In 2011, after working for a big tech company, Naoufel Testaouni joined Montreal’s startup scene. It was a welcoming community, but he felt something was missing. He remembers attending tech events where he’d look around, hoping to meet another queer person. Instead, he says he felt like an outsider searching for a sense of belonging.

“I started to think, I can’t be the only one in this industry. There are so many of us, but we’re not in these spaces,” said Testaouni. “Tech is where people are building their wealth and careers. It’s the industry of the future. If we’re not part of this industry, we’re already lagging behind, but that impact is going to become even worse for future generations.”

“We realized there is something bigger out there.”Naoufel Testaouni, co-founder and CEO of QueerTech

In an effort to unite the queer community, Testaouni teamed up with Andy Saldaña to create a Meetup group. It began with 65 members and has grown to tens of thousands of people around the world. They also founded QueerTech, a Canadian organization with a mission to “queer the tech ecosystem by breaking down barriers, creating spaces and connecting communities to support and empower 2SLGBTQIA+ people to thrive”.

QueerTech CoFounders

“We realized there is something bigger out there and there are a lot more of us that want to come to tech but aren’t able to break into the industry,” said Testaouni. “We can help them do that.”

QueerTech recently published a research report called Queering the Tech Ecosystem: Barriers and Opportunities to explore the lived experiences of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals working in Canada’s tech sector. It looks at how the industry can change its culture to better attract and keep members of these communities and identifies barriers that must be removed to do so.

The study found that 89 per cent of non-queer respondents felt safe being themselves at work, while 70 per cent of queer respondents shared the same sentiment. Over 35 per cent reported experiencing discrimination during job interviews.

“We hear a lot of stories about people that have been misgendered during interviews,” said Testaouni. “This comes a lot from a lack of education rather than from malice. People aren’t intentionally trying to cause harm but they still cause harm.”

The study also found that less than 14 per cent of respondents believe that being part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is a benefit when seeking employment. Less than a quarter believe the atmosphere for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals is improving significantly, and less than 40 per cent feel they’re consistently treated with respect in the workplace.

“There’s still a lot of work to do.”Melissa Paige Kennedy

“Reading the report I thought, wow, it’s been 10 years since leaving my last corporate job and so little has changed,” said Melissa Paige Kennedy, whose last full-time role in tech ended about a year-and-a-half after she came out at work as a transgender woman. “I can see that everybody’s talking about it, but they’re not walking the talk.”

Kennedy had held front-line technology and management roles ranging from mid-level to executive positions for four decades, spanning across companies of various sizes, from small startups to billion dollar corporations.

“I felt like a lot of what was being said [in the QueerTech report] mirrored my experience,” said Kennedy. “It’s not as if everybody rejected me, but some did. They tended to be more in senior roles of the organization.”