QueerTech, a non profit advocacy group that aims to create inclusive spaces for 2SLGBTQI+ professionals in the technology sector, held its first hybrid QueerTech Qonference last week, hosted in the new Microsoft Canada headquarters in Toronto. Its aim was to convene queer leaders in tech, empower queer people to choose the IT (information technology) industry as a career choice, foster DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) in the workplace, and provide queer people with the right support and network to thrive.
AJ Fernandez Rivera, managing director at Accenture, opened up about her struggles, from stepping into a mainly male and cisgender-dominated industry to her position as a trans leader today. For her, the lack of role models for queer people in the tech industry is the biggest issue.
“It’s an institutional change. And making sure when queer people like us join this career, they become successful, because I would be happy one day to look at this industry and say, ‘I’m not the lone wolf’. I’m the only transgender woman managing director in a company as big as this, right? This is the future. And we’ve started it, there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Rivera.
DEI is not a checkbox exercise or a fad, the expert panelists at the event acknowledged. “It’s not the fact that you’re going to check a box, you get to create something that is going to be applicable to everyone, if that’s what you want to do. I’m out, so I’m doing this because I really believe in diversity and inclusion, and it comes from the heart,” said Jason Bett, executive director for strategic engagement and innovation at the government of Canada.
Concrete actions such as reviewing workplace and HR policies is key, according to the QueerTech event’s panelists. Whether it is instituting small changes such as declaring pronouns, or including more queer people at the executive, decision-making table, or implementing mentoring programs for queer people, support needs to be active rather than passive, the panelists said.
Much should be done around fighting racial and gender discrimination and raising awareness through inclusive work policies, according to the panelists. Mentoring programs should also be tailored to the different kinds of support that each queer person might require, while onboarding processes should inform employees of the available resources.
Rivera boasted of Accenture’s unconscious bias training, designed to expose people to their implicit attitudes and ideas they can have towards others, often based on race and gender.
When queer people are supported, they can be “out and loud” and be their authentic selves, which allows them to do well at work, participate in discussions, and drive up the general productivity and efficiency of the workplace, while building and contributing to the economic power of the country, said Bett.
Also, employees who can be themselves at work are likely to be in better mental health and be more productive. That means better retention for employers, especially at a time when finding and retaining the right digital talent is crucial, added Rivera. From a business competitiveness perspective, you also want to be known as the company that pioneered concrete steps to bolster DEI, and not as the one lagging behind, she noted.
Encouraging more people to join the industry, and getting the right qualifications are key to making tech a representative and inclusive career space, said Rivera. She added that ultimately, “quality work is genderless and is what gets you to be known”, and recommended that queer people constantly update to the right credentials, certifications and skills.
“The journey is going to be treacherous. It’s going to be long, it’s going to be challenging. Just push on, continue, you know that it’s the right thing to do. But find a way to make everyone follow you. Then it becomes a supported initiative, not just an initiative,” stated Rivera.