Why LGBTQ+ representation matters on IDAHOBIT and beyond
- Posted on May 15, 2023
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
May 17 marks International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, or IDAHOBIT. The annual commemoration is observed throughout the world to bring attention to discrimination, violence and human rights violations suffered by the LGBTQ+ population, and to amplify a message of acceptance. In honor of IDAHOBIT, Toronto-based employee Kia Babashahi Ashtiani shares why LGBTQ+ representation is vital for creating a culture of belonging in the IT industry.
Having taught at higher education institutions in Canada as well as having once been a student in the departments of computer science and mathematics, I have heard my share of homophobic comments and stereotypes aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. These hurtful statements targeted not only gay men but also young girls and women based on their gender and sexual identity. Comments such as “gay people are bad at math” or “girl coding” are unfortunately not rare to hear in the STEM field.
The media has not been helpful in putting a stop to these stereotypes. Growing up, I had few, if any, memories of movies and cartoons featuring a queer CEO, mathematician, hacker, coder or any successful, smart, or even geeky queer person in the STEM or political industries. These roles were mostly assigned to straight, cis-gendered men. On the other hand, I have numerous memories of gay and trans people being fashion icons. There is nothing wrong with being a fashion icon or a stylist. In fact, it is something to be proud of. The problem is showing only one side of the coin, hence creating stereotypes, just because it gets more views or matches preconceived notions about the kinds of careers that queer people pursue.
These stereotypes proliferate throughout media even today. I can clearly remember browsing through Instagram one time when I came across a video by a content creator – who, by the way, was gay himself – on how gay people are bad at math! As a gay mathematician and data scientist who has a master’s degree in game theory, I could not help but feel outraged by this comment. The creator had probably not come across names like Alan Turing, Olga Tsuberbiller or Christopher Strachey. Unfortunately, he genuinely believed in what he was preaching, and so did many other young folks by agreeing with him in the comment section.
I believe this is exactly why we need more representation to show the world that there is no shortage of successful queer professionals in the IT industry. Hence, I cannot express how happy, represented and proud I felt when I see Avanade leadership – people like senior directors Negar Farjadnia and Eric Leduc in Canada – being out of the closet and doing astonishing things at their work pushing the borders of science and technology. I’ve also found an especially robust queer community through Prism, our LGBTQ+ employee network, which spotlights leaders who are openly out to encourage other LGBTQ+ employees to feel comfortable being visible in the workplace.
By seeing other queer folks like me in the industry – and knowing you can be out and advance to a senior director position at Avanade – I believe that discrimination in the workplace due to your gender or sexual identity is slowly changing.
Coming out is always a very difficult and personal choice and requires certain degrees of privilege. Yet, I strongly believe a workspace should be safe enough so that anyone who wants to come out can feel comfortable doing so. Avanade has done a great job in this regard. As we celebrate IDAHOBIT this year, I hope there will come a day when any queer person in the world, in any industry, will feel safe to come out and be their true selves. I believe one of the first steps is to have more representation on the top levels of our companies and universities.
But by creating a safe space, having more representation and speaking up, we can not only enhance the feeling of belonging within Avanade and the tech industry for our current employees, but also help acquire new talents who are scared of entering the industry because of their gender or sexuality. Together, we can create a future where stereotypes don’t hold anyone back from reaching their full potential.