Representation matters — two Louisville leaders share their story

By Josh Miller and Kelsie Smithson

Josh Miller
Aug 21, 2018 · 4 min read
Co-authors Josh Miller & Kelsie Smithson of Louisville Business First’s 2018 Forty under 40.

A myriad of factors must be considered as building blocks for success when a community seeks to foster a thriving culture of health, including in business.

Within communities across the nation, elements of human capital, economic potential and achievement of capabilities all matter. It’s important to model potential pathways for future jobs and leadership — take, for example, Katherine Jonson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson from “Hidden Figures” as inspiration for young black girls, and the impact of seeing LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, executives and thought leaders highlighted by Interesting Engineering — including Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and Vivienne Ming, co-founder of Socos, has on young LGBTQ+ community members.

Today, more and more, we are seeing people who look like and identify like our future leaders competing openly in the Olympics, and as directors and lead actors of major television shows like “Pose” on FX.

Research has demonstrated the negative impact on the economy of employees showing up to work as less than their 100 percent best selves. Health issues, stifling one’s self-expression and facets of identity and community by code-switching to fit into a rigid corporate climate all impact a person’s ability to perform and enhance the success of the companies and communities where we live, work, worship, learn and play.

And, we are seeing employers prioritize policies that ensure LGBTQ+ employees are not only guaranteed a discrimination-free workplace, but taking action to foster a culture where all employees are invited to bring their full selves to work. When corporate leaders proactively advocate and model this inclusion from the top down, we know that employees are able to truly thrive.

Representation across a vast array of traits is needed to truly equalize what has been lacking for minority and marginalized residents. We share our stories below on behalf of current and future members of the LGBTQ+ workforce in hopes that they will know that there is room for them everywhere, even on a city’s Forty Under 40 list:

Josh Miller

In May 2018, the inaugural Derby Diversity & Business Summit (DDBS) brought together LGBTQ+, women-, minority- and veteran-owned enterprises and diversity suppliers from corporations including Delta and Procter & Gamble. Thirty-five percent of attendees were LGBTQ+, and the room was gloriously diverse. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a space that felt so ready to celebrate the many facets of what make us human — all with a focus on creating thriving business ecosystems across sectors.

As an artist, a gay man, a cultural innovator, and co-founder of IDEAS xLab, I have often been one of the youngest, and one of the only LGBTQ+ leaders in the room. While this can feel isolating, Laura Pevehouse — chief blogger for Dell — reminded me at DDBS that if you are in the room, it’s for a reason — you bring added value to the table.

I took solace in her words, remembering that roads must be paved, and we can only change the status quo by showing up and expanding people’s understanding of what is possible.

Kelsie Smithson

As a student and as a working adult, I have always worn many hats. In fact, my business thrives because of this. You could say that has also been characteristic of my identities — female, biracial, lesbian.

For me, existing at this intersection has meant a lack of representation among role models from all angles, let alone anyone who might encompass all of them. Even answering the Forty Under 40 question, “who would play you in a movie,” was a challenge because picking any one actress forced a tradeoff in how I felt I might be able to be portrayed.

The opportunity that I have through my business is to bring each of these lenses to help inform the community-forward work of the nonprofits I serve. But beyond that — and specifically as a leader of a youth-serving organization — I know that I can provide yet another alternative to the norm for LGBTQ+-identifying students and students of color to feel confident in their unique perspectives as they are learning to own their power and step into their own potential.

As LGBTQ+ leaders in Louisville, we are honored to be included in Louisville Business First’s Forty Under 40 2018 class. It is an opportunity to show future generations that these lists — which, even as we were applying, felt reserved for others — are where we belong as part of a community whose estimated economic impact and buying power is close to $1 trillion, as reported by the National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

— Josh Miller and Kelsie Smithson are 2018 Forty Under 40 honorees. Miller is the co-founder and COO of IDEAS xLab, co-chair of the Louisville Health Advisory Board’s Communications Committee and explores the world through photography (and a lot of running), documenting his journey through Smithson is a Louisville native and the owner of Kelsie Smithson Consulting; most recently her work has centered on providing project management for the missions of Greater Louisville Project, Louisville Girls Leadership and The Wheelhouse Project.

This Op-Ed was originally published by Louisville Business First on August 16, 2018.

Josh Miller

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Artist/Cultural Innovator/Co-Founder + CEO @ideasxlab | Business First #40under40 | Exploration: www.JoshMiller.Ventures