Learning from the LGBT+ community

Just a few weeks after Smashingconf, I attended Queer Design Club’s first annual summit. Since its founding in 2019, the organization has fostered a growing Slack community, aiming to broaden the conversation around diversity beyond the limited silos of race and gender. With the summit, they brought that community (virtually) together while elevating traditionally underrepresented voices from the design industry. With an eye to last year’s Queer Design Count, speakers looked at both the statistics and their own personal experiences to discuss how we can all help move the design industry forward.

Quote, "Would love to see more LGBTQ+ leadership that is out and open. Not seeing this around me professionally is why I keep it very close to heart in the workplace." and statistics, "78% offer alternate work arrangements", "38% have queer events", "10% offer basic trans health benefits", "33% of respondants do not feel secure in their jobs"
Statistics on workplace support from the 2021 Queer Design Count

Pay Equity & Cultural Acceptance

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Annika Izora, Sarah Piper Goldberg, and Steven Wakabayashi brought their perspectives to this difficult topic. Queer designers often earn less than their straight peers—though not equally. Cisgender gay men, the Queer Design Count found, had higher pay and job stability than other queer identities. How can we all work towards equitable workplaces? One place to start with is the conversation around salary.

A pie chart showing 7% freelance in 2019 and 18% freelance in 2021Sarah’s first recommendation on this topic was to normalize talking with co-workers about salary, especially if you’re in a place of privilege at your company! She also suggested including salary ranges when writing up job descriptions. This small addition can show your company values transparency, as well as applicants’ time, and can also help newcomers to the design industry navigate a confusing job market. If these conversations are difficult to have with peers or superiors, then you might consider if the place you’re at is really right for you.

Looking at the report, 18% of respondents work freelance (almost twice as many as reported in this industry-wide survey). Pricing your own work and choosing your own clients can help to sidestep questions of salary disparity within a company, while also getting your foot in the door if you decide to transition into a full-time role. And hey, you’re already starting from a point of strength in any salary negotiation!

Identity & Income for LGBTQ+ Designers

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Continuing the theme of knowing, and making sure your workplace knows, your own value, Leslie Xia, Ritesh Gupta, and Raquel Breternitz shared some tactics for seeking fair compensation. What are some ways you can build a safety net for yourself when entering into a salary negotiation?

First, make sure you have all the needed background information. What’s the promotion structure at your job? What are the industry metrics for others in similar roles? Next, interview around! Really! Even if you don’t intend to leave your job, Raquel stated, it’s not a bad thing to make interviewing a habit. Do a few each quarter, and you’ll be on top of the trends for your positions and better prepared to negotiate your next raise.

Of course, most of that is easier said than done. For minorities in the workplace, one of the strongest things to do is to find advocates within the organization who can help fight for fair treatment and compensation. A particular call-out for those with disabilities was askjan.org, a great resource for workplace accommodation laws in the US.

Queering the Workplace

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John Voss, Veronica Corzo Duchardt, and Victor Ng next spoke on how to find and foster queer workplaces. With 3 years of hindsight at Stitch Fix, John was particularly impressed with how the team’s culture and inclusiveness shone through their interview process. So what can you look for on the hunt for your next opportunity?

  1. What is the product? You can’t always work for a B Corp or non-profit, but will your work at least not actively contribute to harmful systems?
  2. Does the company have a values page? Linear’s method page makes public what at many other places is internal, and may help job-seekers get a handle on company direction.
  3. How willing is an interviewer to answer difficult questions about diversity and employee support in the workplace?
  4. What is the interviewer’s reaction to your interest in all of this? Are they dismissive, weary of trying to implement change, or are they engaged and energized to have the conversation?

Designers within a company also have the responsibility of extending corporate values of inclusivity to colleagues, clients, and applicants alike. Actively helping to align intent and impact ensures values aren’t just talking points, but embedded in every aspect of the company.

Trans Perspectives in Design

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June is over and companies have removed the rainbows from their social media logos. Looking beyond brand presentation, Sloan Leo, Nat Buckley, and Chan Williams, discussed what companies can really do to provide a safe, welcoming environment for trans designers. An accommodating company culture is great, but is it actually backed up by equity and structural care? What are the benefits packages? Do insurance options cover gender-affirming care? These are just a few of the additional considerations for trans designers, on top of everything in the job description itself.

The increase in remote work has provided some positives for trans designers, whether by letting them feel more comfortable experimenting with self-presentation over video or just including pronouns in their Zoom username.

Starting out in your design career, though, you may not have the luxury of choice. Sometimes, you just have to put your head down and work to put food on the table. In that case, try to decide which parts of you are important and can safely be brought to work. And while it is extra effort on top of that emotional labor, working a side gig or passion project could also bring joy and may even end up opening the door to a properly fulfilling role!

Now back to work!

With Smashingconf and the Queer Design Summit both passed, this summer of conferences was a welcome mix of in-person and virtual events, and a great break from the everyday. It’s always good to get perspectives outside of your own design bubble, whether that’s from developers or the wider LGBT+ community.


Continue the conversation.

Lab Zero is a San Francisco-based product team helping startups and Fortune 100 companies build flexible, modern, and secure solutions.