For Activist and CEO Betsy Cerulo, Everything.
By Kayla Carnes
BBetsy Cerulo, CEO of AdNet/ AccountNet, INC. and Co-Founder of the Maryland LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, wants LGBTQ entrepenuers to know that it’s possible to doggedly pursue professional goals while simultaneously nurturing lasting relationships.
“From the day I started AdNet in 1990, I wanted it to be known as a place where people who interacted with us felt loved and cared for,” said Cerulo. “Back in 1990, you didn’t use the word ‘love’ – but that’s exactly how I felt. It was a time before social media, where all you had was personal interaction. Relationships are what we’ve always stood for; people are our number-one commodity.”
Headquartered in the town of Catonsville, Maryland, AdNet/AccountNet, INC. operates in the recruiting, coaching and placement of diverse talent to ensure that all departments in a given company are being given the best chance of practicing inclusivity and experiencing prolonged success.
Cerulo, a New Jersey native with an academia background from D.C., spent her early years in the corporate world closeting her identity as a gay woman, worried that the knowledge of her sexuality could potentially compromise her professional reputation.
“Early in my career, I wasn’t accepted,” Cerulo said. “It was exhausting, and it got old – but that was what you had to do back in the 80’s. Finally, twenty years ago, I started to tell my long-term clients because our business relationship had begun to feel very one-sided. I would listen to them and learn about their victories and struggles, but I was keeping my own life close to my vest. Once I began to share, I became more authentic and joyful.”
Today, Cerulo embodies a kind of confidence and fortitude that can only be found in an entrepreneur who has encountered countless roadblocks and continued forging ahead, undeterred.
“I was a late bloomer, only becoming an activist in my fifties,” Cerulo said. “The work I do is sometimes heart-wrenching, but the end result is always worth it. It doesn’t matter how old you are when you begin – if you have something that inspires you, run with it.”
In 2016, after several rigorous rounds of applications, Cerulo was informed that AdNet was being granted 8(a) certification through the Small Business Administration – making her’s the first company to receive this certification on behalf of LGBTQ status as a social disadvantage. Cerulo was thrilled, calling it a “huge win” and stating that it would help to open more doors in the LGBTQ business community for increased discussion and acceptance of minorities within the federal government.
“At AdNet/AccountNet, INC., we want to interrupt ignorance,” Cerulo said. “But rather than getting angry at acts of marginalization, I’ll tell someone, ‘Here, this is how you need to respond.’ I work to educate, because maybe this person was never taught on proper responses. And if this is what they truly believe, I will interrupt their harmful words. It’s no longer allowed in my presence.”
Looking into 2019, Cerulo is anticipating the publication of her first book on corporate leadership, titled Leadership With Labels. The book is an invitation for the reader to follow Cerulo as she recounts and teaches from her lifetime journey as a gay woman navigating both her personal and professional worlds.
“There’s a mantra I’ve followed for almost ten years,” Cerulo said, “And it’s ‘If you have a dream, and it means that much to you, take it all the way.’ Use your diversity as a source of personal power to brave the storms and ride the waves of success. Listen, and look for the windows to get inside, because doors with close. Skeptics are watching, so we must bring our uncompromising values to the table at all times.
“And remember: love will always win.”