Queering the Tech Ecosystem
When discussing the tech industry and the LGBTQ+ community, the first company that comes to mind is QueerTech, a non-profit organization headquartered in Montreal which aims to help the community access the tech ecosystem. QueerTech was co-founded by Andy Saldaña and Naoufel Testaouni after beginning as a meetup group, quickly growing into a center of LGBTQ+ tech activity.
Naoufel began his career working in the nonprofit sector before moving to Montreal in 2011, where he worked at different tech companies. While attending events and conferences, he noticed a huge lack of diversity, which led to him meeting Andy in 2016 at an international startup fest.
Andy graduated with a degree in psychology before moving to San Francisco and working for a large event tech company. Once he moved to New York, where he too felt out of place at the overwhelming lack of diversity at events, he began attending POC and queer meetups. Here, he was offered the opportunity to take over another meetup group, GaysinTech. After changing the name to QueerTech and recruiting Naoufel, they worked together to build the organization into what it is today.
QueerTech is committed to having people in the community claim their space in the tech industry by breaking down barriers for entry and providing resources to allow those already in tech to thrive. They offer workshops, boot camps, and seminars to help develop the skills necessary for professional and personal growth. They hope to ultimately provide tools for 2SLGBTQIA+ to start their own companies. Unwelcome circumstances at work may push Queer folks to become entrepreneurs in an effort to create an inclusive business organisation. And as a consequence of the trauma, they try to take that professional journey on their own, and Nauofel encourages them by reminding them that there is a community around them to support their success.
Andy and Nauofel also touch on the ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’ pattern of change within social issues. While there have been more positive conversations, when assessing statistics regarding change in LGBTQ+ communities and corporations, there has been little shift in comparison to efforts. “People see buzzwords out in the industry in a way we haven’t seen them before, and assume the problem is fixed. But what people don’t realize is the amount of fear, pain, and generational trauma that exists in the community that we carry with us everyday,” Andy says. However despite the frustration, the shift that has occurred is still encouraging for a brighter future.
To address this shift, QueerTech offers resources on their blog to help identify companies who welcome 2SLGBTQIA+ members with open arms. However, many folks in the community are stuck in unsafe environments and to that, Andy promises that it gets better. “You have to do the work to make it better…. start laying the groundwork necessary to get to that safe space. You have to push through to create that community and network to get you to that next thing that recognizes your talent.”
For business students wanting to break into the tech industry, they remind everyone that all tech companies need business people and there are tons of opportunities out there. “Assess what experience you want to have in tech,” Naoufel advises. It’s important to decide between small startups, medium-sized or large corporations and doing research to understand what you’re getting yourself into. “Applying for a tech firm is the same as applying for a bank,” Andy expresses. He emphasizes the importance of tailoring experience to fit the language of the company. In fact, Queertech has a program launching in December to support students in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community who wish to get into tech but do not know how to.