This blog post aims to shed light on the challenges LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly founders and investors, face within the technology sector. We will explore the discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people, discuss potential strategies to overcome these challenges and promote inclusivity, and highlight prominent LGBTQ+ figures within the tech industry.
Discrimination within the Tech Startups and VCs:
Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ founders and investors often encounter biases and barriers that limit their access to resources, opportunities, and funding. Many feel to afraid to even put their true selves forward for these opportunities. Discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals persist in the technology startup world, hindering progress of great future leaders and contributing to mental health illnesses.
Earlier this year, Proud Ventures (a network of LGBTQ+ venture capitalists and angel investors) with the backing of Founders Factory and Investec Wealth, surveyed 118 founders and 61 investors based in the UK. Its aim was to investigate and showcase how individuals from the LGBTQ+ community navigate the startup world.*
Its findings show that we have a long way to go to build a more inclusive startup ecosystem. According to this survey, 75% of startup founders and 79% of investors within this community conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Of these founders who conceal their identities from investors, 45% said they felt it was irrelevant to the situation, 27% said they didn’t feel comfortable sharing that information with investors, and 18% feared it may be detrimental to their fundraising efforts.
Several startup founders shared their experiences of discrimination based on their LGBTQ+ identity in more detail. In one instance, an anonymous founder told how a cisgender bisexual was the target of a drunken slur from an investor regarding their sexual identity after coming out. This incident escalated when the investor “sent an email saying he was passing on investing because there wasn’t a very good, quote ‘cultural fit’ with the fund he represented.
Despite the increasing recognition of LGBTQ+ rights globally, statistics indicate that LGBTQ+ founders receive less than 1% of venture capital funding, reflecting a systemic imbalance in the distribution of resources*. This statistic came from a report conducted by Backstage Capital – an investment fund started by Arlan Hamilton to invest in those founders are underestimated by VCs i.e. female founders, people of colour, and those who identify as LGBTQ+. Read a very insightful and inspiring article written be Arlan here.
Overcoming Discrimination and Promoting Inclusivity:
To address the discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals within the tech industry, several strategies can be implemented:
- Education and Awareness: Promoting education and awareness about LGBTQ+ issues and fostering a culture of inclusion and acceptance within tech companies can help combat discrimination. This can be achieved through diversity training, workshops, and safe spaces that encourage dialogue and understanding.
- Inclusive Policies and Practices: Implementing policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is crucial. Creating diverse and inclusive hiring practices, providing equal opportunities for LGBTQ+ individuals, and ensuring their representation at all levels within organisations are essential steps toward fostering inclusivity.
- LGBTQ+ Support Networks and Communities: Establishing LGBTQ+ support networks and communities within the tech industry can provide a sense of belonging and support for LGBTQ+ individuals. These networks can offer mentorship, guidance, and resources to help navigate the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ founders, investors, and employees. We mention two of these in the next section.
- Collaboration and Advocacy: Collaboration between tech companies, LGBTQ+ organisations, and allies can play a vital role in promoting inclusivity. By actively advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, participating in LGBTQ+ events, and supporting initiatives that advance diversity and inclusion, the tech industry can contribute to positive change.
Inspirational LGBTQ+ Tech Founders and CEOs Shaping our Future for the Better
Numerous LGBTQ+ individuals have achieved great success within the technology industry, breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations. Just like Arlan Hamilton that I mentioned above, the contributions of these people not only inspire others but also highlight the importance of diverse perspectives in driving innovation and progress.
There are thousands, and I wish I could list them all, but here are a few:-
One of the most notable figure is Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple Inc., who publicly came out as gay in 2014. Cook has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and has worked to create an inclusive environment within Apple.
Another inspirational person is Hayley Sudbury, CEO and founder of WERKIN. Sudbury founded WERKIN following a career in finance, after seeing “an opportunity to use technology to make industries like finance more inclusive, particularly in senior positions.”*** WERKIN is founded on the idea that inclusive cultures drive performance and success – and it all starts with those in leadership. They offer development, mentorship and sponsorship programmes for leaders of the future.
It would be difficult to work in the tech world and not know who Leanne Pittsford is – Founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech. Lesbians Who Tech, which now includes “& Allies” was founded in 2012 to be a community to support non-binary and LGBTQ+ women in tech. It is now the largest LGBTQ+ community of technologists in the world offering a coding scholarship and mentoring and leadership programmes. They are “committed to visibility, intersectionality, and changing the face of technology.”
Last but by no means list is Jason Grenfell-Gardner. Jason currently holds multiple roles at Teligent, serving as the Chief Executive Officer, President, and Director. Before joining Teligent, he worked as the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at West-Ward Pharmaceuticals. Additionally, Grenfell-Gardner is an active Director at IGI Laboratories. Grenfell-Gardner stands out as one of the few openly gay CEOs in publicly traded American corporations and is a huge champion for diversity.
These individuals and their successful enterprises exemplify the importance of diverse perspectives in driving innovation and progress within the tech industry, and are all forces to be reckoned with!
By acknowledging the barriers LGBTQ+ individuals encounter within the technology and startup industry and actively working toward creating inclusive environments, we can foster a more equitable and diverse tech sector. Promoting education, implementing inclusive policies, building support networks, and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights are essential steps toward overcoming discrimination and ensuring that the tech industry becomes a welcoming space for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This article was written in honour of Pride month, but really it could be emphasised every day of every month. I hope in the near future we don’t need to have ‘diversity champions’ and we can just have ‘champions’ because diversity would be a given!