As a teenager, Danielle Barker was always drawn to all things technology, especially software development. She knew she wanted to be in the tech sector but was cautious about pursing it as a career.
“I saw it as a male-dominated industry and any time that’s the situation, trans people have trouble fitting in and feeling like they are part of the team,” Barker said.
But she persevered and took classes at InceptionU, an organization offering courses in the industry for individuals and corporations.
“That was like a dream come true,” Barker said.
She was so impressive and dedicated she got hired as a tech facilitator supporting students.
“You never know what you’re going to come up against. I’ve had a lot of struggles but it is encouraging to see the direction things are going,” Barker said.
InceptionU founder, Margo Purcell, said it was a natural fit to bring Barker onto the team.
“Danielle just showed us who she is. She was such a generous person with her fellow learners and still is. She is so keen to learn and curious–how couldn’t I have her as part of the team?” Purcell said.
Purcell said the potential for productivity and profitability is something their organization is harnessing and hopes others work to create a culture of diversity.
“The limitations that happen when someone can’t be their whole selves, the cognitive energy that goes into being careful about what I say, who I am–that takes away from them doing really great work,” Purcell said.
“I hadn’t contemplated the toll that takes on people … creating an environment where they can be their whole selves, that can unleash so much potential to recruit and retain top talent,” said Purcell.
“This is about building better tech. Better tech incorporates the diverse perspective and experiences of all sorts of people.”
But there’s still a ways to go with inclusivity in tech.
According to a recent poll for Queer Tech, done by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, 33 per cent of LGBTQ2S+ respondents experienced harassment in the workplace with 57 per cent reported they are not able to be “fully out” at work. Fifteen per cent of LGBTQ2S+ people in Canada’s tech sector feel their career opportunities are limited because of how they identify.
Amber Rowden started Queer Innovation YYC. It’s a safe space for queer people to make industry connections.
“I first started in tech and didn’t feel safe to come out as myself. I didn’t want to be known as queer,” Rowden said.
“It gets hard to pretend and have a façade and there’s self-doubt. When you are yourself, you’re excited and get to be collaborative.”
She created the group with the help of friend Ty McKinney. He said it’s helped the community embrace possibilities.
“It’s just a matter of finding opportunities and you only get that in a safe space where you can be yourself,” McKinney said. “If there’s constantly a pressure to conform to be hetero-normative, you don’t feel like you can pursue those opportunities.”
McKinney has his own start-up company and said he’s noticing a shift.
“The status quo is changing and everyone is being a part of the solution.”