Business, Culture

Listen more, assume less

Two human characters in connection so their bodies form the letter R
July 19, 2021

Read time 6 min

It is no secret that the diversity gap in the technology industry can only be described as alarming. Before the gap is bridged and, eventually, closed entirely, actively promoting inclusion should be a top priority for businesses in tech. 

If there is something to be learned from the past year and half of listening to and educating ourselves on human experience that differs from our own, it is this: sometimes, as a person or group with privilege – whatever kind of privilege it may be – you need to sit down and let members of the marginalized group do the talking.

We spoke to two Reaktorians from different offices about their lives and careers in tech. In this post, they explain what it’s like to be an LGBTQI+ person working in tech, and advise fellow tech workers on how to be more inclusive towards their peers.

“My advice to everyone as humans, not representatives of a majority or a minority, is this: listen more, assume less.”

Teemu, Software Architect, Helsinki office

When I joined Reaktor in 2008, I sent out an introductory email to my new colleagues, mentioning somewhere in there that I had a boyfriend. Back then, the company consisted of less than 100 people that were, well, near-exclusively white, straight men. 

A colleague reached out to welcome me to the team. “I’m happy to see our group get more diverse, and truly hope that we tidy up our speech a bit,” he said.

The remark stuck with me.

I was hired as a developer, and coding is what I still do. I love the social aspect of working in a tech team, and appreciate that the spectrum of what we get to do is unusually wide.

Important to me outside of work is my relationship with Jukka and our joint hobby of sailing.

Working in a predominantly white, male, cis-gendered, and straight environment sometimes feels like an extreme scale model of the power structure in our social world at large. They say it’s a man’s world, and yeah, it really is.

When you grow up to be gay, you’re never completely free of feeling like an outsider. Even though I have been lucky enough to never have felt discriminated against, no one in the community walks away completely unscratched. 

Each reminder in everyday lingo of how you’re different leaves a paper cut-like tear on you, feeding that little inkling of externality. “Hello homos” used to be a friendly greeting at the office sauna. After going about your business as a gay man for nearly 50 years, your skin’s gotten thick, and somehow it’s become easy to just accept that this is how things are.

However, I think the tech industry needs to change. Businesses and workplaces in tech need to intervene in situations of injustice, have no tolerance for derogatory comments and assume the value of equality as part of their DNA – not an option or an opinion. Here, I want to point out that allies matter: a big thank you to people who pay attention to how people around them talk and call out wrongs.

To younger LGBT+ folk considering working in tech, I say: come on over! If you’re willing to take responsibility for your own career development, the opportunities are endless and the work is rewarding. Just make sure to actively search for an environment where you feel comfortable and accepted. 

My advice to everyone as humans – future colleagues of minorities and members of minorities alike – is to listen more and assume less. The tech environment gets macho at times, and the loudest voice gets to be the winner. Be considerate, give space to less favored opinions, and wait for the output of quieter voices.  

“There’s a misconception that people looking for more rights are trying to take rights away from other people.” 

Paolo, Software Engineer, Amsterdam Office

I got my first computer at the age of 6 or 7. It was my father’s computer – he was always interested in technology, and so was I. 

The best thing about working in technology is the opportunity to create something out of nothing. Same goes for my passion for cooking (I’m Italian), and when the quarantine started, I’ve been getting into baking. Even if you study for 10 years you can look around and there’s a field you haven’t touched before, so there’s always a constant challenge. 

The negative side is that it’s not tangible. Everyone is entitled to get involved, and sometimes our work is not considered as important as something that’s physically crafted, like someone building a house. 

I think in the tech community there’s a lot of diversity in knowledge, leading to sub-communities. Then there’s friction between the sub-communities, which is something I don’t really like. There’s some internal competition. 

Working in a male-dominated environment is not something that I consciously realized during my career. I personally haven’t had any difficult experiences in that, even if people around me knew about my sexual orientation. There are things you can imagine in a predominantly male environment, like jokes, which in some cases can be offensive – but this is something I’ve not personally experienced as a difficult thing. I can imagine however that this environment can be difficult for some people – like women or people of a different orientation for example. 

I’ve never experienced discrimination myself and I’ve never heard anyone around me who’s experienced that. But it’s not to say this doesn’t exist. There is a study from the EU Centre of Discrimination that 45% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced a form of discrimination in the last 12 months. 

What I feel is important is education. Helping people understand what diversity means, and what diversity looks like from other people’s perspectives. Companies can give employees the opportunities to educate themselves – attend debates, read books, find resources. This is a cultural problem that you can’t just solve with policies. It creates a difficult environment if you try to do that. While you can enforce it in some ways – for example with quotas – it creates an environment where people start questioning the validity of people being there. 

Representation shouldn’t be something that the company feels should be there. Policies don’t solve a cultural problem. In the US it’s clear that there are laws that certify that there’s no difference between people, but in reality, the difference is evident. It’s why the protests are happening. In some cases, it’s more subtle, so it’s even more difficult. There’s a misconception that people looking for more rights are trying to take rights away from other people. That’s not true, they’re just trying to get to the same level as non-minorities. This is pride – to create more awareness of the gap.

The fact that we can exist in contexts where everyone is sort of like you isn’t always the case. Try to look at things from other people’s points of view. 

For LGBTQI+ people wanting to join the tech community, don’t be discouraged. Even if it might look like a non-welcoming environment, don’t be discouraged by that. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Try to understand that they don’t understand you – it’s not that they’re inherently bad, they just don’t know.

For colleagues who are not part of the LGBTQI+ community, try to be mindful of other people. If you offend someone, try to learn why. There are resources everywhere.


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