Guest Opinion: Breaking barriers: Advocating for diversity in tech

  • by Paul Pastor
  • Wednesday May 31, 2023
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Paul Pastor. Photo: Courtesy Quickplay
Paul Pastor. Photo: Courtesy Quickplay

I recall interviewing for my first role at The Walt Disney Co. almost 17 years ago. I had 14 interviews. I went home and said to my partner at the time, "I think I was interviewed by 12 gay guys!"

He was floored, as was I. But immediately it spoke to the culture and openness of the team at Disney and, just as importantly, the barrier-busting leadership of the person who would become my boss, friend, and mentor, Rich Ross.

Disney, like many in the media and entertainment industry, valued its LGBTQ+ employees, creators, and storytellers. Our representation therein was felt throughout.

After over 15 years in media, I've moved into the tech sector. With so much of the culture of tech built by companies coming out of the Bay Area, the tech industry was equally supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. We even boast a few of the top executives leading some of the world's business companies, including Tim Cook at Apple.

But somehow, the support and the representation at the highest levels of the industry didn't seem to translate into the on-the-ground community at large. Anecdotally, at industry conference events like the Consumer Electronics Show and the National Association of Broadcasters Show, I found that 90% of the attendees were male and 99% of them were straight.

Where was the diversity and inclusiveness that is so strongly advocated?

As someone who has benefited from community and mentorship afforded through representation, I felt there was more that I could do — and more that we, Quickplay, could do.

Taking it upon ourselves to create change

Since 1967, CES has been one of the most significant tech events in the world. The world's biggest names in the game come together, showcasing breakthrough technologies and innovations — everything from flying cars to mixologist robots who can whip up a cocktail in seconds.

The Consumer Technology Association, the organization behind CES, has made strides toward creating a more diverse environment in terms of gender and ethnicity by showcasing programs and conversations led by women and people of color, highlighting a variety of diversity and inclusion, or D&I, networking events, and more. But, until now, it didn't squarely focus on LGBTQ+ representation.

When we pitched the idea of adding a co-sponsored gathering at the 2023 event, they immediately said: "Let's do this!"

Together, we used our networks to spread the word about the first-ever LGBTQ+ Ally-dedicated CES gathering. We transformed a conference room into a haven, a place where 100 people swapped stories, shared experiences, and built connections. Better yet, we had many allies show up to support, and companies and people started to commit resources to next year.

Importance of representation and doing the right thing

Have you ever walked into a room with senior leadership, looked around, and thought, "I really should have watched football last night?"

I have on more than one occasion. Football often becomes the default social currency in a boardroom and or senior leadership offsite. I don't harbor any ill will toward football, or any sport for that matter, and there are plenty of women and LGBTQ+ individuals who love the sport.

But, it can say something about an organization and its lack of diversity if it is the only form of connectivity.

A room that reflects the diversity of the population and target consumers will likely have conversations on more subjects, will provide for more diverse viewpoints on those subjects, and most importantly, will help drive creative thinking on strategies and consumer opportunities.

That's why representation matters in all rooms, including conference rooms.

It's also why we wanted to create a space within tech conferences to encourage inclusivity and more diverse conversations.

After CES, Quickplay hosted another LGBTQ+ Ally event at the NAB show. Google Cloud joined us as co-hosts for this event. We had well over 100 attendees, including allies that were there to showcase their support.

One of the moments that sticks out is what Anil Jain, the global managing director at Google Cloud, said at our event: "Quickplay is a company that shares the values of how we like to operate and that's the type of company we want to do business with."

Does it get any better than one of the world's largest companies, and one of our biggest partners, standing up to say they like to do business with you simply because we were ourselves?

We plan to expand on our efforts and take our Tech and Entertainment Assembly for LGBTQ+ to more events this fall and to take our efforts beyond just building community. We want to show the next generation that it's possible to be out and successful in tech.

I am fortunate to have colleagues at Quickplay that are so supportive of our efforts. I hope that we can serve as an example of the impact that a tech startup can have on both who and what the tech industry looks like in the future.

Paul Pastor, a three-time founder and pioneer in Direct-To-Consumer services, is the co-founder and chief business officer of Quickplay a cloud-native, OTT platform and services company. He is also the co-founder of Struum, an SVOD aggregation platform backed by Michael Eisner's Tornante Ventures, and Unite Broadcast Ventures, a branded SaaS OTT platform to support European market streaming joint ventures.

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