Fortune 500 list now features openly lesbian CEO for the first time

A Fortune 500 company has named an openly gay woman to the role of president and CEO.

Effective August 1, Beth Ford will take the reins of food and agricultural cooperative Land O’Lakes, Inc., ranked 216 in the annual ranking of the largest companies in the US compiled by the American publication Fortune.

She joined the company in 2011 and has more than 20 years’ experience specifically in the areas of technology and research and development. The company statement announcing her appointment on Thursday made no reference to her appointment breaking new ground for the LGBT+ business community, although it stated that the new CEO is married to a woman: “Ford and her spouse, Jill Schurtz, have three teenage children and live in Minneapolis.”

Chief Executive Officer of Time Inc., Laura Lang speaks during a Fortune 500 event on May 7, 2012 in New York City (Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Time)

Ford joins a small club of openly gay business leaders running a Fortune 500 company. “By Fortune’s count, Ford will be the third openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the first woman,” the publication wrote—Apple’s Tim Cook and the Dow Chemical Company’s Jim Fitterling being the other two.

“Ford said it didn’t even come up in her discussions with the board. But she conceded that ‘it’s not nothing,'” Fortune’s article read.

“If it gives someone encouragement and belief that they can be their authentic self and live their life and things are possible, than that’s a terrific moment,” Ford told the publication, adding that she remembers what it was like not to be out in her workplace when she was in her 20s.

“I think I’ve been fortunate since my mid-30s of being just who I am,” Ford said, adding: “Work is hard enough, and then when you have to feel as though you can’t be who are, that’s got to be incredibly difficult.”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, visits an Apple store where third grade children from PS 57 James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy are learning how to code through Apple's "Hour of Code" workshop program on December 9, 2015 in New York City. Cook said he hoped that teaching coding to children would become standard in education throughout the United States. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Apple’s Tim Cook and the Dow Chemical Company’s Jim Fitterling are the only other two openly gay business leaders running a Fortune 500 company (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

In a separate statement to CNN, Ford said: “I am extraordinarily grateful to work at a company that values family, including my own.”

According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) foundation, nearly half (46 percent) of LGBT+ employees in the US hide their sexuality at their place of employment.

The LGBT+ rights group congratulated Ford on her appointment. “Her authentic leadership as an out lesbian is well-known in the LGBT corporate community, and the fact that she is assuming this role as an out lesbian sends an especially powerful message,” says Deena Fidas, HRC director of workplace equality, told CNN.

“This is not a story of someone getting into the higher echelons of leadership and then coming out, this is someone walking into this role with her full self,” Fidas added.