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Facing the Business World Out of the Closet

Facing the Business World Out of the Closet


In our partnership with StartOut, the nonprofit nurturing LGBT entrepreneurs, we regularly invite the organization to highlight one of their business leaders. This woman's story makes the case for starting anew.

"You care much more about what wine your friends are drinking and pairing it with, than what so-called wine experts say," says Carla McKay.
That was one of the reasons she founded, a social media wine application and site dedicated to "improving your wine life" by helping users track, search, and share the wines they drink with friends and fellow wine lovers.
The venture is part of an exciting Act Two in McKay's life. In 2010 she retired from the corporate world and married her partner, Martha Ehrenfeld.
"One of my regrets is not being more open when I worked in corporate America," she says, having done HR consulting, technology business development, and sales in New York, D.C., Boston, and California.
"Sales is still a boys club and I was never comfortable coming out to clients. I was only out to close colleagues," she says. "I [stayed in the closet] for professional reasons, in my mind, but I regret it."
Working in technology on the West Coast contributed to McKay becoming more comfortable combining her personal and professional lives. "Things have become so much better in the last few years with marriage equality," she says. "Being gay now is a plus rather than a scary, spooky thing."
Becoming involved with StartOut also helped McKay to bridge the personal and professional gap. "My friend Marie Trexler invited me to a StartOut event in San Francisco where female CEOs were sharing their stories."
As she was preparing to launch the Crushed app in 2012, McKay joined StartOut's Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program. "I was one of the first mentees, paired with a senior entrepreneur for six months. We met monthly and I realized that we were all dealing with the same issues."
"The program was so beneficial that I made the commitment to get more involved, to attend more events, and to encourage others to join me," she says. McKay is now the newest member of StartOut's Board of Directors.
The inspiration for creating Crushed came to McKay as she attended a six-week intensive wine school in Napa. "I was tasting 50 wines a day, and there was no way of sharing all that information with friends," she says.
"I saw an opportunity to create a tool for consumers and professionals to track, search and share information about wine. To remember what wines you like, and don't like, met a need in the marketplace that I as a consumer needed," she says.
It was at the very beginning of her career when McKay found herself unexpectedly coming out to her family. "I was right out of college and my mom was taking me shopping for business suits. She pulled the car to the side of the road and asked me if I was a lesbian. I thought I could either lie or tell the truth, so I told the truth -- and I'm so glad I did."
McKay considers herself very lucky. When she and Ehrenfeld got married in 2010, both of their parents attended the wedding. "We both have very loving, supportive families."
The advice that she has for young LGBT women and men who are entering the business world today is: "Be out and proud. Life is too short to live in the closet. The time is now. Being gay is becoming a non-issue, which is great."
The first national network of LGBT entrepreneurs is here to help you accelerate your ideas. We're StartOut, a national nonprofit with a network 9,000 strong -- and growing. Connect with your community and experience events in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Austin. Visit StartOut and sign up for our events newsletter and accelerate your entrepreneurial goals! Join the LGBT startup network
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