Local women in work force speak out

Women from across the state gathered to speak on a panel about acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) women in the workplace, and to accept recognition for their achievements.

The “Women’s Herstory” event marked the centennial anniversary of Women’s Day. Cheryl Madelle – co-founder of the event’s sponsor Out and Equal Tampa Bay and vice president of Raymond James’ LGBT employee resource group, the Rainbow Network – said the holiday was the best time to recognize women.

“We chose this day to … hold our event to not only honor the women in our community, but to also honor the lesbian women in our community,” she said.

Madelle, Tampa police Chief Jane Castor, Tampa’s first female plumber Patricia Ditto and Randy Kammer, vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, sat on a discussion panel and were honored with gifts at the event.

Karen Berkman, executive director of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at USF and former chair of the President’s Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (CISOGI), said all the University’s LGBT groups benefit from the event.

“I think it continues to push the LGBT community forward by partnering with other people in the community who have like agendas,” she said. “That just helps to propel us forward in accomplishing our common goals.”

Berkman said events that raise awareness in the community will be held until LGBT lifestyles are no longer taboo.

“I hope that this conversation continues until we figure out how the right way so that we don’t have to talk about it any more,” Berkman said.

Julie Gedro, a professor at Empire State College in New York currently conducting a one-year study on lesbians in senior management positions in corporate America, spoke to attendees about problems many lesbian employees face.

“Women tend to use a spider web approach to leadership; women tend to lead from the center and out, men tend to lead in more top-down ways,” Gedro said. “If a woman adopts a top-down autocratic style … she’s not as valuable.”

Castor, a lesbian, said police officers are not anti-gay and that her department should be an example to others.

“People have, I think, a misconception of police officers, that they’re a rather conservative close-minded lot, which probably couldn’t be further from the truth,” Castor said. “Everybody’s out and it’s no big deal and people could care less, which I think is very important.”

Kammer agreed that companies should focus on maintaining a safe environment for employees and said she wanted Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida to create such an environment.

“My goal is to make such a safe environment that we become the (best) choice for the LGBT community,” she said.

Ditto, who started was first female plumber in Tampa in 1977, said she knew she could never come out to her co-workers, who teased her for being a woman, and only found solace when she worked in buildings with other lesbian women.

“Me being the (only) lady plumber in the entire complex, I used to sneak around to the ladies room to make repairs just so I could talk to some of the security guards who were lesbians, and we’d have to whisper,” Ditto said.