The State of LGBTQ+ Diversity in Tech: An Interview with Venture Out

Academy is going to look at little different this month as we take time out from educating you on all things programmatic, and instead focus on diversity in the tech space. Follow along and share your thoughts using the hashtag #HackDiversity!

We kicked off #HackDiversity month by sitting down with Jeanette Stock, the Chair and Co-Founder of Venture Out, Canada’s first conference for LGBTQ+ inclusion in tech and entrepreneurship.

We met with Jeanette at Pressly where she works in Customer Success. Here are the highlights from our interview—part of our mini-doc, coming soon!

Q: Tell us a bit about who you are and what Venture Out is all about?

JS: My name is Jeanette Stock, I work in Customer Success at Pressly, and I’m also the co-founder and chair of Venture Out which is Canada’s first ever conference for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Trans inclusion in tech and entrepreneurship.

Specifically, what Venture Out is focused on is connecting companies with the next generation of LGBTQ+ talent, and empowering them to grow their careers in whatever way works for them.

So that looks like mentorship; it means connecting LGBTQ+ people with mentors who are not only very good at what they do but who also have shared experiences. It looks like skills development; helping LGBTQ+ young people identify the skills that they need to get ahead in the workforce and grow those skills. And then it also looks like networking and connections, and helping those young people actually connect with companies who are hiring, who are hiring for diversity, and are going to create the kind of workplace where they can bring their whole selves to work.

We’re going to have about 200,000 unfilled tech jobs in the next 5 years, and if we don’t start tapping into every possible resource and start building the diversity of our companies, we’re not going to be able to leverage the talent the country has.

Q: What is the state of LGBTQ+ diversity in the workplace?

JS: Many diversity reports don’t report on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender inclusion in the workplace. So, I don’t even know the state of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace.

But, we do know a few things: We know that lesbian and gay founders receive on average 11% less funding than their peers, and when you consider that women only get 4% of venture funding, that’s a really big problem for queer women. And that spells out to me that queer women are not getting the access to capital that we need to get started in this industry.

On the side of not necessarily founders but of employees, there is data that suggests that LGBTQ+ people are less likely to be hired in the workplace, and are less likely to be retained in the workplace which is bad for both sides of that equation. You have employers missing out on the diversity of thought that could help them get ahead and employees missing out on opportunities to contribute.

Q: How is Canada doing when it comes to workplace diversity?

JS: I think Canada’s doing a lot of things right and I think that Canada also has a long way to go.

Funding is a hot topic in Canada. A lot of people have a lot of different opinions about it. You see a lot of amazing stuff coming out of this city. There are initiatives specifically to fund female founders, and increasing diversity in that space. But right now there are no programs directly targeted at LGBTQ+ founders that I’m aware of. And I’d really love to see that. There are resources that we need that others may not need. I hear stories about the Gaingels Syndicate in the states who specifically put money into funds so that they’re able to create those connections, because access can be a huge problem.

Q: Why is hiring for diversity so important?

JS: Something that you hear a lot is “we’re looking for the best candidate, so we don’t have time to hire for diversity, and I think that’s the wrong way of looking at it. Hiring the best person and hiring the best team, studies show, means hiring a diverse team.

Johnathan Nightingale says, “You’re not hiring in isolation. Building a team is like taking blocks and trying to put them together in the way that makes the strongest structure. And if you have all blocks that are leaning one way that you just stack on top of each other, eventually that tower is going to fall over.”. And so, when we’re hiring it’s important to not just think “can this person do the job”, but “what other than these skills do they bring to the workplace”.

I’m a woman and I’m pretty openly queer, but I am very fortunate in that everywhere that I have worked so far has been the kind of place where I was able to bring my whole self.

Having a workplace where I’m able to be out, where I’m able to share my experiences, where I’m able to talk about my partner, where my perspective as a woman is valued, is not just really affirming but it also helps me grow in my career because when I’m not worried about all those things I can just focus on getting the job done.

Q: Why is it so difficult to hire a diverse team?

JS: This is a systems problem. Everywhere from our education system to our systems of hiring to how we promote and put people on career paths to who we put in leadership, all of those have an effect on what our teams look like day to day.

That can be really overwhelming, because for a company to think “there’s a whole world working against me of history and of the status quo”, it can be really easy to be paralyzed by that and kind of step back and say “I give up”.

The important thing for companies to do is recognize they’re not going to fix it overnight. It’s important to take a step back, look at where your company stands, benchmark and then decide to commit to making small changes.

This could be increasing diverse candidates in the pipeline. Studies show if you only have one woman in your pipeline, for example, she will never get hired. It’s important that we reach out to diverse communities and bring in different people at all levels of our application funnel.

But it’s more than just your pipeline. It’s also looking at who you choose to promote, who you choose to retain, who you choose to put in leadership. Because studies also show that diverse leadership is an indicator that a company as a whole is a diverse and inclusive place. It’s not a silver bullet but it does help.

And finally, it’s important that you help people in the company connect with mentors that share their experiences. And they don’t necessarily need to be people within the company although that is valuable.

You know, if you’re bringing one woman onto your team, that person is going to need support and they’re going to need someone who understands what that feels like. Try reaching out to your networks and making those networks open to people on your team, or being willing to put down some money and help send that person to conferences or events that are important to them.

Q: What is your immediate call to action for the tech community when it comes to LGBTQ+ and other diversity measures?

JS: My immediate call to action is to start reporting on your diversity numbers and include LGBT folks in those numbers. So many reports that come out don’t currently include stats for gender and for sexual orientation.

I look at a company like Facebook and the first thing that I want to know is “do I want to join this team?” And if I have no idea if there’s anyone at that company who looks like me or who can connect with me, who shares my experiences, I don’t have the information that I need to make a decision.

As a community, if we don’t have those numbers, if we’re not able to look at the tech sector and say “we’re doing really well in this area but we’re not doing so well in this area”, or “our numbers are terrible at lower levels”, or “our numbers are terrible in technical roles”, then we don’t know where to start.

How does your company plan to #HackDiversity? Let us know on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter!

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