For the first time in Canada’s history, a tech conference held in Toronto will focus on bringing together LGBTQ+ youth who want increased representation in the tech world, starting with them.
Aptly called Venture Out, the one-day conference is an initiative of Start Proud — a Canadian nonprofit that facilitates the professional development of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Ally (LGBTQA+) students. It will host over 30 startups and gather more than 300 attendees to participate in workshops and listen to panels. Companies will also have the opportunity to recruit top talent at the conference's exhibitor fair.
The conference touches down at Toronto's MaRS Discovery District on Monday, March 27.
Venture Out’s co-founder and chair, Jeanette Stock, who identifies as gay and works for Pressly — a content aggregator for businesses — told Metroland Media this conference has been two years in the making. It started off with students approaching her while at Start Proud, asking what it was like to work at a startup as someone who identifies as LGBTQ.
Although she’s had nothing but positive experiences, she still thinks some companies have a long way to go, which goes beyond hiring people from “all walks of life to enhance their diversity.” Anecdotally, she said people just want to know they’re not the only one in the room who identifies at LGBTQ, because it can often feel that way.
“If you look at companies that publish diversity stats, many publish statistics for people of colour and women within their company; but it’s very, very hard to get data on LGBTQ people within the company,” Stock said.
“Part of that, I think, is because in some countries, there aren’t the same protections that exist for LGBTQ employees — so there’s hesitation to disclose. So, we don’t even know who’s in our industry. We don’t even have enough information to say, ‘yes, I’m the only person in this room,’ or ‘no, I’m not the only queer person in this room.’”
The conference aims to connect students with entrepreneurs and professionals in Toronto's technology sector, and provide the next generation of LGBTQA+ leaders with business education, mentorship and job opportunities. The fact that this is the first time a conference like this is happening is surprising to Stock, but it couldn’t come at a better time.
“I think we’ve launched it at a really interesting time in both Canadian and international politics, as people really want to talk about these issues and want to move beyond just diversity in the workplace,” she said.
“People want to talk about inclusion and how we can strengthen our companies where everyone has a seat at the table,” she said
To purchase tickets and for a full list of speakers, visit http://www.ventureout.ca/