If there was one experience that irked Naoufel Testaouni, it may have been a walk through the office of a popular company. The company claimed in its hiring practices to support LGBTQ+ and other disadvantaged communities. But all Testaouni saw was a bunch of white dudes, beers cans strewn about and posters of hockey players on the wall.
Testaouni, a 33-year-old sales lead at a Montreal tech startup called Local Logic, has created what should be the first tech meetup in Montreal dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, called Queer Tech MTL. Thus far over 80 people have joined the group. The first event comes on October 20.
Testaouni left his home country of Morocco when he was 23 to come to New York City, Turkey and ultimately Canada. Back home it’s (basically) against the law to be gay.
“It’s still illegal to be open so I’m only out to friends and family. It’s still something you can’t talk about,” he said.
And so one would expect such a left-leaning, gay-friendly city like Montreal would reflect its sterling reputation in hiring practices and a general welcoming environment to the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly that’s not the case, according to Testaouni.
What he sees at Montreal tech events is a space where perhaps others don’t always feel welcomed.
“No one says ‘don’t come to our event,’ and there’s no discrimination happening, but because it’s a very heavily-white, male, straight dominated space, they’re just not attracting those other communities. I think we have a bit of work to do with these minority communities, to try to talk about diversity,” Testaouni told MTLinTECH.
“A lot of times going into the workplace, people are not always thinking that diversity exists. People don’t know who’s LGBTQ+ because maybe those people haven’t came out in the office. Even if a bunch of guys are just talking about girls it can feel very uncomfortable for those people. It’s a very heterosexual society in general and the idea of Queer Tech MTL is to help people be a little more sensitive to what’s around them.”
Testaouni felt he needed to do something. He made an initial call on Facebook, commenting that it took too long for someone to create a group like Queer Tech MTL. Right now it looks like it will just serve as a monthly meetup.
Moreover, Testaouni doesn’t really know in what direction the group will head. It could serve as a place where companies can come to express their interest in hiring people from the LGBTQ+ community, or the organization might be able to lead workshops aimed at creating more diverse conditions in the workplace.
In Montreal, there seems to be positive momentum growing. In August, Les Affaires reporter Matheiu Charest wrote a feature story about the “LGBT Connection,” featuring Lightspeed’s successful (and gay) CEO, Dax Dasilva. Tim Cook, Peter Thiel and the list goes on.
“It was great to see something, finally, like that,” Testaouni said.
Charest told MTLinTECH that he finds Queer Tech MTL an interesting proposition.
“I’m convinced that the vast majority of tech people are open-minded, but sometimes there’s still a stigma associated with being LGBT, a woman or of a different origin,” said Charest. “Group, blogs and meetups like URelles at Metro, Ladies Learning Code or Queer Tech MTL all do something incredible: they allow people to be who they are. To be the majority for once. Homophobia, biphobia, etc. are often internalized and I think these groups are a great way to show that you can achieve what you want, whoever you are.”
But if all-knowing aliens like those in the Simpsons were observing us from space they might wonder why we come into our office spaces wired with pre-conceived notions about sexuality, seemingly unaware of those around them.
One’s reality is certainly not the reality of another.
Of course many don’t always mean to offend. They’ve simply been raised in their own environment. But for Testaouni, all it takes is an effort on behalf of people and office managers to teach their employees how to act in a more sensitive manner. Or even to make an office seem more inclusive, whether it’s a simple poster encouraging people that acting professional also means accepting that different groups of people exist.
“I think we’re attracted to certain groups of people and we don’t even think about it. It’s just how we grow up,” said Testaouni. “So I think it takes being aware and it takes an effort to adjust. I hope a lot of people are open to that. The point is to get people to care.”
And he’s already received some nice feedback from different people. Several straight friends are asking Testaouni how they can be an ally and how they can create better conditions in their own workplace. There are simple things we can do, he said, like what kinds of conversations are happening at lunch. If people are aware of who’s sitting at that table, they can be a little more sensitive and try to make others comfortable, he said.
Perhaps it starts with coming out the first event, which Testaouni is hoping to confirm soon. It’s not only for those in the LGBTQ+ community either: everyone is invited.