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Tech your discrimination elsewhere

by Elisa Barbier January 24, 2017
Tech your discrimination elsewhere

Queer Tech MTL hosts a panel on identifying as LGBTQ+ within tech industries

Getting together. Networking. Breaking free from isolation.

This is what Queer Tech MTL is all about. It’s a group that invites people who self-identify as part of the tech and LGBTQ+ communities to gather at monthly events.

The meetings, which started in October 2016, explore elements of the workplace for members of the LGBTQ+ community. They also offer many networking opportunities.

Attendees at the panel. Photo by Elisa Barbier

Attendees arrive for the panel. Photo by Elisa Barbier

On Jan. 18, the group gathered at the Keatext office in the Mile-End. Keatext is a text analytics app that helps businesses quickly review customer feedback.

At the meeting, attendees were welcomed with snacks and beverages to hear about “creating the authentic self at work.” Luc Plamondon, who has worked at Keatext for four years now, offered up the space to Queer Tech MTL.

Queer Tech MTL was launched in September 2015 by Naoufel Testaouni, who was soon joined by Jason Behrmann. Testaouni has been working for tech companies on and off over the last five years, and is now a customer experience manager for the data services company, Local Logic. Behrmann completed a PhD at McGill, focusing his research on assessing the social and ethical implications of technologies in healthcare for the LGBTQ+ population. He now works as a communication corporate strategist for FinTech.

Testaouni said the idea for Queer Tech MTL came when he found himself looking for the LGBTQ+ community within tech corporations, but was unable to find anyone. Queer Tech MTL is made up of 400 members who attend events on and off.

“We encourage startups to come, to learn how to promote diversity in their companies,” said Testaouni.

The meeting featured a panel composed of Marie Isabelle Gendron from Pratt and Whitney Canada, Carlos A. Godoy L. from TD Bank and Elodie Palluet from Keyrus Canada. Before starting, Behrmann presented the crowd with statistics on the LGBTQ+ community within the tech world.

“Nearly half of transsexuals do not get promoted, hired or get fired,” said Behrmann. “And, 63 per cent of graduate students go back into the closet when they get a job.”

The panelists discussed their experiences with coming out at work. Gendron said Oct. 7, 2014 was “like a day of resurgence” for her. That was the day she came out as transsexual at her job.

When reminiscing about her experience, she said she remembers it was a shock for her boss, but she was accepting of her nevertheless. It was a big challenge, Gendron said. “Being transsexual is not a choice, but coming out is the choice to live,” she said.

Godoy came out while working for TD Bank. He said TD bank is known for their support of LGBTQ+ clients and employees. “I have it super easy—I am a white French-Canadian, born in Montreal. I am a man mostly interested in men, and I am a banker,” said Godoy. However, he said he has, nonetheless, lived through instances of discrimination in the workplace. He recalled once being called “the drag queen” by one of his former employers.

Testaouni introducing the panelists. Photo by Elisa Barbier

Testaouni introducing the panelists. Photo by Elisa Barbier

Palluet said she had a more complicated coming-out experience. She has had to resign from two positions because of her boss’ behaviour. Now, however, Palluet said she is at a job where she does not experience discrimination.

The panelists described the tech environment in Montreal as “very friendly” and “young.” However, Katherine Chennel, an aerospace engineer who attended the meeting but is not a member of Queer Tech MTL, told The Concordian she experienced something very different when she came out while working at Bombardier. She said she was coincidentally offered a retirement package soon after coming out as transsexual.

The panelists also discussed measures taken by their corporations to further integrate the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace. Gendron said she has seen Pratt and Whitney take measures to help all employees of the community feel safe, and she has received a lot of support. The company has psychologists to educate people in the workplace and implement anti-discrimination policies.

“I want my employees to be happy at work,” said Godoy, quoting William Edmund Clark, the executive chief of TD. Godoy added that TD sent a controversial and revolutionary memo in the early 90s to all its employees. The memo read, “We know that there are gays and lesbians. Some of you may have a same-sex partner, and we want you to know that your partner is entitled to the same things as another employee’s wife or husband.”

Attendees during the panel. Photo by Elisa Barbier.

Attendees during the panel. Photo by Elisa Barbier.

Gendron talked about Fondation Émergence, an initiative to educate the public on the LGBTQ+ community and the problems they still face today. The initiative will be presenting a documentary showcasing the LGBTQ+ community within three different companies in two months. Palluet added exposing the problems the community still faces is an important part of the education process.

Godoy, Palluet and Gendron concluded by saying that listening to oneself and being one’s authentic self are the keys to living a happy life.

The next Queer Tech MTL event will be held on Feb.16 at 5605 Ave. de Gaspé, second floor.

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