How 1 Employee Group and 2 Women Are Continuously Increasing Their Support of the LGBTQ+ Community

Sponsored by Toyota North America

Lili Mateo and Gina Aplin

Photos courtesy of Toyota North America.

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Fairygodboss
June 12, 2024 at 9:24PM UTC

Lili Mateo, an asset control engineer in production engineering, and Gina Aplin, an administrative assistant to the vice president of supply chain management, are members of Spectrum, Toyota North America’s business partnering group (BPG) for LGBTQ+ team members and their allies. 

Since launching in 2003, the BPG has expanded to 11 chapters across North America and has continued to be a place where Toyota’s LGBTQ+ team members can feel free to express themselves and embrace their identity, while being accepted and flourishing in a healthy working environment that passionately supports them at every step.

Mateo joined Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK) in 1997 and Aplin joined Toyota Logistics Services in 2016. When discussing their careers at Toyota, they both mentioned how proud they are of the increase in support of LGBTQ+ awareness and allyship during their time at the company. They credit this progress to the hard work of many past and present team members and are grateful to their colleagues and leaders for truly living by Toyota’s values of “Respect for People” and “Continuous Improvement.” 

In honor of Pride Month, Mateo and Aplin are sharing their journeys as allies and their involvement in Toyota’s BPG, Spectrum.

Tell us how each of you got involved with the Spectrum BPG. 

Aplin: I first became involved with Spectrum when I approached the Plano chapter chair at the time, Jarred Campbell, and shared an idea I had for an event. Toyota offers an adoption assistance program, and I wanted to create an event centered around LGBTQ+ team members who were interested in adopting children. I was — and still am — very passionate about finding homes for kids in need of a safe environment and loving parents. 

There was a lot of work that went into making the event happen, but it did — and it was amazing! Jarred must have seen how enthusiastic I was because he asked me to sit in on the Spectrum board meetings. The board had been discussing the need for an ally chair, which is a position that works to build allyship with other Toyota BPGs and the non-LGBTQ+ community. The timing worked out, and after leading several other successful events, I became Toyota’s first ally chair! 

Today, I serve at the Plano chapter chair, which gives me a more holistic view of our organization and how we can best position ourselves to help our LGBTQ+ community at Toyota and across the globe.

Mateo: I first learned about Spectrum when I was working in Georgetown, Kentucky at TMMK. Initially, I supported the BPG by preparing water bottles for the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati Pride Festivals. When I relocated to Toyota’s Erlanger, KY location, I learned the local chapter needed support for Pride Month. Because of my extensive project management experience, I volunteered, and the rest is history. 

Today, I work at Toyota’s Production Engineering and Manufacturing Center (PEMC) location in Georgetown, KY, and, earlier this year, I was named to Spectrum’s North American Advisory Council (NAAC). My current biggest claim to fame is my “Pride Out of a Crate,” which is a digital toolkit I distribute to all the Spectrum chapters across North America — it includes slide shows for LGBTQ+ celebrities and lists of Pride-themed books, movies, music, and more to aid in the education of Pride Month. 

Spectrum, like all of Toyota’s business resource groups (BPGs), encourages participation and membership from all team members who want to be allies — not just those who identify as LGBTQ+. Why is allyship so important and what are some things we can do in the workplace to show allyship?

Aplin: Allyship is not only the acknowledgement of our own intersectionality, but one of support of all human stories. It is the ability to hear and support each other, to recognize that your voice is one of many, and to believe all voices matter. When someone shares something personal about themselves, we can show allyship by:

  1. Remembering this is a human’s story.

  2. Not passing judgment. 

  3. Taking it as an opportunity to learn and connect.

  4. Understanding that some hate is just masking ignorance and some silence is just not ready to be broken — but, be there when it needs to break. Sometimes that ear of understanding is what builds the bridge.

Mateo: As I explained to my manager who was curious why I was so supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, “Every Jackie Robinson needs a Branch Rickey.” Allyship is especially necessary with LGBTQ+ youth, who have a higher rate of suicide and homelessness than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. In addition to keeping a rainbow flag on my desk, I also have a card that says “ALLY” to let my peers know I am here for support if needed. 

Every June, Toyota raises the Pride flag at all its U.S. facilities. What does that symbolize to you and your colleagues?

 Mateo: Flying the Pride flag reminds our communities that there are people who identify as LGBTQ+ everywhere, and it shows that Toyota has our backs. In fact, one of my friends shared that they found it easier to come out at work, than to his family, because he knew Toyota would not reject him. 

Aplin: It is a moment for a Toyota team member to glance up as they walk into work and think, “I can do this. I can be me and be okay to walk through those doors.” Toyota has a set of basic values that allow people to stand proudly as themselves. I cannot say we are at 100% yet, but this is a journey for every company, and Toyota is always looking to continuously improve.  

It was recently announced that Toyota ranked fourth on DiversityInc’s 2022 list of “Top 50 Companies for Diversity.” What is it about Toyota that makes it a great place to work for women, as well as those coming from diverse backgrounds? 

 Aplin: Toyota has built an amazing network of strong, supportive women, and I have personally seen these women push each other forward. Whether they work together or meet in a BPG, there are many groups of women at Toyota who provide one another applause, support, and, sometimes, just funny memes to stay motivated! Toyota is a place that will give back what you put into it.

Mateo: A wonderful thing I’ve found at Toyota is you can do all kinds of different work — looking at my own work history and variety of work locations is proof!  For example, after starting in the plastics shop in Kentucky at TMMK, I moved to a cost engineering position in the Toyota Technical Center (TTC) in Michigan. After Michigan, I relocated to Erlanger, KY where I worked in vehicle production engineering. I had various roles in the department, which eventually relocated to PEMC in Georgetown, KY, before moving to asset management at Toyota’s Production Engineering and Manufacturing Center (PEMC) in Georgetown, KY. Throughout all those moves, I’ve found BPGs to be a great way to stay connected with team members from other parts of the company so we can share learnings and best practices across the whole organization.

What advice do you have for other women/members of the LBGTQ+ community who want to build more inclusive workplaces?

 Mateo: Never let your title get in the way of doing the right thing. Remember that the best way to learn is by doing. Lastly, know that you will never work alone. 

 Aplin: Your voice matters. So, speak up, tell your story, show them what matters and why. Nothing is stronger than a person confident in their own truth.



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