Venture Out aims to boost inclusivity
Much has been written about the lack of diversity in tech, whether it’s related to gender, race or sexual orientation. The Associated Press reported in January that only two per cent of Google’s employees are black, even though Intel predicts that more racially diverse tech workplaces could generate an additional $300 billion to $370 billion each year.
Gender issues are also still rampant, with Uber engineer Susan Fowler coming forward in February to highlight just how rampant sexism still is in the ranks of tech companies. The LGBT community also fears discrimination in tech, with a study conducted by Chicago Booth and StartOut showing that of over 6,000 LGBT founders in the U. S., 37 per cent didn’t come out to their investors.
Events like Moving the Dial have been held to discuss furthering women in tech, but Toronto recently had its first event devoted to the intersection of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Ally ( LGBTQA+) community and the tech industry. I first learned about Venture Out through the organizers, who were looking for community partners and sponsors to help get the event off the ground. My company offered pro bono help with marketing, and through the process of working with them, we learned about why a conference focused on diversity and inclusion was an important step forward for the Toronto tech community.
The event was born out of Start Proud, an organization that helps with professional development for LGBTQA+ students as they transition from school to career. The organization included in one of its annual conferences a startup-focused panel led by president Albert Lam, and after seeing how well- attended it was, Lam decided to launch a larger event.
Venture Out event chair Jeanette Stock was in the room during that entrepreneurship panel, and it inspired her to leave her career in the non-profit sector for a position at a startup, and she then took on the role of organizing Venture Out.
The event took place on March 27 at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, with speakers from Hubba, RentMoola and AnyCard, and all 420 tickets sold. The programming was designed to highlight the main issues the LGBTQA+ community faces in the tech industry, Stark says, and to start a conversation about how to create more inclusive cultures and policies at tech startups, while also highlighting startup founders in the LGBTQA+ community and sharing their stories.
“LGBTQ+ people experience much of the lack of diversity that other underrepresented groups experience in the tech world,” Stock said. “I joke that I don’t go to work Monday, Wednesday, Friday as a queer person and Tuesday and Thursday as a woman. I bring all of that to work every day. And this is true for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.”
Anyone looking for a job in tech will have a hard time evaluating how inclusive a tech company is, she says, especially because the diversity report cards put out by such companies as Google and Microsoft often don’t include LGBTQA+ stats. This means students or other prospective employees can’t always evaluate a company’s approach to — and record for — inclusivity. She also highlighted the fact that startups often don’t have HR departments to ensure equitable hiring practices, or to tackle toxic culture.
“You can’t always tell if a company is going to be inclusive. There are still the lingering questions. Is this the kind of place where I’m going to be able to bring my whole self to work? If I do, is this the kind of place that is going to celebrate that part of me, and where I can excel in my career?” Stock said.
Ultimately, Stock says, everyone plays a part in ensuring workplaces are more inclusive. The “A” in LGBTQA+ stands for Ally, that is, anyone who consid- ers themselves an ally of the community, and she says HR leaders, managers and leaders have a responsibility to put strategies and tactics in place in order to make diversity and inclusion a priority at their companies.
“Someone I met at the event — a seasoned HR and operations professional — commented to me that the most important thing she learned that day was that simply not discriminating is not enough, and that Ally is an action, and I really appreciated that,” Stock said.
“Sometimes, people may feel they don’t have the tools or resources to be an Ally, or are afraid to say the wrong thing or that they have nothi ng to contribute. While hoping to forefront queer voices, we wanted to include everyone in the conversation because we all stand to gain from more inclusive workplaces.”