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Ben Brooks, American Founder & CEO of PILOT

Ben Brooks is the Founder & CEO of PILOT, an award-winning employee coaching software product. Serving an impressive cohort of respected corporate, growth businesses, and nonprofits, PILOT is democratizing coaching at scale with a mission that “everyone feels powerful at work.” PILOT was named the #1 HRTech Startup to Watch in 2020 and won the industry’s largest Pitchfest in 2019. Inspired by his successful business & executive coaching practice, Ben saw an opportunity to democratize executive coaching by making it scalable, affordable, and flexible by leveraging technology.


"Being LGBTQ for me is a “feature” and not a “bug.” It is part of who I am, I am better for it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way."



When did you have that “a-ha” moment and realise you were different?


Perhaps as early as 6th grade. I didn’t know that I was gay at the time, or even that being gay was a “thing.” I just noticed that I saw things differently from my fellow classmates and male friends. Particularly, I seemed to relate and connect with girls in a way that seemed more at ease than the awkwardness that often occurred between other male/female interactions.


I also was also very good at relating to adults from a very young age. At parties I’d often gravitate to speaking with and hanging with the adults, even in grade school!


How would you describe your experience of coming out?


My coming out experience isn’t over and I’m not sure it ever will end. Sure you can Google me and very clearly understand that I’m openly Gay. But there are 7 Billion humans on this planet and I’ve only interacted with a few thousand of them. So each new person I meet, personally or professionally, is another expression of coming out. Sometimes it is fatiguing, but I tend to just keep it simple, own it, disclose quickly, and move on.


I came out to the first person my senior year of high school. Initially she was trusted and supportive, but over time her religious views drove us apart. I’m thankful to her though as she helped me cross that huge threshold of just saying the words to someone other than myself.


I decided to be partially out my senior year of high school (this was the year after Matthew Shepard died, in the hospital 2 miles from my high school) as it didn’t feel very safe to be fully out. Safety was a big concern in my decisions of who I’d tell – I’d always have to wager how much could the hurt me if the didn’t like who I actually was. A truly awful calculus to make and a gigantic wedge in a relationship. I moved to a place that’s far more affirming of LGBTQ people, New York City, which made a huge difference. And I have decided to pre-empt any potential issues by being out online, in my professional bio, etc. so people can self-select out before even meeting me as it is no secret!


How did your childhood and family background impact both the timing and the way you came out?


I won the lottery with my family. My parents raised my sister and I to be vocal about our feelings, to be kind to ourselves, to pursue our own interests, and to prioritize our happiness. My younger sister was very supportive and affirming when I came out to her before telling my parents, making it much easier to tell them knowing I had her backing and acceptance. I like to be prepared and engage thoughtfully so I read a pretty lengthy psychological book (almost a textbook in terms of density) on coming out. I had a clear sense of the process my parents would go through, which was very similar to the stages of grief as they would be losing the image they had of who I was and what kind of life I’d have. I was very prepared for them to be quite sad about the news, and I had even scripted exactly how what I’d say to tell them. This helped me manage my anxiety and fear going into the process, giving me something to cling to.


What would your advice to anyone trying to come out?


First, you have to consider your own safety. In many parts of the world, even in the United States, LGBTQ people are still the targets of hate crimes, discrimination and bias. Coming out is sometimes not a matter of “if” but more “when” and “where.” Come out in the place and on the timeline that works for you.


Second, realize that the other person may already know. Most straight people don’t want to pry or make LGBTQ uncomfortable, sending a confusing signal that they may not be accepting when really they just want to give us space. So sometimes coming out is far less of a big deal to them than it is to us.


Third, the more of a big deal it is to you, they will mirror the same. So much of coming out isn’t about telling others you’re gay, but instead its about coming to terms with it within yourself. Don’t skip the important and vast work of overcoming the shame of being gay. As you develop more appreciation of how you were born, as a beautiful LGBTQ person, others will resonate in kind.

What was the most difficult experience you faced in your life because of your sexual orientation / gender identity? How did you handle it?


