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June 2022

Queering Canada’s tech ecosystem: Community-based research on lived experiences

At a glance
The team

Undergraduate psychology students Samuel Villeneuve (Université de Montréal) and Katerine Lehmann (Concordia University) and their respective supervisors, Dr..Robert Paul-Juster and Dr..Ketra Schmitt in partnership with QueerTech.

The challenge

Queer people in the tech industry are among the most vulnerable and discriminated against which results in high turnover in the field, leading to underrepresentation of queer communities in the tech industry.

The solution

By collecting quantitative and qualitative data on the lived experiences of both employers and employees working in the Canadian tech industry, the team is seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges LGBTQIA2S+ tech professionals face and understand what tools can be implemented to decrease these challenges.

The outcome

Once the initial data collection phase of their research is complete, the team will put together a report for QueerTech that will be shared widely within the industry, in the hopes that some of the challenges queer professionals face will be addressed; it will provide potential pathways to more inclusive and intersectional policies and initiatives.

Originally created as a meetup group for LGBTQ tech professionals, QueerTech is now a national organization that is seeking to gain an understanding of the lived experiences of queer folk in tech, thanks to research funded by Mitacs

The technology revolution has had a monumental impact on the lives of Canadians and people around the world. From increased access to information, better means of communication, and the deployment of innovative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges, the effects and advantages of technology cannot be ignored.

Yet, it is no secret that many of the companies creating and driving these technologies have a serious diversity problem. A significant body of research suggests a male-dominated culture in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields results in discrimination in hiring or on the job itself. When it comes to the queer community, despite the positive social role of technology on LGBTQIA2S+ communities, there are barriers to LGBTQIA2S+ people gaining a foothold in the labour market. Once hired, tech companies often struggle to retain queer talent.

Mind the gap

Enter Samuel Villeneuve from the Université de Montréal and Katerine Lehmann of Concordia University. In partnership with QueerTech, a not-for-profit organization that aims to break down barriers to entry and provide equal opportunities for people to participate and contribute to the tech industry, these two young researchers are working to collect data and gain understanding about the lived experiences of LGBTQIA2S+ professionals working in the Canadian tech industry and have developed an informed, fact-based industry report to help ensure that the tech sector is a safe and secure place for queer folk.

“It’s not only about the hiring process,” says Villeneuve. “We are looking at the process all the way along, from the beginning – the job description, to getting a job, right up to people who have worked 20 years in tech.”

The data collection stage is currently ongoing, with both researchers hoping to get as diverse a perspective as possible, ensuring that Indigenous perspectives, BIPOC community perspectives, and perspectives of folk from the trans and non-gender conforming communities are heard as well. 

Fostering industry change

“What is really interesting about this work with QueerTech is that it is really fact-based,” says Visou Ady, a Mitacs Business Development Specialist. “Lived experience involves a qualitative aspect and this research mixing both qualitative experience and quantitative data adds a factual basis to that lived experience. This type of data is helpful in the hands of both the researcher and the tech community and provides a vision of how collaboration can improve in the tech community.” 

The overall goal of the team is for this project to not only have a meaningful impact on LGBTQIA2S+ professionals working in tech, but also on the tech companies themselves, encouraging them to see the benefits of having a diverse workforce. 

“Our report is going to be something for organizations to review that is constructed and communicated in a way that is relevant for them,” says Lehmann. “Sometimes it can be challenging to extract the most relevant information from 40 pages of literature review on a topic, so our report can help guide organizations that are trying to build a more inclusive place for members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.”

The report will paint a picture of the challenges that queer folk face throughout their career development and offer observations related to possible policies and initiatives to build a substantive and inclusive work climate.

The Mitacs advantage 

Mitacs provided funding to the researchers through its Accelerate program – funding which has enabled them to focus on the project despite other responsibilities which, for Villeneuve at least, include finishing undergraduate studies.

“What Mitacs has enabled us to do is just amazing. The funding we received really helped us move the project forward and put in more hours. This was a great opportunity for us, especially as undergraduate students,” said Villeneuve. 

“The funding from Mitacs really helps us to focus on the research while also studying and working,” added Lehmann, who notes that it allowed them to attend conferences they would not otherwise have had access to.

Queering the tech ecosystem  

In addition to its work with this report, QueerTech has implemented many education, awareness, and networking initiatives for queer folk in the tech space. This includes a series of initiatives to improve sensitivity and awareness at Canadian tech companies to encourage them and empower them to update their work culture to better accommodate the unique experience of LGBTQIA2S+ employees. 

Villeneuve and Lehmann have attended networking events where they have presented the research and found a motivated and passionate audience ready to help blaze a new trail for queer folk in Canada’s tech industry and beyond.

Click here to learn more about QueerTech.

If you’re part of the Canadian tech industry and would like to fill out the survey, click on this link: https://umontrealpst.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5B8UjZCoyFcAZFA


Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca.