How to Foster More LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Tech

Best Practices

Framework curated by Ameera Ladak and Stefan Palios in partnership with MindFrame Connect.

Naoufel Testaouni shares the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community in tech, and what we can do to cultivate a greater sense of belonging.

The technology industry has spent years trying to increase its diversity efforts with many organizations publicly showing their strategies. However, diversity reports have shown that progress is slow, especially for LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Naoufel Testaouni is the co-founder of QueerTech, an organization he founded because he said he “didn’t have a sense of belonging,” and decided it was important to meet other community members. Testaouni believes part of the solution lies in building community, a stronger sense of belonging, and investment in LGBTQ+ folks.

The LGBTQ+ community is facing a lack of belonging in tech

Entrepreneurship for anyone can be a lonely journey, but it is especially lonely for LGBTQ+ founders who don’t have a sense of belonging.

No sense of belonging
Testaouni explained that before even entering the tech industry, a lot of students “leave university because they don’t feel that sense of belonging.” For Testaouni, the solution lies in creating a sense of community to cultivate belonging. He believes that programs such as incubators, accelerators, and venture capitalists can support LGBTQ+ founders.

Tech is a male-dominated industry
Testaouni explained the tech industry is predominantly male and often carries a “macho” culture which can make many LGBTQ+ people feel like they don’t belong in that space.

Being the only queer person
Another barrier for LGBTQ+ community members is being the only LGBTQ+ person. As such, they may “bear a responsibility of training, awareness, and community advocacy,” said Testaouni. He further explained that this can lead to community members getting burnt out, especially when they may not want to be in that position.

The lack of data around LGBTQ+ representation in tech

According to Testaouni, “there’s a lack of representation because there is a lack of data” about LGBTQ+ people in tech something he hopes to address with QueerTech’s various projects. He also shared two qualitative results and takeaways from the research QueerTech is doing.

  1. Queer communities face bigger barriers: Testaouni explained that queer communities, people of colour, and people with disabilities all face even bigger barriers to entering the tech industry, such as missing a sense of belonging or community.
  2. Internal infrastructure is lacking: When companies try to hire diverse talent, Testaouni indicated they often don’t have the internal policies or infrastructure to support who they hire. For example, they may not have explicit gender discrimination policies, or may not have educated people about LGBTQ+ topics.

Six ways companies or investors can support Queer inclusion

Testaouni provided six examples of how companies and investors can better support the LGBTQ+ community. In order to best support LGBTQ+ community members, there needs to be investment and integration.

  1. Create and provide education around inclusion: Testaouni said we need to create education to “remove the barriers and burden,” on LGBTQ+ community members. He suggested doing so will allow “community members to thrive in the industry.” Testaouni emphasized that it’s the role of the tech company and employer to be the educator, not the community members.
  2. Develop and roll out inclusive policies: To ensure a sense of belonging and safety among LGBTQ+ community members, ensure your policies reflect your diversity efforts. Testaouni mentioned this may include discrimination policies or sexual harassment policies.
  3. Make performance review objective: Testaouni shared that QueerTech’s research showed community members do not feel like they are fairly evaluated because they are different. Objective performance reviews can help reduce this perception.
  4. Have inclusive team events: Testaouni suggested LGBTQ+ community members may feel disconnected from the team because they may not feel comfortable at the kind of events that are typical in the tech industry.
  5. Invest in LGBTQ+ founders and talent: “Investors need to start thinking of how they can create funds and opportunities for LGBTQ+ founders,” said Testaouni. Programs that financially support community members can be very important for making LGBTQ+ people feel like they belong with concrete actions.

Create mentorship opportunities: Testaouni explained that there are important considerations for LGBTQ+ mentorship programs, such as ensuring mentors understand the challenges LGBTQ+ people are facing. He said that executives and leaders in the company who are willing to support, coach, and mentor this community “will go a long way.” He believes mentorship is important because leaders can learn about LGBTQ+ challenges so they can make adjustments to provide better support.

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