While women and girls in tech mean huge advancements for diversity in the tech industry, there’s still a significant challenge to tackle: including trans and nonbinary people in IT. Initiatives like Girls Who Code, Women Who Code and Women in Technology International are much more than well-meaning: They are necessary organizations for including more women in technical roles. It’s now well-known that education and inclusion of women in leadership roles mean better business. Women overall increase retention rates, are better at problem-solving and tend to be more loyal to the companies they work for.
Statistics by Deloitte show that progress is slow for women in the workforce but even slower for women in tech. While 32.9 percent of women are part of the overall workforce, only 25 percent are working in tech. The leading faces of Fortune 500 companies are also male (think Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk).
However, there is a statistical gap between what is researched regarding women in IT and what is really going on, as most companies don’t report on specific factors like pay, life-work balance, and physical and mental well-being. There is not-so-measurable invisibility to be addressed here: the “women in tech” gap versus the “gender gap.” For gender nonconforming individuals, reports are even scarcer.
Who ‘Women in Tech’ Initiatives Leave Out of the Picture
Wired has written one of the few pieces regarding gender nonconforming individuals in tech roles. Statistics Canada produced one of the few reports regarding gender nonconforming individuals, building upon previous research done in 2016 in the United States. It’s easy to agree that “[w]ithout data on this population, it is difficult for governments, service providers and other institutions to develop programs and policies that address the concerns and needs of this community. Statistical information on the transgender community is needed to develop inclusive policies, programs, and laws at the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal levels in many areas […].”
Much of the talk surrounding the former “women in tech” revolves around business strategies for the promising future of tech labor, as well as around women being positive role models (i.e., having more visibility) or even helping women achieve their own potential. PwC’s primary call to action in its Women in Tech report relies on these points. The problem with this vocabulary is that it puts the strain on women to make themselves from the ground up regarding tech jobs out of volition. This is no different from the general opinion (think Cheryl Sanders’ book Lean In). A common, maybe even misused, word here is “representation.”
Does representation mean cultivating public figures? Or, does it mean actually being a key player in company decision-making?
Most articles on representation focus on the former. That said, keeping an eye on “positive role models” impacts nonbinary and transgender people even more. Because most trans-identifying people are ages 13 to 17, they are the future of the workplace in literal terms. What’s more, that population segment has increased over the past three years. In tech specifically, Reuters highlights how “nearly 7% of people in the U.S. tech industry identify as LGBT+, compared with about 4% of Americans overall.”
When comparing “Women in Tech” movements and organizations to the “Trans People in Tech” or “LGBTQ People in Tech” (or with whatever preferred moniker), there are key differences. “Women in Tech” initiatives tend to focus on gender from a binary perspective versus the “LGBTQ People in Tech”-type organizations, which take a more general approach to gender diversity (meaning, a wider interpretation of representation, gender, self-perception and sexuality).
LGBTQ Allyship and Participation in IT
All things considered, initiatives like TransTech (U.S.), LGBTQ in Technology (U.S.) and TransTI (Argentina) are becoming much more common. If anything, paving the way means not doing charity work, but instead giving real jobs.
The big question is whether “Women in Tech” programs could include trans and nonbinary people in their organizations at whatever level. Given that life expectancy is lower and economic vulnerability is much more prevalent in transgender people (and are also at a greater risk for disease and precarious living situations), it’s understandable how such initiatives cannot afford to stop at “inspiration” or “representation” and are likely to need public funding to be able to take that next step. It’s what Black Female Founders has done for the African-American community by taking into account group-specific vulnerabilities.
Conclusion: How to Support Trans and Nonbinary Developers in America
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to creating safe and supportive spaces in tech. Companies should incorporate diversity and inclusion policies to help alleviate toxic work culture as well as to keep their LGBTQI employees safe. Resist assumptions that everyone takes the same linear path toward product discovery and include greater representation in marketing teams. In the case of organizations whose initiative is to encourage women to code, what’s worrying is that these organizations’ campaigns are speaking more to cis women than to LGBTQ people.
One of the few studies on the topic of nonbinary and trans people in tech is not optimistic at all: “The numbers are no less comforting with the rest of the findings: only 55.1% of women and non-binary technologists feel like they are being paid fairly for the work they do.” The study groups women and nonbinary technologists in the same group, though their needs differ immensely. Otherwise, there’s more at risk for companies and gender nonconforming employees if businesses don’t adapt to this reality soon.