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Powerful Moments: Celebrating LGBTQI+ Pride with MJ DePalma

June 2019

The seed of inspiration

Sometimes, just a few words at the right moment can plant a seed that transforms everything. Bainbridge Island, Washington resident MJ DePalma knows first-hand how words can impact the course of a life. MJ’s role at Microsoft as the Senior Global Multicultural & Inclusive Marketing Lead is a direct result of a life-changing moment at a company-wide meeting. MJ recounts, “Our CVP, Rik van der Kooi, introduced himself to all of us for the first time, and he said something that literally changed my life: No matter what gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation you are, you have a role to play and you belong here.”

MJ had never heard a leader at that level of seniority, speak to a large group, using the phrase, "sexual orientation." MJ admits, “In that moment, I realized I’d always expected that part of who I am, that dimension of diversity, would never be seen, would never count in business or in my community.” She continues, “I learned these cultural cues that someone in the LGBTQI+ community wasn't quite fully counted nor equal. When Rik spoke, I got emotional and thought maybe I'm home. Maybe I'm in the right place where I could have an incredible future being exactly who I really am.”

A powerful ripple effect

Those words inspired MJ to pursue her passion — creating environments where people could bring their authentic selves to work rather than expend energy being something they weren’t. MJ’s experience taught her that she could reinvest that energy in doing the very best work of her life. She began studying Diversity & Inclusion, and volunteering to provide various platforms and engagements to colleagues which led to breakthroughs for herself, her coworkers, and the business that they collectively service at Microsoft Advertising. “I felt we were onto something,” MJ shares. “And as a marketer, I thought, how can we merge this passion for doing good and helping people achieve, with empowering people to be themselves?” That drove her to develop a framework to ignite Inclusive Marketing, which led to her new role at Microsoft.

Picturing progress

Among the many impactful things MJ has done to further inclusion at work and in the industry, is the development of an Inclusive Marketing training program that is empowering not only inclusive story-telling but also inclusive product design. “It’s important for anyone in business to learn how inclusive culture and empathy can drive innovation and remove barriers for people. No matter what role someone is in within business, empathy for people drives insight which leads to innovation in that discipline. I get to help our advertising clients see that, too.” MJ often speaks to large global audiences about inclusive marketing and design empathy, ally-ship, and the relationship between inclusive culture and innovation for new inclusive products and customer experiences. “After one speaking event, a woman came to me and said: 'Can I take a picture of you?'" MJ shares. “'My daughter is exactly like you. I want to show her she can be successful like you.' I realized then, that just by following your passion you can find your purpose, inspire others and hopefully help make the world a better place. That's why I love working for Microsoft so much. We all get to do that regardless of what gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability we are.” MJ adds, “But most important is that I can bring my authentic self to work.”

United colleagues, United Nations

In addition to her work around Diversity & Inclusion, MJ is very active in the Global LGBTQI+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft (GLEAM) employee resource group. Last spring, Microsoft held a global summit to discuss the differences in LGBTQI+ rights around the world. One speaker was Fabrice Houdart, the United Nations human rights ambassador for the global LGBTQI+ community. “He was incredibly inspiring,” MJ remembers. “I never imagined being able to talk with a U.N. representative about something that matters so much to me. There are 69 countries in the world where being gay is a crime,” she shares. “Being inspired by Fabrice broadened my dreams of how I can show up and, as a marketer, help tell stories to change the hearts and minds of people in those countries. My hope is that they will come to see us as equal human beings and change those laws. It’s amazing to me that Microsoft provides so many resources that broaden our horizons, and deepen our ability, not only to drive business impact, but to see how we can contribute to critical movements around the world.”

Making a difference

One of the most powerful things we can do as human beings is to show up as who we really are. Being comfortable in our own skin can inspire others to be themselves. Once we step into our authentic selves, we can bring all our experiences, culture, and talents to everything we do. It’s critical because diversity enlightens so many different problems of the world. “I’ve come to understand that advertisers and marketers play an important role in storytelling about products and services that can help people and businesses positively impact the world socially, and make even the earth a little healthier,” MJ says. “I'm forever grateful for the inspiration I got from Rik. I've been able to do the very best work of my life and have felt very empowered to help others.”

To learn more about MJ or connect with her, check out her profile on LinkedIn.

But most important is that I can bring my authentic self to work.