I’ve faced a number of challenges, personally and professionally, as a result of being gay. However, it is important to note that I’m a white cis gendered male, giving me significant unearned privilege in the world. As such, navigating life as a LGBTQ person has been less challenging for me personally compared to many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, in particular those who are persons of color, gender non-conforming, or from other underrepresented demographics.


One memory to share is when I had just moved to New York City from Denver, for what I thought as my dream job in management consulting. I was just two weeks into a very intense job and a partner who helped hire me and that I really looked up to called me a “fag” in response to something I said in a meeting. I was devastated and I spiralled fearing I had made a terrible mistake. He didn’t even know I was gay! Thankfully I turned the situation around and used it as fuel to co-found the firms first global LGBTQ employee resource group. If you want to know more, my story was featured in a Harvard Business Review article


Who is the most important role model in your life and why?


My mom! In my childhood I didn’t always understand why she was so patient, so kind, so caring, but as I grew older I saw how deeply she could connect with others, and demonstrate she was on their side. What I mistook for being nice was actually a powerful way to both wield tremendous influence and make a big impact.


She dedicated her career to helping others, in particular single mothers who were victims of domestic violence, find empowerment and economic security through education in the community college system. So in many ways, career advice is a Brooks family business : )


Now broadening our horizon, describe your experience being a member of the LGBTQ community at work? In your industry?


Being LGBTQ for me is a “feature” and not a “bug.” It is part of who I am, I am better for it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life is just so interesting, fun, compelling, even thrilling as a LGBTQ person. Sure it comes with headwinds and challenges, but those have shaped me and taught me lessons I would have never learned had I been born straight.

LGBTQ people, in my experience, want to help one another and the network is large and talented. So many people have helped me make key connections, enjoy unique experiences, and provide great advice/mentoring.


My business is now a certified LGBT-owned business and large corporations are now measuring their spend with diverse suppliers. Lots is changing and there are professional groups like the US National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.


And, what could make the biggest positive impact for the LGBTQ community?


Being kind to one another.


There is a saying that “hurt people, hurt people” and I have seen that far too often in our own community. Being LGBTQ can be very challenging and painful, in particular in our earlier years of life.

The discrimination, pain, or even violence we may have faced is not our fault, but healing from it is our responsibility. I’d love to live in a world where the LGBTQ community was more consistently affirming, accepting, integrated, and generally supportive.


Finally and on a less serious note, what stereotype do you love the most about the LGBTQ community?


That gay men are very organized! A stereotype indeed, and one that I anecdotally find to often be true. Planning documents, calendar invites, labelling things, putting objects in their ideal place….its all so….gay!

More about Ben


Ben Brooks is the Founder & CEO of PILOT, an award-winning employee coaching software product. Serving an impressive cohort of respected corporate, growth businesses, and nonprofits, PILOT is democratizing coaching at scale with a mission that “everyone feels powerful at work.” PILOT was named the #1 HRTech Startup to Watch in 2020 and won the industry’s largest Pitchfest in 2019. Inspired by his successful business & executive coaching practice, Ben saw an opportunity to democratize executive coaching by making it scalable, affordable, and flexible by leveraging technology.

Previously, Ben held a number of leadership and management roles at Lockheed Martin, Oliver Wyman, and Marsh & McLennan Companies, where his last role was as SVP of HR, where he was named a “rising star” by HR Executive Magazine and later was featured on its cover for his innovative work in human capital. He started his career at Enterprise Rent-a-car. In the community, Ben served on the board of directors for OutServe-SLDN, the organization that spearheaded the successful effort to end the Department of Defense's discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, and he co-founded the LGBT employee resource group at his management consulting firm (that continues to thrive a decade later). He's a proud graduate of the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business and has resided in Manhattan for more than a decade.

Ben was recently named 1 of HR Executive Magazine's Top 100 HR Tech Influencers of 2020.


Content:

HR Executive Magazine Column: A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste

What Can PILOT Do for You?

Behavox AI Journal Profile on Ben Brooks/PILOT

Podcast Episodes

Social Media


LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benbrooksny/


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/findbenbrooks/about


Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/benbrooksny/?hl=en


Twitter: https://twitter.com/benbrooksny


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