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InterTech: Taking pride in tech diversity

It’s Pride month. All around the world, cities are hosting events to celebrate LGBT+ culture and pride, from Honolulu Pride in the first week of June, to London Pride at the end of June. And this year, there’s a good number of big tech companies taking part in London’s Pride Parade on 27th June, including Dell, Facebook, LinkedIn, and InterTech, an LGBT+ diversity forum for tech professionals. We caught up with Director, Tim Macavoy, to find out more about the group and LGBT+ diversity in tech.

 

When and how did the InterTech Diversity Forum start?

InterTech is an LGBT+ diversity forum for professionals in the tech industry. It was formed in Summer 2013, in the style of other Inter- groups. Law, banking and others were well provided for, but we noticed a large gap in the technology sector.

 

On your website you say you support the professional development and accelerate the progress of individual members and their networks, and engage with the wider tech industry and LGBT+ community. What does this entail?

We try really hard not to be a clichéd “what-do-you-do?” drinkathon. We have three strands of events. MEET is for regular socialising, networking and having good old-fashioned on-brand fun. TALK tends to be our bigger events, with panel discussions and prominent speakers, usually hosted by supporting organisations in their funky offices (excellent snooping opportunities). And DO which is focused on hackathons, charity work, special projects and mixing up work/life.

We hosted Europe’s first LGBT+ hackathon at Facebook in 2013, and it went so well that they invited us back for another 24 hours in 2014.

We’ve also been helping out the Albert Kennedy Trust with tech, donations, and content development.

Most recently, we’re working towards our mentoring platform which will help people in different stages of their career get a more focussed approach to their development.

 

What upcoming events do you have planned?

Pride is the big one. We’ve got support this year from AOL, Google, Medallia, Microsoft, Natural Motion, Salesforce and Vodafone. Anybody working in tech as their job, or in the industry is welcome to come march with us. We’ll have a few hundred probably, and we’re having a big breakfast event beforehand, so that after the march people can go enjoy the Pride fun, and meet their friends.

Following that we’re planning a lot more DO hacks at Google Campus, and a panel discussion on big data, which seems to be a hot topic for our members right now.

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A lot of the big tech companies have been releasing their diversity stats - should they be doing the same for LGBT+ stats?

As long as it’s handled with sensitivity, I think transparency of diversity stats among employees can be a really useful tool in addressing things like equal opportunity recruitment, retention and unconscious bias in the workplace.

 

The tech industry has a reputation for workplace bullying. How much discrimination of LGBT+ professionals are you aware of? And do you think LGBT+ professionals are more at risk of workplace bullying?

I’m not sure how the tech industry differs to others on this front, but of course some people face bullying in the workplace, among them LGBT+. I’ve read many reports about how people who can’t be themselves at work tend not to perform to their full potential. And so aside from the compassionate reason to stamp it out, it’s also good for business to make sure you’re inclusive and eliminate bullying. 

But there can be more subtle, insidious actions that people take which also contribute to someone being held back at work, and these are just as important to address. Make sure you have equality within your work policies, but it’s changing the culture that takes all the hard work. If there’s something different about the tech industry in engaging this, I think it’s that some companies (particularly startups) can tend towards homogeneity, and have an attitude towards diversity that is too relaxed: e.g. “Everyone here is super-cool, so we don’t really need to think about starting a diversity”.  I hear that a lot. What you think your company’s attitude towards diversity is, doesn’t necessarily play out when you look at the data.

 

You’ve got a number of big-name sponsors, from big tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, to LGBT organisations like Stonewall. But should companies be doing more to help LGBT professionals? What can they do?

To answer this from a company perspective… yes. The people that work with us already do a tremendous amount, but for all companies I think corporate social responsibility is now accepted as a large part of your brand. A company that operates on its values, shared by employees, will outperform others that operate solely with profit in mind.

What can they do? Be honest and consistent is a big ask I have. A key aim should be to have global policies that protect employees worldwide, even in challenging circumstances. Secondly, use your diversity groups as Business Resource Groups. Use them to turn in better PR responses, more inclusive products, diverse marketing. Value those different opinions and you’ll see your operations flourish.

 

In 2014, Tim Cook became the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to publicly identify as gay. What effect do you think this had on the community? Do you think we’re at a point yet where successful professionals can publicly come out without risking their reputations/careers?

 

It’s always great for people to find a new role model – somebody who is visible in your industry and makes a great contribution. And of course we’re happy for Tim that he wants to be open about himself. 

We’ve actually encountered a lot of out senior people in the tech industry. It seems every time we have an event or visit a company someone wants to tell us a great story of their experiences – so we look forward to more of those becoming public (in fact we have a video to share from our trip to Goldman Sachs, check it out on our website).

Coming out is a very personal experience and there’s no single answer for whether you’re in the right place to do that. Personally, I’d find it quite challenging to hide such an everyday part of myself (and I mean that both in the common and mundane sense) and it would distract from my work, but you have to know you have the support of your company if it’s something you want to do.

And of course, as we all know, you don’t come out just once, it can happen almost every time you meet someone new – and if you work in client-side sales for example, that can be quite an exhausting experience.

 

Lord Davies set targets for boardroom gender diversity for 2015 at 25%. The CIPD has called on the government to increase this target to 40% of directors to be women and 20% of executive directors to be women among FTSE 100 organisations by 2020. Do you think there should be similar targets for LGBT+ professionals? Or should promotions be based on talent alone?

First of all, I think the idea that people get where they are purely based on “talent” is something of a myth. The most successful people have generally had privileged access to something which gave them opportunity to continually improve their career at a rate faster than their peers. Bill Gates gives a good example about how he had access, at a very young age, to a computer that was one of the most powerful in the world at the time. He had unlimited time learning code where most college students older than him had very limited time on slower machines. It was a confluence of privilege which led to him founding Microsoft. If you want to read more about the many ways in which this happens in society I really recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell.

So, we should try to break those patterns, I think, if possible. Putting specific figures on diversity is troublesome, because whereas it can be beneficial to “more obvious” metrics like women, or BAME people, it can be very difficult to enforce more fluid and private matters like sexual and gender identity. There are plenty of other measures which should be considered though.

 

How important are Pride events, in the UK and around the world?

I think maintaining the right to be free and visible is an essential duty. It’s particularly good, I think, for younger folk to see the multitude people who take to the streets to let them know it’s OK to be whoever you are.

 

 

Also read:

Netbiscuits CEO: I’m gay and this is why I’m being open about it

Meeting HER: The first lesbian community app

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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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