This June, Pride Month brings with it an even sharper focus on the need for diversity, respect, and equality in society, and in the workplace. In honor of Pride and the protests for change going on across the nation, we asked for a Q&A with one of Freedom Financial Network’s leaders, Carlyn Lamia. Here is more about Carlyn, in her own words.
Freedom Financial Network: Can you tell us about your career path before you came to Freedom Financial Network?
Carlyn Lamia: Before and during college I spent many years studying Mandarin Chinese and when I was 17, received a fellowship to go live and study in Beijing. I traveled around Asia in that gap year, and those experiences, some in remote, rural communities, have helped shape my life view ever since.
I graduated from Amherst College with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. I knew I wanted to work in business, and decided the best introduction would be via an intense investment banking path. I was an analyst with a high pressure team for 3 years, focusing on financing private equity purchases of corporations. I worked on deals for my bank that raised over $5 billion in debt for our clients. I loved how much I was learning, and I relished feeling important and good at my job — even if that meant working 80-100+ hours a week.
I decided after three years to transition to an internal buy-side group called Special Situations, where I would originate deals for the bank to invest its own money. I continued with that team for about four years.
FFN: What inspired you to join Freedom Financial Network?
CL: I wanted to join a team and a company where I could build something I could be proud of. I enjoyed the intellectual challenges of my work on Wall Street, but I wanted to do more than money-making transactions. My goal was to find a company whose product or service I believed in, where I could have a real impact on success and where I could grow with the company.
When I met the leadership team at Freedom, Brad (Stroh, co-founder and CEO) and Andrew (Housser, co-founder and CEO) first, and then several other leaders, I was inspired by their intellect, ambition and integrity. The opportunities were interesting, and the team was dedicated to doing right by their clients while building a successful company. I wanted to join the dynamic team, and I was lucky to start working on a few complex projects immediately.
FFN: How would you describe yourself in one word?
I might also say empathetic, but more than feeling what others feel, I desire to understand where they’re coming from and then help everyone to feel empowered.
FFN: How do you see this movement of equality growing in the next five years?
CL: The movement for equality is experiencing increased attention and energy right now. The Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter movements are surging, and it’s inspiring to see awareness and support grow so significantly. My hope is that these movements will maintain momentum and drive real progress towards equality for all marginalized communities.
There have been popular and effective movements for change in the past, but with historic perspective and life experience, I know these movements often left behind our most vulnerable members. My hope is that the current movements maintain momentum and energy until each member of all marginalized groups are honored and supported as equal members of society. It is not the job of marginalized people to carry their own banner and lead all of the fights, it’s everyone’s job, as a future of equality benefits us all.
My own involvement in this movement for equality has deepened in the last few years. During the years when I had babies (I now have 3 small children), it was difficult to stay actively engaged. Then I got divorced and was thrust into part-time single-motherhood and new time on my own, without my kids. I got more deeply involved with a tremendous organization called Lesbians Who Tech, and through that org met and began to work with Tegan and Sara and their foundation. I have now been on the board of The Tegan and Sara Foundation for 2 years and helped raise over $1 million to fight for our mission.
As a board member, I work on projects like a Data Hackathon we ran in 2018 at MIT. We brought together more than 80 LGBTQ Data Professionals from around the country to spend a weekend working with a data set they’d never had access to. One of the judges at the event, a Harvard Medical School professor, said that the teams had accomplished in a weekend what it takes the medical community years to do. It was an example of the power of community and access.
When we wonder in corporate America where and how to recruit and retain diverse employees, we know the challenge is not the pipeline or the talent pool. There are plenty of smart, technical, passionate leaders and contributors out there. The challenge is to build a culture that will support them and where they will belong and can flourish.
Another inspiring experience I’ve had in these last few months during the world’s focus on COVID-19 and social justice was our new TSF Community Grants program. We’ve given away almost $50 thousand in micro-grants, without significant administrative or process burden to the recipients, to support orgs focused on COVID response as well as the specific needs of the Black LGBTQ community around the country. There is so much to do, but the least we can do is that. This is a program we will continue to grow. I hope that the intersectional nature of what we’re all fighting for — human dignity, safety, respect and opportunity — will continue to unite us.
