Blogpost by Jienan Chen
June 29, 2022
In the last blog post, I mentioned the issues faced by 2SLGBTQ+ employees in the workplace and how organizations can implement certain strategies to build an inclusive work environment. Besides employees, Canada is also home to many 2SLGBTQ+ leaders and entrepreneurs. According to the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Deloitte’s (CGLCC) chief operating officer, Dale McDermott, there are over 100,000 2SLGBTQ+ owned businesses in Canada. For the most part, these businesses all face the same challenges as every business; however, they may have added obstacles that are wholly unrelated to their business practices.
Take, for instance, Lucky Iron Fish, founded by Gavin Armstrong in 2012. In 2014, Armstrong met with a group of venture capitalists in the United States. Not long after the meeting, he learned through an email that the investors had looked over his personal social media accounts and saw his pictures from Pride. Fearing embarrassment from associating with Armstrong, they requested him to remove those pictures from his account. Returning to Canada, he found himself self-censoring in pitch meetings—focusing on how his clothes and behaviour may be perceived and auditing himself for “tells”. It is a frustrating reality for many 2SLGBTQ+ business owners that their identity could be perceived as a liability for their businesses, forcing some to choose to between closeting themselves or hinder the potential success of their business.
A case like this is just one of many. A CGLCC study conducted in 2020 found that fully 20% of 2SLGBTQ+ business owners reported business problems related to their sexual identity. These problems go straight to the bottom line. When it come to funding, the CGLCC learned that Canadian 2SLGBTQ+ owned businesses receive 1% of venture capital and private equity money. As McDermott said, “if 20 per cent of them are struggling to tap into Canada’s $18 billion annual private equity and venture capital market, that’s bound to have a macroeconomic impact.” At the end of the day, less investment dollars result in fewer successful 2SLGBTQ+ businesses. The solution, according to McDermott, is in understanding that “investors tend to invest in like. We need to work with [venture capitalist] firms to develop their approaches to diversity, in the same way that bigger corporations have been doing. There needs to be a fundamental values shift in the venture capital world.”
Many 2SLGBTQ+ professionals and entrepreneurs prefer to leave their sexual identity under the radar in their professional lives, which results in a perceived lack of 2SLGBTQ+ presence in leadership roles. Some may do so as a result of their assessment of the potential professional hazards, or for some it may simply be a disinclination to publicly air their private lives. When Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly came out in a piece published by Bloomberg in 2014, he speculated that his high profile may help others in the 2SLGBTQ+ community:
I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.
His conclusion is an accurate one. A 2019 LinkedIn study found that 70% of (young) 2SLGBTQ+ professionals expressed that there were no senior 2SLGBTQ+ professionals for them to look up to. And it is not as if there is no demand for greater representation in the workforce. In the United Kingdom, 83% of respondents to research done by Vodaphone and Out Now stated that they would prefer to work for an employer with visible 2SLGBTQ+ leaders, friends, allies, and supporters. However, considering that 2SLGBTQ+ leaders are judged for their identities and thus frequently denied funding, it is not surprising that openly 2SLGBTQ+ leaders are hard to find. In my research, I searched online for Canadian 2SLGBTQ+ leaders or entrepreneurs. Not surprisingly only a few names came up. This problem can only compound as people continue to feel reluctance to be be transparent. The LinkedIn study reported that 28% of closeted professionals do not plan to come out due to the lack of role models. While clearly no one should feel obligated to disclose personal information about themselves for any reason, the problem lies when people feel uncomfortable with disclosure due to concerns about how that will affect their careers and livelihoods.
When there is a perception that there are not many 2SLGBTQ+ entrepreneurs or professionals, an individual entrepreneur or professional may feel like the lone advocacy voice with no power to effect change. A unified voice is a louder voice, and, in Canada, there are organizations that amplify the voices of 2SLGBTQ+ business owners. Take, for instance, Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC). According to their website, they are “the only chamber of commerce uniting and advocating for over 28,000 [2SLGBTQ+] owned and operated businesses in Canada.” In Alberta, people can also look to the Alberta LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce for support, which—according to their mission— “exists to help build a strong Alberta economy supported by, and supportive of, diverse communities.” Besides needed advocacy work, these organizations provide networking opportunities, mentorship and resources for entrepreneurs within the 2SLGBTQ+ community, to address the need for representation and stronger inclusion in the business landscape in Canada. Initiatives like these are great supports for 2SLGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and professionals, yet the fact that they still need to exist at all underscores that Canada still has some ground to cover in terms of inclusion.
For more information on the topics discussed in this post, consider checking the following resources: