Max Masure endures being called the wrong name, however unwillingly, because certain companies’ technologies don’t offer an option for customers to share anything other than their legal names.
As an ethical UX researcher and a transgender non-binary queer person, Masure (they/them) considers it an unacceptable practice that harms individuals, counters inclusion, and ultimately hurts business.
Masure finds it off-putting to be called by their feminine-sounding legal name when they now present as masculine. Being forced to endure such incidents due to thoughtless tech designs and business practices can sour customers on the brand, they say.
And while such incidents haven’t created unsafe situations for Masure personally, they stress that those slips could be dangerous in certain circumstances, for example, in an unwelcoming crowd or a hostile region.
Masure believes that all organisations should design their technology with everyone in mind and focus on developing code designed for the least-privileged groups. That approach is a major part of universal design, a process by which technology is ensured to work for everybody and doesn’t exclude, offend, or endanger.
“Whenever you ask for someone’s name, or anywhere there’s a form, there are good practices to do to that in a way that respects transgender individuals,” Masure explains.
Some companies are taking that advice. Global financial services firm Citi, in conjunction with Mastercard, announced in October 2020 that it was offering transgender and nonbinary individuals the ability to use their chosen first name on credit cards. Citi also created processes that enable customer service to address individuals by their chosen names.
Efforts like that are a start, Masure and other advocates say.
But true diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) requires more than acknowledging preferred names and pronouns. Rather, it requires real change in business practices to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse society, including those from the LGBTQIA+ community.
And that change happens when organisations foster diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces, including and especially within their IT ranks, advocates say.
“We have to have leaders who are out in front on this, and we have to have leaders who are measured in a real and meaningful way in how diverse and inclusive they’re making their teams,” says Kristi Lamar (she/her), who as a managing director at Deloitte and a leader with its US Women in Technology group advises on diversity issues within the tech profession.
The hard truth of organisational DEI commitments
Enterprise leaders indicate a commitment to DEI. According to the 2021 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey, 94 per cent of responding executives list DEI as “a personal strategic priority/goal” with 90 per cent saying their organisation aspires to be an industry leader in this space.
CIOs appear similarly committed, with 98 per cent of the 370 CIOs and technology professionals polled in a 2020 Educase survey saying the “values of diversity, equity, and inclusion are personally important.” The same survey found that 97 per cent agree that “diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace environments benefit everyone.”
iAsia Brown (she/her) testifies to that. Brown, who identifies as a lesbian, says the tech industry allows her to be herself. “What I love about tech is you get to show up exactly as you are because your skill set, that’s what people care about,” says Brown, a U.S. Marine veteran now working as program manager II at Microsoft.
Brown says the tech profession seems increasingly interested in the perspectives that she brings as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Tech also seems to seek out insights from other communities, too, as companies are increasingly recognising that their customers are demanding their unique needs be met.
“It’s a field where your voice is needed, because if you can’t give people what they need and what they want, then you’re going to be the next Blockbuster Video,” she adds.
Brown’s experience, however, is not universal. Boston Consulting Group and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, a nonprofit service and advocacy group, surveyed 2,000 LGBTQ employees and 2,000 non-LGBTQ (straight) employees across the US and found that 40 per cent of LGBTQ employees are closeted at work and that 75 per cent have experienced negative day-to-day workplace interactions related to their identity.
Other statistics also indicate that the workplace doesn’t truly embrace DEI. Melinda Briana Epler (she/her), founder and CEO of Change Catalyst, which works with organisations to build inclusive tech ecosystems, says a 2020 survey showed that 65 per cent of nonbinary individuals experienced discrimination at work, only 46 per cent said they felt safe and a mere 38 per cent felt like they belonged.
There are multiple reasons for those figures, Epler and other advocates say. Some report outright aggression and harassment as well as the lack of gender-neutral facilities, which can jeopardise personal safety; others report discrimination and micro-aggressions that add up.
“There’s everything from being called a ‘diversity hire’ to not being listened to so you can’t really grow or thrive,” Epler says, adding that discrimination is sometimes unintentional and often indirect.
CIOs won’t believe they’ve denied promotions for people because they’re gay or transgendered but rather because as an individual they “don’t seem like leadership material.” An executive might pass up LGBTQIA+ individuals for stretch assignments or raises because they “come off too angry or too strong or because they’re not strong enough.”
Others might lose out because they’re not comfortable congregating for off-hour get-togethers in bars or because they’re excluded from casual conversations that often veer toward personal anecdotes about family and weekend plans, advocates say.
Some LGBTQIA+ individuals avoid such gatherings if they feel they can’t freely or safely talk about their same-sex partners and other such information. It’s a scenario that leaves them out of the loop and open to charges of not being a team player.
Chris Wood (he/him), executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech, which works at the intersection of LGBTQ communities and technology to ensure representation and access, says the overall lack of representation of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the profession and the discrimination that exists toward them mirror overall societal trends.
But he also says many tech professionals feel they can’t identify themselves at work without repercussions, a fact that stems from not only negative experiences in their everyday jobs but also from the lack of representation among enterprise executives and tech company leaders.
That — along with the lack of diversity represented in STEM curriculum — can make the professional seem unwelcoming to young people, says Carlos Gutierrez (he/him), deputy director and general counsel with LGBT Tech. As a result, tech isn’t attracting a diverse field of new candidates, which further perpetuates the problem.
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