From dealing with discrimination to threats of violence, being queer in the business realm isn’t easy.
Being an entrepreneur is never easy. It involves taking risks and getting back up no matter what life throws at you. Entrepreneurs need to network, make connections and use them to learn what it takes to actually make it in the business world. The process is so hard that only 40% of startups ever are able to become profitable.
All of this becomes even harder when you are stigmatized because of your gender or sexual identity. This Pride Month, let’s take a moment to learn about the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and what changes can be made to make the corporate space more inclusive.
To get your business off the ground, you need funding. However, this can become extremely challenging if you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. For instance, between 2010 and 2019, only 1% of the over US$1.5 billion dollars of funds invested by venture capitalist (VC) firms went to LGBTQIA+ founders. Some VCs believe that the reason behind this lack of funding is an absence of the LGBTQIA+ community among those making investment decisions. Consequently, LGBTQIA+ founders feel the need to hide their identities, with 37% of them choosing not to “out” themselves lest that be a hindrance to getting funds for their business.
Violence and sexual threats
Another threat that the LGBTQIA+ community deals with on a day-to-day basis is violence. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Prevention, 44% of lesbians and 26% of gay men experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. Naturally, the threat of violent attacks can adversely affect the productivity of LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs. The grief and trauma of going through such attacks can make it terrifying to travel to and from work and to even come back to the office if the violence is incurred at the office.
Being subject to invasive questions
As a founder, you probably would be more than happy to answer questions about your business. However, members of the LGBTQIA+ community get grilled not only about their companies but also about their personal lives. They often get asked inappropriate questions, like “Are you a top or a bottom?”, “Who is the guy in the relationship” and “What genitals do you have?”. Some transgender entrepreneurs even report being casually asked whether they have undergone sexual reassignment surgeries. They even say that a change in gender identity has also led to people being more skeptical about their business prowess.
How to address these challenges?
The first step to addressing these challenges is to create a more inclusive environment where the LGBTQIA+ community is actually readily visible. This includes providing training on how to foster an inclusive workspace, disciplining employees who fail to treat queer colleagues with respect and creating employee support groups for members of the community. Being able to see members of the LGBTQIA community in the entrepreneurial space will not only be a source of encouragement to queer people but will also help change attitudes within the business world. Besides, there is also a pressing need for more outright and open support for LGBTQIA+-run businesses to show investors that they have what it takes to survive in the market.
Access to funding and other helpful resources
The next task is to create a space where the LGBTQIA+ community feels accepted. Since the LGBTQIA+ community makes up a small portion of the general population, it can be a challenge for them to network with and seek advice from people who are undergoing similar challenges. This challenge is being actively addressed by pro-LGBTQIA+ organizations, like the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Out & Equal, Out in Tech and Lesbians Who Tech. These organizations provide not only economic support but also other invaluable resources like mentoring and networking opportunities to people from the community.
As time passes, the business climate is becoming more friendly towards the community. Businesses have found that being hostile towards the LGBTQIA+ community means missing out on top talent and also on the vast purchasing power of the community. As of 2019, the LGBTQIA+ community has a purchasing power of US$3.7 trillion and thus, can have a very decisive effect on the growth of businesses. Moreover, LGBTQIA+-run businesses also are emerging as major contributors to the economy, adding US$1.7 trillion to the American economy each year.
Despite the challenges faced by the community, there are many successful business professionals in the LGBTQIA+ community. Some of the biggest names in tech, like Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and Peter Thiel, the former CEO of PayPal, are openly out as gay. Their success should be a source of encouragement to prospective LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs to create their own businesses and make the business world more inclusive.
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