. If you don’t feel safe at work, you are not going to be at your best. It’s incumbent on a company if you want to keep good talent that you have an environment where everyone feels safe to be who they are. So that their creativity and energy can flow into the work because that’s what you’re paying for.
Do you feel that the right work environments exist in which LGBTQIA employees can feel supported, empowered and respected?
Yes, I think so. NASA has really taken the lead on this. NASA has many employee interest resource groups and forums, and one of them is the NASA Out & Allied Employee Resource Group (O&A ERG). This sets the tone. If you’re a company that supports a customer that does that, then the company itself tends to align with that. I personally have experience with The Boeing Company’s Lesbian & Gay organization that does events and invites the community, and I’ve been to one or two of their events and they really have been quite good. So that’s one way to do it.
Barrios has had a Diversity Council for the past three years and now that the federal government is including diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility as part of an executive order and is asking companies how they perform against it, it’s become more of a business imperative in our market.
Barrios has a diverse group of people who volunteer to be part of its Diversity Council, and we recognize and have topics on all kinds of things that may be considered difficult conversations. We’ve had a transgender speaker, and this month, we’re featuring an African-American Caribbean speaker. We really do broaden diversity and allow a safe space for those kinds of conversations. Not just LGBTQIA, but also around the fact that the company will allow you to express who you are, and Barrios is a very people-focused company.
Do you feel that the aerospace industry is moving in the right direction when it comes to representation and inclusion?
I do. I love the fact that the Artemis mission will include the first person of color and the first female to go to the moon, and that speaks to humanity, not just the industry. That’s incredibly powerful. There have been, and are, gay astronauts. Astronauts are of course the most highly visible people in NASA. So having visibility at that level is incredible and very important.
The industry that supports the customer, follows the customer. You need to have your values aligned. Our people work hand in hand with their people; and you get the mission accomplished with a team that is dedicated to working together to solve incredibly hard challenges for humanity, and we need everyone to be a part of that.
You’ve been part of the LGBTQIA aerospace community from the very start. How did that come about?
Yes, I have been around a long time. Early in my career when I worked for Lockheed Martin, I wasn’t out to everyone, but I was invited by one of my ‘out’ customers to a lunch group he was part of at Piccadilly Cafeteria, which no longer exists. I would go along and have lunch with a bunch of NASA folks and some who were contractor or subcontractor employees, and the core group of these NASA civil servants were the ones who applied for and initiated the Out & Allied Group. It was great to see that happen. My daughter and I, when she was younger, would attend the gay Pride parades together and throw beads and just have a great time. She loves the memories of that.
For those young people starting out in their careers, do you have any advice to share with them?
Young people are doing such amazing things. The NASA Out & Allied ERG did a video about 10 years ago called ‘It Gets Better’ and I was in that video, which featured a cameo by George Takei, the original Mr Sulu from Star Trek. A follow-up video came out last year, and the younger generation of today are miles ahead and I am very proud of how the NASA folk convey themselves in terms of being LGBTQIA.
The advice I would give is to be really good at your job. Bring your whole self so that you can be really good at your job. And if there’s an issue, that issue needs to be dealt with – it isn’t about who you are, it is getting the situation sorted such that you can contribute because that’s what we need you to do. We need you to help with the mission. That’s why you’re here.