Active Allyship: How startups can support LGBTQ+ employees

On June 19, Sensibill hosted a panel discussion on the topic of Active Allyship: How startups can support their LGBTQ+ employees. Moderated by Zed Kahale, one of Sensibill’s Strategic Account Managers, the panel included Julia Friesen, Product Manager at Knixwear; Yiorgos Boudoris, Manager of Talent Attraction at Jobber; and Frank Jessop, VP of Finance at Sensibill.   

Three key takeaways from the evening were:

1. No matter your size, inclusion isn’t a problem to solve, it’s an opportunity

You might expect that a larger company—with all their resources and processes—is able to tackle diversity and inclusion initiatives more effectively, but according to our panelists that isn’t always the case. Yiorgos noted, “Startups are good at saying ‘We don’t do everything perfectly, but how can we get better?’”

Creating a safe space for employees to be themselves benefits everyone. For smaller companies in particular, each individual person shapes company culture and contributes to the product—and having diverse voices at the table is key to reaching diverse users and customers. 

I don’t want you to feel bad for me, I want you to see that I bring something amazing to the table.

Julia Friesen, Product Manager at Knixwear

One benefit of a smaller company is that LGBTQ+ employees, or members of any marginalized group, have more power to create grassroots inclusivity initiatives. However, at a certain point, getting buy-in (and budget) from leadership is vital. For leadership, Frank said, “The job of any manager or leader is to remove barriers for employees, and if someone is not comfortable with bringing their authentic self to work, then that’s a true barrier.” 

2. Startups can achieve more together—it isn’t a competition 

In the startup world, companies are always competing for funding, customers, and talent. But inclusivity can’t be treated as a weapon in the war for talent, it has to be something we’re all striving for and achieving together as a community. As our COO, Izabella, often says, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Startups often have less resources than larger companies, which means that pulling together can go a long way. Yiorgos shared that he’d be marching at the Toronto Pride Parade under the banner of the Toronto Tech Collective, a group of people from across the startup community all coming together.

Everyone wants to work on their own initiatives, but we can do more together.

Yiorgos Boudoris, Manager of Talent Attraction at Jobber

3. Authenticity is everything

If you scroll through LinkedIn in June, you’re hard-pressed to find a company that hasn’t changed their logo for Pride Month—a phenomenon that Julia referred to as “rainbow-ification”. But how much of an impact does changing your logo have? Does it truly signal a commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion? 

When talking about companies’ approaches to allyship, there was one word that came up again and again throughout the night: Authenticity. And it’s a difficult concept to nail—even our panelists couldn’t entirely agree on the definition—but there seemed to be a consensus that an authentic approach to allyship meant constantly learning and engaging. And, Yiorgos mentioned, if a rainbow logo is what it takes to spark those conversations, then it’s a positive.  

To me, an ally is someone who supports the queer community even when there isn’t anyone queer around.

Frank Jessop, VP of Finance at Sensibill

As June comes to a close, it’s more important than ever to remember that allyship is an active state. Consistent allyship means extending the ethos of Pride Month beyond June. Changing your logo to a rainbow for a month isn’t enough, but it’s a start. From there, allyship has to be active, authentic, and ongoing.