Lesbians who tech

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Amazon is undoubtedly a leader in collecting, storing and analysing customer data. Christon Mallett, marketing manager for Amazon Fire TV App Store is a member of the UK board of glamazon, an Amazon Affinity Group that promotes the diversity and visibility of LGBTQ employees. Mallett is also part of the Lesbians Who Tech community and at the end of last year,  helped to organise London's first Lesbians Who Tech Summit, hosted at the Amazon HQ. Mallett answered a few questions about diversity, representation and visibilty.

What are the particular challenges faced by lesbians and gender minorities in tech?

In my experience, the main challenge is usually a lack of visible role models and representation. This can often lead to people feeling isolated for being different. When I began my career after university, I felt a significant amount of pressure to hyper-feminize myself in order to be acceptable within a more traditional, corporate world. I felt I needed to hide my masculinity to be less threatening and less visibly queer to do well in my career.

Christon Mallett, marketing manager for Amazon Fire App Store and member of Lesbians Who Tech

 

How is glamazon helping to address these challenges?

At Amazon, the glamazon employee group enjoys total freedom over which initiatives we choose to run. We have the flexibility and acceptance to develop an environment which suits us as LGBT+ employees and drive the changes we see needed from our daily lived experiences.

We recently held a Transgender Day of Visibility event, during which we learnt about many small steps which can be implemented in the workplace to create a nurturing atmosphere.

We like to focus on both instantly actionable smaller initiatives as well as large impact events at scale. Glamazon has a big presence at Pride in London, we run social events and talks for employees, and work with external non-profit organisations such as Stonewall and OUTStanding.

With these initiatives, we not only hope to communicate to LGBT+ Amazon employees that they are welcome and to be celebrated, but also as one of the largest multi-national organisations in the world, I feel we have a duty to set a precedent for the wider corporate environment.

 

How has being part of Lesbians Who Tech and glamazon helped you personally or professionally?

For me, feeling accepted in the workplace has built a sense of confidence in my personal life. Areas where I may have previously felt ashamed or embarrassed, I now feel proud of. Whenever I feel insecure about my identity, I’m comforted by knowing that it’s cool to be who I am at Amazon.

 

What would you like to see more tech companies doing to support lesbians and gender minorities?

Developing an environment which recognises and appreciates our individual value and diversity as human beings would ripple into a culture of acceptance for all, and make it less strenuous for those who are LGBT+ to fully and comfortably live as their authentic selves.

I’m so grateful for having access to an affinity group like glamazon – and I would definitely like to see more big tech companies putting diversity support groups together like this. Not just for the LGBT+ community, but for women in tech, minority ethnic groups and people living with disability. It’s been proven time and again that a diverse workforce makes a business more successful, because they understand their customers better. So, to me, it’s a no-brainer.

 

How long have you been a part of Lesbians Who Tech?

The first time I came across Lesbians Who Tech was when living in the US and I attended the three-day Summit in San Francisco. It is still, to date, one of the most memorable weekends of my life. I was blown away by the amount of people there. I’d never seen so many LGBT+ and gender diverse people in one place outside of Pride events - and to know we were brought together by a common interest in tech was thrilling. I revelled in being amongst a group of people who had similar personal and professional experiences as me.

When I moved back to the UK for my new role at Amazon in May last year, I was very keen to be involved in the diversity initiatives. So, I joined glamazon, Amazon’s LGBT+ employee affinity group, within my first month.

To represent our diversity initiatives, myself and a colleague (also in glamazon) went to the Paris Lesbians Who Tech Summit. I was invigorated by the power and energy generated by the excitement in the room and quickly got to making connections. I enjoyed the atmosphere and attitudes of the LWT team so much, that I left with plans to support efforts towards building a London Lesbians Who Tech summit. From that moment it was very hands on - coordinating on behalf of both Lesbians Who Tech and glamazon.

I’m incredibly proud to have played a role in ensuring the first ever London summit was hosted at out new Amazon HQ in Shoreditch.

 

Why did you choose to get involved?

It’s rare in my professional life to come across people who are similar to me. I was highly active in queer communities and political groups at university, and I missed the sense of connected purpose and camaraderie. I strongly resonate with the cause that Lesbians Who Tech is representing and see it as an opportunity to not only bring members of our community together, but also generate awareness amongst the wider organisation and general public.

 

Was the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in London in November a success?

Very much so, we saw over 250 attendees! The biggest success for me was the amount of support we received from external partners. We received a lot of thoughtful involvement and support to ensure it all went ahead. For example, we had an issue with the staging and AV equipment last minute and the Amazon Web Services team stepped in to not only fully fund, but also organise everything – which was amazing.

One of the best things about the summit was the quality of people involved. Not only were we able to provide our attendees with a socially stimulating event but also access to unique professional insights at Amazon.

 

Are there other events that Lesbians Who Tech London will put on throughout the year?

Lesbians Who Tech have a strong calendar of monthly meet-ups, ranging from drinks, comedy nights and joint events with other LGBT+ organisations.

 

Will there be a London summit this year?

Can’t confirm details yet, but watch this space!