On May 3, Sterling Pride, Shearman & Sterling’s LGBTQ inclusion network, co-hosted a panel with OPEN Finance, a volunteer network focused on the advancement of LGBTQ equality and diversity in the financial services sector, on the professional, personal and political perspectives of intersectional LGBTQ identities. Alexandro Padrés, a partner advisor of Sterling Pride in the firm's Project Development & Finance practice, moderated the discussion featuring panelists Earl Fowlkes, President/CEO, Center For Black Equity, Inc., and Chair, Washington, DC Commission on Human Rights; Lanaya Irvin, Director, Global Equities at Bank of America Merrill Lynch; and Dustin Ling, Director, Global Sector Coverage at Citi's Corporate and Investment Bank.
Associate Alyssa Cowley, Co-Chair of Sterling Pride, began the program welcoming OPEN Finance members, clients, firm lawyers and business services professionals to the firm with a brief history on intersectionality. She explained that the term "intersectionality" was first used by legal scholar and critical theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe how race and gender could intersect as forms of oppression. She noted that since then, the concept has been broadened and "become an important framework in how to hear and understand the experiences of those whose identities do not fit neatly within one box." Alyssa was followed by Nedra Collins, Vice President at Deutsche Bank and Co-Chair of OPEN Finance's Speakers Series, who also welcomed attendees and shared details on OPEN Finance's history and upcoming programs.
Alexandro began the discussion by expounding on the concept of intersectionality, the interconnected and inextricable nature of an individual's or group's multiple identities, and the impact and role of intersectionality and identity in the workplace. He suggested that the composite of identity of each individual should be appreciated, not only in its complexity, but also its richness, underlining the importance of recognizing people as individuals in lieu of groups. "I am a gay Mexican-born binational partner at a large law firm," said Alexandro. "Those aspects of my individuality have given me a unique perspective in life and in the workplace that has given meaning to my career."
When asked how they were intersectional, the panelists each described several characteristics that made them unique or different, whether it pertained to class, sexuality or ethnicity. Earl, describing himself as a queer black man with a strong religious background who loves football and the Queen of England, said, "I see my differences as an asset I was able to build from. My intersectionality has given me a broader view of the world, and I am grateful for it."
Regarding the topic of intersectional identities manifesting in professional lives, Dustin spoke of his experience working with public sector clients. Dustin, who to the surprise of many is a Dutch-speaking native of Aruba and is of Asian descent, said, "My work has been great in most instances as I've had the opportunity to travel all around the world and gain exposure to many different cultures, but certain aspects of my identity were not well-received in certain countries, and that has been a challenge. I have learned that you don't need to bring all of your identities to the table all of the time." He noted that he has learned to lean on different aspects of his identity depending on the circumstances and cultures around him, and that this ability has served him well personally and professionally.
Lanaya, who spoke about the political aspects of intersectionality, feels there is still work to be done. She noted the importance of unifying to support one another's causes. Adding to the layers of intersectionality, panelists and attendees shared unflinching personal stories about rarely discussed topics that affect people of all backgrounds, including exposure to domestic violence, childhood homelessness and mental illness.
Partner Antonia Stolper, Americas Managing Partner and Head of the firm's Latin America Practice Practice Group, remarked, "The conversation really demonstrated through individual stories the true meaning of intersectionality, which is that how one approaches life comes from many lenses and personal history including race, ethnicity, national origin as well as one's LGBTQ identity. These stories reminded everyone in the audience of the importance of not falling into stereotyping and to truly understanding what each individual brings to the table."
The panelists concluded the discussion by emphasizing the importance of embracing intersectionality and all of our identities, as opposed to having to choose. Associate Jackson Murley, Co-Chair of Sterling Pride, and Ethan Pan of IFM Investors, former Co-Chair of OPEN Finance's Speaker Series, provided closing remarks and thanked the audience for their participation in the lively and meaningful discussion before inviting them to a cocktail reception.