FFN: In one sentence, what does equality look like to you?
Equality means that we’ve disrupted long-standing power dynamics that resulted in violence, pain, shame, and lack of opportunity for some of us, and that all people are fully empowered and supported to become the best, most wonderful, fully embodied version of who they are, and who they want to be.
In more than one sentence: Equality means that each person has the same access and opportunities that others have. I want more representation of diverse perspectives and people in history books and in media so that all kids get to have role models who look like them, who can enable them to feel confident being themselves, and inspire them to be ambitious about their dreams. I want those role models also to educate the rest of society so that we’re all aware that people who don’t look, think, act, or talk like us also have important perspectives. I want good schools, tools, jobs, and infrastructure to be available to both kids and adults so that we can continue to grow. I want our culture to mature, so that we’re no longer threatened by people who are “different”, but instead treasure our differences, and learn from them.
FFN: You are a leader in the Freedom LBGTQIA Employee Resource Group. Why did you want to get involved and what do you like most about being part of the group?
CL: I ran the Rainbow group at Deutsche Bank in the Americas for part of the time I worked there, and I was an active member of Women on Wall Street. Empowering my colleagues to feel safe bringing their whole selves to work has been important to me for a long time. When I entered the work force after college, it was deeply homophobic and uncomfortable for me. I needed help feeling safe at work, and DB’s LGBTQ group was there for me.
When I joined Freedom, we were so small and scrappy that we had no ERGs (Employee Resource Groups). As we’ve grown, the opportunity for a group like this to make a difference has also grown, so with Linda’s (Luman, SVP, Human Resources) leadership and Rasheeda’s (James, Director, Settlement Ops) help, we launched in 2019. I am honored to be the group’s executive sponsor. Through this group, I’ve enjoyed getting to know colleagues who I otherwise would never have met, and to continue to learn about the community I’m proud to be a part of.
FFN: What are the benefits of an inclusive company?
CL: From a corporate, profit, or impact perspective, it is a well-researched truth that diversity in leadership teams leads to better outcomes. It is also true that diversity at every level of a company leads to more thoughtful decisions and sustainable, better processes. These benefits can be realized when employees feel comfortable contributing their opinions and confidently recommending solutions.
FFN: What are a few things allies should know about supporting LGBTQIA co-workers?
CL: First, Allies don’t have to be perfect. As long as you come from a place of respect and are open to learn, you can be a great Ally. Being a great Ally requires two things:
- Seek education. Read about the issues, watch movies and videos so you can personalize our experiences, seek opportunities to personally get involved so you can more readily empathize and understand. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
- Take action. Use your platform and use your voice to speak up for us when we’re not in the room. You have so much power to change perspectives, and we hope you will use it!
FFN: What do you think is the most important thing that all FFN employees should know about this group and community?
CL: Freedom Pride is here to empower our LGBTQ employees and Allies to feel comfortable and supported bringing their whole selves to work. We welcome anyone to our group who comes out of respect and a desire to support this community.
FFN: What accomplishments are you looking forward to achieving this year as part of the LGBTQIA community at FFN?
CL: As with every other aspect of life, we’re re-assessing our 2020 plans! We were planning to participate in Phoenix Pride and San Francisco Pride, and next time those happen in person, we will! Our goals for the rest of 2020 are evolving, so stay tuned. We have a survey ready to go out so that we can learn more about what people want from this group. We will formalize our Mission Statement and establish a steering committee to help shape and drive various initiatives.
Last week Freedom Pride had an inspiring Empower Hour where it became clear that there’s a mandate from our Freedom teammates to come together, to listen and learn. We will keep up this work and feel very encouraged by the engagement and feedback.
Carlyn is an inspiring and valued leader at FFN. If you’d like to follow her example, you can learn more about the Tegan and Sara foundation. To see the FFN LBGTQIA community in action, take a look at slides from our recent Empower Hour.