Out in Tech: Creating Opportunities for the LGBTQ Community to Advance their Careers

Jun 21, 2022Dianne Eberhardt

Having a mentor is one of the most valuable resources when starting a career. There is nothing like having an experienced person who walked the same path offer you help and guidance. That can be especially true in a field as exclusive and competitive as tech and for people that are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

That’s where Out-in-Tech comes in.

What is Out-in-Tech?

Out in Tech is a nonprofit network of over 40,000 members, and its goal is to help LGBTQ+ people advance in their careers and use technology to advocate for social change.

“We started the program to build the confidence and credentials of queer and trans youth. We know they’re ‘technically amazing’ (get the double entendre?), and we think it’s important that they know it too,” says Gary Goldman, senior program director for Out in Tech.

Every year, 300 students (ages 17 to 24) from around the country participate in the program.

“There is still severe underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ folks in tech leadership roles, especially queer and trans people of color,” Goldman continues.

Visibility and representation are critical in the workplace. The mentorship program enables queer youth to develop technical skills, grow their professional networks, and learn how to navigate sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace from successful LGBTQ+ techies already doing it.

“Mentors serve as a professional and emotional anchor for their mentees, enabling them to refine the directions of their careers,” Goldman says. “For the duration of the eight-week program, mentors meet with their mentees for two hours weekly to develop functional and career-oriented skills for a future in tech. Half of the time is spent developing technical skills and working on a final project. The rest is spent on career development: nailing your job interview, improving your résumé, discussing how to find a queer-friendly employer.”

And when it comes to employment, Goldman affirms that within the technology space, there are various selections to choose from.

“Not all mentees are interested in becoming software engineers or developers,” he says. “Some are interested in product design, product management, data science, sales, and marketing. The tech industry encompasses various roles and skills, and we welcome interest in all job functions into our program.”

While for young LGBTQ+ folks, looking for opportunities in a field that is often seen as elitist can feel daunting, Goldman assures that although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, the industry has made great strides in recent years.

“We’ve come a long way in the past decades,” Goldman says. “As of 2020, for example, U.S. businesses cannot fire employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Most large tech companies have entire departments dedicated to equity and inclusion, clear nondiscrimination policies, and LGBTQ+ employee resource groups catalyze internal advocacy and community.”

Website development

Zach Ricketson, an undergrad at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, wanted to go Greek, but he couldn’t find a fraternity whose value system aligned with his.

In February 2018, Zach joined Out In Tech in Chicago. In Chicago, Zach serves as the lead volunteer, organizes panel discussions and networking events, and on September 28, Chicago’s first-ever “Digital Corps” initiative, where volunteer software engineers, designers, and copywriters will build websites for five LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations at home and abroad.

The Wordpress.com sites were free, and Out In Tech provided free hosting for them for five years, along with a custom user guide so individual groups can maintain their sites themselves. Organizations apply to receive a free website through Digital Corps.

Out In Tech has built websites for more than 100 organizations, over the years, including the Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust (TWEET) Foundation in India: a charity that advocates for transgender rights and some of whose founders live openly with HIV.

Although Out In Tech has pioneered the initiative for the last four years, this is the first time the program has come to Chicago. About 30 Chicagoans will help build the new websites this year.

For change to happen, people who belong to the LGBTQ+ communities must be elevated to positions of power. But that requires getting a foot in the door. Out in Tech U’s graduates are helping to ensure more places become welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks.

Dianne Eberhardt

Dianne Eberhardt

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