Tech Pride: Celebrations and Challenges for LGBT Members of the Tech Community

“Despite widely adopted non-discrimination protections and benefit coverage for same-sex couples, LGBT employees as a cohort may still be under-recognized,” says Camille Crittenden, Deputy Director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute. Crittenden offers concrete suggestions to increase the support and representation of LGBT tech employees and urges companies “to recognize the opportunity to harness its power to improve the lives of customers, employees, and stakeholders along the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Huffington Post, June 19, 2017 June is a month for celebrations: not only for weddings but also commemorations of advances in civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. Just as technology has shaped countless aspects of social and public life, its influence on LGBT rights and relationships has also been substantial—for consumers and producers of social media, for the tech workforce, and for advocacy on LGBT policy issues at the state and national level.

A recent Gallup poll estimated 10 million American adults identify as LGBT. Although this represents less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, surveys by city indicate that tech hubs like San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta boast LGBT populations 2-3 times the national average. Developments in technology and the societal integration of LGBT individuals have co-evolved, often for mutual benefit. Social media has changed public attitudes toward gay and lesbian figures and contributed to increasing acceptance over the last 15 years. YouTube and Facebook have enabled an entire genre of “coming out videos” that have served to embolden those uncertain about sharing their sexual orientation. Dating apps have been associated with more risky sexual behavior on the one hand, but in countries where homosexual activity is punishable by imprisonment or even death, these tools have provided a platform for LGBT men and women to discover one another and meet under safer circumstances than would be possible in public.

For employers, a more inclusive workplace climate expands the hiring pool for tech talent and improves job satisfaction and retention while increasing productivity. LGBT-friendly policies are associated with higher firm value and profitability, especially for companies with extensive R&D activity. Plus, turnover is costly. The recent Tech Leavers Study by the Kapor Institute estimates “unfairness-based turnover costs the tech industry $16B per year.”

A variety of industry groups and independent organizations are devoted to improving policies and practices for LGBT employees. Microsoft, Google, Apple and others have lively employee affinity groups. The nonprofit StartOut promotes LGBTQ entrepreneurship, and Lesbians Who Tech and the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technology Professionals offer opportunities for professional networking.

Prominent LGBT leaders like Apple CEO Tim Cook, former PayPal CEO and investor Peter Thiel, former White House CTO Megan Smith have used their political weight to advocate against discriminatory laws on the state and national level. In 2015, more than 100 tech executives issued a statement calling for protection against such laws at a time when dozens of anti-LGBT bills were under consideration. Advocacy efforts have continued in North Carolina and Texas against laws targeting transgender students and employees.

Read Camille Crittenden‘s Huffington Post article in its entirety here>