Advocating for Maryland’s diverse LGBT community
Betsy Cerulo is the CEO of AdNet AccountNet, Inc, as well as the president of the newly launched Maryland LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Based in Baltimore, AdNet is an 8(a) management consulting firm that advocates for workplace equality and helps connect candidates and contractors to opportunities at regional organizations. Throughout her career, Betsy has served on numerous regional and national inclusion-focused organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and the Women’s Presidents’ Educational Organization Certification Committee, the NGLCC Federal Procurement Group, the Development Committee for Chase Brexton Health Services, and the LGBT Health Resource Center Advisory Board. Earlier this year, she teamed up with Dave Imre, CEO of Imre, to create Maryland’s first LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
OFFIT KURMAN: Why did you decide to pursue LGBT-owned business certification for AdNet so many years after founding it?
BETSY CERULO: Being in business for so long, I did not start the company as LGBT-owned. It probably would have been my demise in 1990. You didn’t talk about it—I say it often: you just don’t bring that up in the workplace; and it seemed to be even more so for woman. You just didn’t bring up your diversity—obviously being a woman, you can’t hide that—but anything else, it just really wasn’t acceptable to talk about. And since I was in an industry with accounting and finance, that was male-dominated, I just knew that that was probably professional sabotage. I made the choice—I heard about the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce probably around 2011–2012, and found out that there was a certification.
I was already certified as a woman-owned business and I thought, “You know what? It’s time.” Most of my clients knew. I think just for me, I was ready to out myself, if you will. I got the certification and put it on the website, put it on the business card, and started to be proud of who I was. I felt that I just trusted the universe: that if I was going to lose business because of it, then that’s the way it was meant to be—maybe that was a client I should not be doing business with—and that I was a big girl and I could handle it. I’m really proud of it now.
And I think it is a perfect segue into the role I have taken on as President of the Maryland LGBT Chamber of Commerce. It’s time for us to have a voice, time for us to be proud of who we are. I feel that if the more we talk about diversity and inclusion in general, maybe there will be a day when it just won’t matter, where there won’t be a need for an LGBT Chamber of Commerce, a Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, an African-American Chamber of Commerce—I can go down the list; wouldn’t it be great if we just had one chamber of commerce, and everybody was welcome and accepted? I’m not sure if in my lifetime I will see that, but I’m going to try my damnedest to try to make sure that happens.
We are formally launching in June, but there’s this core of about 15 really amazing people that, every month, every week, there’s a conversation about “What are we doing to make this real?” We are a legal entity, a nonprofit, and we are formally launching in June.
Can you tell us about the LGBT Chamber of Commerce certification process? What opportunities does this open up for LGBT-owned businesses?
There’s a certification through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Once you have that certification, you’re an LGBT enterprise. Having that certification, from a business perspective, it has opened up a lot of doors as far as corporate contracts. Within my first year of getting the certification, I was invited to compete on a major corporation’s RFP. We made it to final stages. We recently won a large contract with another major corporation because we were LGBT, because there’s not as many of us in the LGBT space.
I highly recommend that LGBT-owned companies get that certification because it’s going to open up a lot of doors in the corporate space in a variety of different industries. In the federal space, we’re not recognized as you know a box to check, but there are certain federal agencies that have memorandums of understanding in place with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Now, the benefit of joining a Chamber of Commerce is that the certification fee, which is about $400, is waived if you’re a paying member, so that’s encouraging people to join your Chamber of Commerce and get this certification and market it. If you don’t market it, it won’t work, but we’re going to teach you at the chamber how to market it.
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