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Tackling LGBT+ discrimination in the tech industry

Did you know that LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience conflict and harassment in the workplace?

According to a study of more than 15,000 workers, 40% of LGB+ and 55% of trans employees have experienced conflict at work.

We recently met with Gamma Account Manager, Jack Graham, to discuss his experience building a career in the technology sector.

In this frank interview, Jack reveals the need to create and enhance training opportunities. This, Jack explains, is the only way forward for businesses looking to promote a safer, more inclusive, and more vibrant workplace.

Q: Do you think a heteronormative culture exists in the tech industry?

Jack Graham: In the sense that the vast majority of the industry is ‘hetero’, yes.

At first, as a gay man, I didn’t see much queer representation in the industry. It’s a shame because we are out there. [laughs]

Having that representation would’ve made me feel more comfortable, which might’ve helped me to progress quicker.

Q: Have you ever felt as though you couldn’t bring your ‘full self’ to work?

JG: Certainly. In the beginning, I kept my sexuality hidden because there was a lot of talk about football and wives.

I was cautious. It gave me the impression that – if I wanted to succeed – that was who I needed to be.

At Gamma, it was a very different story. Once I’d started socialising with colleagues and [channel] partners and got to know them better, I felt more comfortable speaking about my sexuality.

The most successful relationships I’ve built are with the people I’ve come out to. There’s no greater show of trust than telling someone something so personal about yourself. It’s respected in a way and that leads to a greater level of trust between yourself and a [business] partner.

Q: Can you tell me more about your experience in the tech industry?

JG: The tech industry has different levels of progress, but telco has a long way to go.

I’m hopeful because I’ve seen how far women have come in the industry. We’re seeing more female CEOs. Considering there’s a 50/50 gender balance in the world, it’s about time!

It gives me hope that progress can be made for people of colour (POC), disabled people and people in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) community.

I’ve had to pave my own way in my career in a way that straight white men haven’t had to. There are a lot of older, straight white men with valuable business experience. I think it’s their responsibility to pass this information on to people from different backgrounds. There are also things they can learn from these people.

Q: What do you think about the sales industry and its notorious, ‘laddish’ culture?

JG: I’ve interviewed for roles previously and thought…I could never work here – even if they offered me the job!

It can be toxic and intimidating – a ‘boys club’. Luckily, I’ve been welcomed to Gamma for who I am.

For every wheeler-dealer salesman trying to sell you things with the gift of the gab, there are people like me trying to build relationships.

That’s what I see my role as – relationship management. Creating relationships and, in some cases, friendships.

Q: When a business looks at its inclusivity strategy, do you think there’s a tendency for tunnel vision?

JG: There are always good intentions, right?!

Recruitment is important but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Just because you look diverse, it doesn’t mean you are diverse. Just because you’ve hired these people, it doesn’t mean you’re listening to their ideas.

Consider paternity leave, for example. For the LGBT community, there’s a whole different aspect to that. For example, would I be offered paternity leave in the same way a woman would?

Education is key. It pre-empts future difficulties and opens the table to people’s ideas and backgrounds. The more you can understand these communities the easier it becomes to tackle issues through your strategy.

Q: Do you ever find public gestures to be superficial? That not enough is done internally to ensure a positive experience for all?

JG: I see how gestures could be perceived as a PR exercise, but these tactics are a response to our environment.

There’s social pressure on businesses to be more inclusive. That’s a million times better than where we were 10, 20 years ago. The LGBTQ community was a hush-hush subject.

I was at the Black Lives Matter marches during Pride month, and we marched by banks and big corporations flying rainbow flags.

It’s great and it’s progress, but I was marching with people who have been fighting this fight a lot longer than the LGBTQ community have, historically. Where are their flags on top of buildings?

There can be ‘rainbow washing’ and yes, it’s progress, but it’s not the solution. Bringing everybody up to the same stature – that’s the progress I want to see.

Q: What are some successes you’ve seen within the industry?

JG: I’ve seen telco companies providing diversity and inclusion training.

That’s great because the biggest progress blocker to inclusivity is not talking about it. So many older people don’t understand the experience of the younger generation or the progress that’s been made within the different communities.

They don’t know what to say. They’re scared of being cancelled as is the culture nowadays.

I personally think that cancel culture is counter-productive because it stops people from talking. When people in power stop talking, nothing happens. There’s no progress.

Training people gives them the vocabulary to talk about things openly in a safe environment, without any prejudice.

It’s also easy to pick out the token gay person or POC and ask them to lead the light, but we’re all at different stages in our journeys of accepting who we are. I came out at 18. I certainly wouldn’t have done an interview like this when I was 18!

Just because someone is out, it doesn’t mean they feel comfortable representing an entire community.

Q: You’ve been working in this industry for some time. How has your perception changed over the years?

JG: I wouldn’t say I’ve necessarily seen change, but I’ve seen more.

I’ve seen efforts to improve upon inclusion and diversity. Could these be more streamlined? Could they be more efficient and better utilised? Yes, but the intention is there.

Having role models – someone you can see yourself reflected in – is also important.

Q: Do you think there’s an issue where businesses see the LGBTQ+ community as one ‘type’ of person?

JG: Sure. I don’t say I’m LGBTQ. I say that I’m gay and part of the LGBTQ community.

Like how a black person might say they’re part of the BAME (Black, Asian, and Middle Eastern) community. BAME community have all these vast cultures.

Unfortunately, their bonding factor is often discrimination and of being a minority. We’re all unique, but LGBTQ makes sure that nobody gets left behind.

Gay men can also have a lot of privilege, especially if they’re white, male and could pass as straight. It’s called ‘passing privilege’. There’s a power that comes with that.

Perhaps that’s why our community has rainbow flags on banks and POC and the BLM movement are still protesting. There are gay men in positions of power pushing agendas somewhere, which I’m very thankful for, but it’s a responsibility we need to pass to other communities as well.

We all need to be included, particularly trans people. There are a lot of trans attacks and abuse happening right now. Creating a safe space for their community within businesses is important.

Q: Iain Anderson has been appointed the UK’s first LGBTQ+ business champion. Will this set a new culture for businesses?

JG: It’s great to see this kind of representation.

Its impact on the daily life of an LGBTQ person isn’t going to be huge, but it sets the expectation for businesses to step up.

Not to be ahead of the game necessarily, but to bring everybody up to a level playing field. To say, ‘look, businesses need to achieve this bare minimum.’ Not to be called progressive or inclusive, but to not be called discriminatory.

Q: Can you tell me about the work you’re involved in regarding inclusivity and equality at Gamma?

JG: During my time at Gamma I’ve definitely become more passionate about it.

We’re looking at building a training programme and creating more information around the subject. The aim is to show off the diversity in the industry. Diversity that is there, but that you might not always see.

I’m lucky enough to be at a place in my life where I’m comfortable with who I am, but I know that representation isn’t there for everyone.

I’d like to give those people a voice. If anyone needs to talk, whether you work at Gamma or not, I’m here.