The Ten Most Innovative Companies and the LGBTs Who Got Them to the Top

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Dana Contreras
San Francisco

In her commencement speech to Harvard Business School’s class of 2012, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg quoted past Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who once told her, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

That’s how Dana Contreras, 31, says she felt about starting work at Twitter in San Francisco two and a half years ago. A senior systems engineer who has always worked in programming and IT, she says the diversity, innovation, and engineering challenges at Twitter were “irresistible.”

“I’m amazed by how engaged everyone is,” Contreras says. “We all bring something unique to Twitter, and we tie it together with a shared belief that we’re building something great, something that’s a force for good.”

Twitter’s significance in the new media landscape is indisputable, and the company knows it. As a sphere for inciting revolutions, a platform for sharing breaking news, or a space for documenting thoughts and feelings, however poignant or obscure, Twitter is all about the freedom of speech — as long as it can fit in 140 characters.

“The 140-character limit started as a way to fit tweets into a single text message, and as the service grew we found that it had a lot of positive side effects,” Contreras says. “It forces you to get your point across quickly and succinctly, and it prevents any one person from monopolizing your attention.”

That openness lends itself well to supporting the diversity of voices behind Twitter. As a transgender woman, Contreras says she’s found the company to be as LGBT-friendly as they come. Twitter has had antidiscrimination policies and domestic-partner benefits “since the very beginning,” on top of an active LGBT employees group and a strong contingent of LGBT and allied employees.

Contreras married her wife, Melissa, in Indiana five years ago, just before she transitioned. Their marriage is still legally recognized, though they couldn’t be newly married today. Contreras says she knows her family, including Melissa’s four children, is considered equal to other families at work.

“I know Twitter will take care of me and my family, and that frees up a lot of mental and emotional space,” she says. “I can give Twitter my best work every day. That’s good for everyone.”