LGBTQ individuals in the ICT channel must contend with a “push-me-pull-you” dynamic on a daily basis.

Buffy Naylor, Senior Managing Editor

June 16, 2021

7 Min Read
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LGBTQ employees in the tech industry are hesitant to be their authentic selves at work. The atmosphere in tech — and by extension, the ICT channel — is unpredictable at best. For many LGBTQ in tech, there are only two options: be out or be an outlier.

During Pride Month in 2015, the article “Out in Tech: What It’s Like to Be LGBT in an Industry Struggling with Diversity” appeared in GeekWire. In it, author Molly Brown took a look at what it was like for LGBT people to work, own businesses and even be customers in the tech field.

Brown’s overall impression was that “Experiences vary vastly by person and company, but there are some underlying issues that the tech world has yet to address to be more welcoming, including letting go of the ‘brogrammer’ mind-set, benefits that support LGBT workers’ needs and eliminating the chilling effect of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ that many in the LGBT community encounter.”

So, what — if anything — has changed in the ensuing years?

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Society in general has taken some steps forward. The Supreme Court ruled that federal law prohibits LGBTQ workers from discrimination. The ban on most transgender Americans joining the military was repealed. And LGBTQ individuals are appearing more and more in public office, all the way up to the Cabinet.

But at the same time many states are working to pass laws to protect LGBTQ people, others are working on legislation that targets transgender people, limit local protections and allow the use of religion to discriminate.

That polarity of intent perfectly demonstrates the “push-me-pull-you” environment with which LGBTQ individuals must deal on a daily basis.

In her article six years ago, Brown observed that “while many tech companies are inclusive, there are still many hurdles to overcome to support LGBT tech workers.”

How well have the ICT industry in general and the channel in particular succeeded in overcoming these hurdles?

Perception vs. Reality

According to a report by the anonymous workplace app Blind, when it comes to many elements of the workplace, perception trumps reality. For example, while 86% of all respondents to a poll said they thought their workplaces were safe for LGBQT+ individuals, only 76% of LGBQ individuals felt that way. And among the transexual and gender non-conforming respondents, only 64% feel safe.

As for health and family policies, 74% of all respondents thought those at their company were inclusive. Only 69% of LGBQ employees felt that way. Among transexual or gender non-conforming, it was only 64%.

Management seemed to be off course for everyone. When asked if they thought they were represented by their company’s upper management, just 55% of overall respondents said they did. For LGBQ it was 35%. Among transgender or gender non-conforming, it was 41%.

For a glimpse of what it’s like for them in the channel, Channel Futures invited several members of the LGBTQ+ community to share their experiences. Some agreed to do so on the condition of anonymity. Others were happy to let us use their names.

Just as Brown stated in her article, experiences varied vastly by person and company. But there was one commonality: No one who provided insights for this article said they were totally comfortable being their authentic self.

Caution Is Key

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TBI’s Bryan Reynolds

Bryan Reynolds is senior director of sales operations at Chicago-based TBI. When he started with the organization seven years ago, he was cautious about what personal information he shared, and with whom.

“I always dread being asked, ‘Are you seeing anybody?’ Or ‘Are you married?’ Because at that point, all bets are off.”

“I have the luxury of not having to wear my homosexuality on my skin,” he said. “So I can choose to release that information when I want. But when those kinds of questions are asked, you often have to deflect.”

“I’m always very cautious, because you never know how people are going to react. Even in 2021, there are still some skewed and outdated views of the LGBTQ community out there.”

As Reynolds became more familiar with his co-workers and the company culture at TBI, he felt comfortable sharing personally.  “I started to make close connections and found myself wondering, ‘What was I so scared of?’ Now I can just say ‘my husband’ and not have to worry about saying ‘my spouse’ or ‘my partner’ or something else gender neutral.”

Still, there are times when Reynolds has to be on guard. In traveling outside the…

…U.S. for a President’s Club trip, for example. “When they send you a packet to prepare for the trip, there might be a blurb in there with verbiage along the lines of, ‘If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, these are the precautions that you need to take.’”

“The ‘Bro’ Mentality Has to Go”

For M.O., who has worked in the channel for more than a decade, being on guard in the workplace is second nature. “Being a gay woman in the channel means I get hassled from all directions,” she said.

“As a woman, I find myself minimized and even ignored. I get sick and tired of making a suggestion at a meeting and having no one react until it’s repeated by one of the men in attendance. Then everyone dances around about how brilliant he is.”

Like TBI’s Reynolds, M.O. is cautious about sharing details of her life. “Once it’s known that I’m a lesbian, I usually have to deal with one of two scenarios. In some cases, I get men offering to ‘cure’ me of my preference for other women. In others, I’m treated like one of the guys. That means they feel free to make disgusting, sexist remarks and foul comments around me.”

“The channel reflects the tech industry in that the majority of members are white, middle-aged and male,” she said. “It’s a tough industry for any woman, regardless of gender identity. I’m not condemning the whole industry. Look, I’ve stayed in it for more than 10 years. But the whole ‘bro’ mentality has got to go.”

“Hazing, Harassment and Dirty Looks”

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Phoenix Secure IT’s Nicole Boon

When N.B. began her transition nearly four years ago, she was co-owner of a successful MSP. While her employees were, for the most part, supportive of her, the same couldn’t be said for others around her. “I endured the worst hazing, harassment, dirty looks and people laughing in my face the first year,” she said. “It was horrible.”

After nearly a year of hormone therapy, N.B. no longer looked like “a man dressed as a woman,” as she described it. She no longer heard people referring to her as a “freak.”

Instead, she found herself firmly outside the “bro” circle.

“I had been a cybersecurity expert for the last 15 years,” she said. “When I gave them advice as a male, no one questioned anything. I was the expert.”

“After I transitioned, I started hearing ‘Are you sure?’ when I gave advice. If I went on calls with a male salesperson, they would assume he was my boss. Even when he told them I was the boss they would continue to direct questions to him. And he had no tech background.”

“One client told me that he would never talk to me again. He said he wanted to work with someone else in my company because he didn’t feel comfortable with me being around his clients and his employees. Due to religious beliefs, of course.”

Today, N.B. is founder and CEO of an MSP specializing in providing IT support and security for clinics. She is still a cybersecurity expert. And most of her clients have no idea that she is transgender.

A Mixed Climate in the Channel

As for the channel and the IT community, N.B. says “it’s definitely pretty mixed.”

She encountered hostility while transitioning. Now people largely “interact with me and treat me just as a person.”

“What is it really hurting anybody else to treat somebody with respect?” she said. “If people would take any time at all to understand the process, they would be a lot more respectful and have a lot more empathy.”

TBI’s Reynolds echoed that sentiment. “Educate yourself,” he said. “Do your best to learn from everyone else’s experiences.”

“You don’t have a stake on reality. Open your heart and listen a lot louder than you speak.”

 

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Buffy Naylor or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About the Author(s)

Buffy Naylor

Senior Managing Editor, Channel Futures

Buffy Naylor is senior managing editor of Channel Futures. Prior to joining Informa (then VIRGO) in 2008, she was an award-winning copywriter and editor, then senior manager of corporate communications for an international leisure travel corporation and, before that, in charge of creative development and copywriting for a boutique marketing and public relations agency.

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