It is an exciting time to be part of the Technology Community in Central Oregon, especially if you are LGBTQ. Many don’t realize that in the State of Oregon, 5% of the population is LGBTQ which would mean about 4,500 Bendites are LGBTQ! In the state of Oregon, we are also one of 16 states that score high in “policy tally” counts the number of positive laws and policies within the state that help drive equality for LGBT people. The major categories of laws covered by the policy tally include: Marriage and Relationship Recognition, Adoption and Parenting, Non-Discrimination, Safe Schools, Health and Safety, and Ability for Transgender People to Correct the Name and Gender Marker on Identity Documents.
When Executive Director of BendTech, Tim Riefke contacted me on helping with the launch of Out in Tech for Central Oregon. I was excited to be part of the event and the future of the community. As many of you know, I am super passionate about inclusivity in Bend (if you haven’t read our story on the Inclusive Innovation Initiative check it out). We know that more diverse teams bring new perspectives and drive greater innovations! As technology companies across the world focus on diversifying and becoming more inclusive, what a great time to join the industry. When speaking to Tim, he identifies as being Queer and why Out in Tech is so important for Bend. “At BendTech, we want to create an inclusive workplace that all people can feel welcome and find opportunities to connect and collaborate in the burgeoning tech/start-up community,” exclaimed Tim Riefke.
When I look at opportunities for our growing youth population in Bend and people who are under-employed looking for a career switch, I always talk about technology opportunities. I have been lucky to have a 20-year career in the industry that has taken me all over the world, solving amazing challenges to help communities, countries, companies and organizations. What is so exciting for LGBTQ Bendites is our technology industry is young. It is working extremely hard to do it right in the beginning, that is why Technology Association of Oregon in partnership with all the technology companies kicked off the Diversity Leadership Series and COCC SBDC’s free diversity advising the last Thursday of every month to help our companies understand the importance of inclusivity and why every voice matters in our companies.
Looking at our next generation of technology employees and leaders, I was excited to work with Constance and Michael who are interns at BendTech around this event. When asking them why tech and why now, here is what they said, “It’s great that Bend is informal, friendly and people are willing to go out of their way to help you and help you navigate the Bend Tech Scene. It’s a great time to be part of Tech,” replied Michael Tornatta and Constance Smith.
At the event tonight, we kicked off with of course, pizza and beer Bend style with friendly informal networking. We then jumped into a discussion with an amazing panel to discuss LGBTQ opportunities in Bend Tech scene: Julie Harrelson (Cascade Angels Fund Manager), James Nesbitt, PhD (Genetech/Alector Intellectual Property), Eric Norths (First Interstate Bank), Tim Riefke (BendTech), and Beth Hannon (Beth Hannon Marketing). It was exciting to hear all the positive stories and the community coming together to be more inclusive and want to better support the LGBTQ community in Oregon.
One of my favorite quotes of the evening came from Julie Harrelson, when a student asked does it get old to always be tokenized as an LGBTQ leader in the community to the panel and will this ever change? Julie highlighted, “I don’t look at being tokenized or asked to represent as always being a bad thing. It can be the community wanting to better understand your perspective and gives an opportunity to take a leadership role in education and change.”
I love that answer! So many times, I have spoken with fellow leaders in under-represented groups feeling tired, burnt-out and frustrated stating, “does it always have to be my job to teach everyone the perspective of my group.” But instead of getting frustrated, we should feel honored and look at it as a learning opportunity! At least people want your perspective from the community you represent and believe you are the best representative they know to provide it. Things could be worse and people could not care or ask for that perspective at all. It is all of our job for people coming from under-represented groups to be open to share our perspectives and be excited that people want to listen.
The event closed with some fun activities to get people connected, with Oz Smith meeting the most people and taking home our prized new Out in Tech painting. The unanimous decision for the group is to have our next meeting in September to support LGBTQ mentorship and sponsorship. So keep your eyes out and join us for our next event after your Summer vacations.