In recent years, we have seen the Philippine LGBT+ community take their place in mainstream conversations. While this is a feat for everyone to take pride in, it also highlights the need for ongoing dialogue on representation and diversity, the demand for legislation to address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, and the imperative for institutions and industries to take more decisive action for the community.
Startup Pinay, a QBO Innovation Hub program whose core mission is to push for a more inclusive and diverse local tech and startup community by continually creating opportunities through funding, mentorship, and exposure, recently spoke to leaders across different industries who are also making waves in the local LGBT+ community. Evan Tan of Taxumo and the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Amrei Dizon of Vitalstrats Creative Solutions and the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and Darwin Mariano of Ticket2Me shared their insights on navigating and paving the way for the Philippine LGBT+ community.
Industry gaps and opportunities for organizations
“A lot of discussions are centered around anecdotes, and while these experiences are valid, showing patterns of prejudice and discrimination presents a very compelling case for why we need policies and measures to address SOGIE diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Tan. In 2018, he spearheaded a study for the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, surveying 100 companies employing about 270,000 people. The study found that none of these Filipino companies had SOGIE anti-discrimination policies in the workplace, and none of them planned to implement change in the next five years to address this. While this may seem like disheartening statistics, there was finally convincing information that there is a widespread problem that business owners and executives didn’t want to talk about.
For Dizon, this is a continuous but crucial cycle. There is still a lot of work to be done in the country. It is important to educate oneself and others. It is crucial that brands are informed on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and are held accountable on their efforts and actions regarding these. There is also a need to dismantle misconceptions regarding the community and DEI, and how having a better understanding of it leads to development.
“We must continue to have conversations about these issues, and build solid partnerships with allies and supporters,” stated Dizon.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion as foundation for further action
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are now fundamental for organizations. However, there is also a need to go beyond it.
“If there is one thing that everyone needs to realize, it is that by creating an environment that ensures diversity and inclusion, we similarly ensure that our future is strong and resilient,” said Tan. The tech industry, for one, has been notorious for creating technology that only reinforces the biases of their creators. Algorithms are being built around singular and tone-deaf perspectives. “What we amplify and solve is made from what we measure, and what we measure is what we pay attention to.”
“When you do not see people like you, it sends a very clear message that you are invisible, or you don’t count, or no one like you becomes a successful startup business leader,” said Dizon. There should be aspirational role models within the community to inspire younger people to embrace their true, unique selves – and use their uniqueness to amplify their contributions to creativity and innovation.
While the local LGBT+ community continues to grow, there is also a need to improve efforts on empowering them and giving them space in the room.
“Reach out to as many groups as possible, support and promote LGBT+ role models and ally influencers,” said Dizon, who urges that their stories need to be told, and that the LGBT+ community needs more readily available resource people, and sources of inspiration. “Do not stop educating different groups and sectors about the ROI of DEI because it benefits not just the community, but also contributes to economic development.”
There must be a continuous effort that must go beyond just one focal month in a year. It is a tough conversation to have, but it is also pivotal.
“As a tech and startup founder, it is crucial to keep engaging in these conversations with your teams, with your peers,” said Mariano. “Hopefully it allows us to recognize the biases and baseless assumptions we all have about people and act on them.”
To this day, there are still existing concerns and untapped opportunities specific to the LGBT+ community. The tech and startup industries are in a unique position to address these.
“There is a Scientific American article that discusses how implicit bias training does little to create permanent, long-term reductions of implicit bias scores or, more importantly, sustained and meaningful changes in behavior,” shared Tan. “I think more rigorous research needs to be done in this aspect, and perhaps both the tech and startup industries are in a position to help address this.”
“I think there is a demand in capturing LGBT+ related data in the Philippines,” said Dizon, who lists LGBT+ stats, purchasing power, brand campaign results, direct contributions to economic development and nation building, as just the tip of the iceberg. “I also think there is an opportunity to help connect and promote the network of LGBT+ businesses and talents to consumers and potential partners.”
Advice for young professionals
For young LGBT+ professionals looking to take their first steps into the tech/startup industries, the shared advice is not to be afraid to make space for yourself.
“Find your community, and assert your space. Doing the latter would be easier with the former,” said Tan.
“Do not be afraid to embrace your uniqueness, it’s your greatest power,” said Dizon. She urges to start with one’s passion, and use it to solve other people’s problems. She shifts focus back to DEI, and the importance of embracing diversity in the workspace. “Let us work together towards visibility and in creating more LGBT+ role models in business.”
Fear is a waste of time and energy. “Being a member of the LGBT+ community requires courage, and the same goes for working for founding startups,” said Mariano.