Top Tips from the TransTech Summit

A tech conference centered around trans and nonbinary designers, technologists, and creators? With free tickets?? Of course I’m attending! So this March, my colleague Nico and I settled in for a mix of inspirational and practical talks on the fusion of design, technology, inclusivity, and diversity.

Held virtually since 2020, the TransTech Summit features some of the most marginalized members of the LGBT+ community working in and adjacent to the tech industry. While tech conferences are plentiful year-round (and I am looking forward to Figma’s Config in June!), TransTech’s mission is vital for reflection and action from those within the industry.

Beyond the topic of gender diversity, speakers explored principles of neurodivergent-inclusive design, communication styles, leadership traits, and fitting roles for trans & non-binary people. Let’s run through some of the most illuminating takeaways from the summit and see how we can build towards a more inclusive and equitable future for everyone!

Conference vibes ✨

With an attendance of around 500, the chat was respectful and very engaged during the talks I caught. No harassment or shameless self-promotion spotted here! Instead, there was healthy discourse among participants that I found easy to jump into. All speakers left time for Q&A, while some with looser presentations even interacted with the chat during their talks!

Industry-wide difficulties for queer people in tech

From many speakers, we heard how difficult it is for trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people to navigate the tech industry—that is, if they’re even able to get in! Nearly 1 in 5 have simply avoided looking for work in the industry due to the (sadly well-founded) fear of being treated unfairly. Not helping to allay that fear is a glaring lack of representation and visibility, especially among leadership.

Designer Alix Jackson stated, "In regards to hiring, the way systems are designed might not prevent inclusive hiring, but it can certainly make the hiring process really uncomfortable for trans applicants.” This could mean unintentionally deadnaming a potential hire (e.g. if an application explicitly asks for their legal name) or just the discomfort of othering and unnecessary demographic questions.

And such difficulties are only compounded when disability intersects with LGBT+ status. As presenters Al O and J Mase III noted, virtual events are not only about safety in the ongoing pandemic, but critical for those who’ve never been able to attend in-person events. Being immunocompromised or disabled can shut brilliant people out of the tech world if we don’t accommodate them. With early-pandemic virtual resources drying up, keeping TransTech online has been vital to those members of our community.

Collecting SOGIE the right way

In Gender Inclusive Data: Purpose & Practice, Beatrice Fadrigon brought us up to speed on best practices for collecting SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, & Expression) data. Filling out ‘simple’ demographic data can seem benign for many people. But for those who don’t fit neatly into a binary system, questions like sex: [male | female] can be a clear sign that a company has not thought about the diversity of people it claims to serve. For many queer people, a lack of consideration in inputs induces fatigue or even outright lying just to get through a required process. How can we as designers alleviate this burden the next time we’re asked to design an onboarding flow or sign-up form?

responses from user interviews showing intentional deceit, avoidance moves, and distorting moves

First, have a conversation with your team as to why you are collecting the data in the first place. What is the intention and expected use of your users' data? You might find that people aren’t even sure why certain questions are being asked! On the other hand, there is sometimes data that you are legally required to collect, which cannot account for gender diversity. In that case, a sympathetic and clear notice disclosing the requirement is about as much as you can do.

a map of connections between SOGIE data and industry, academic, and federal spaces, and uses of that data within those spaces

Often, though, all that is easier said than done. How do you get stakeholder or product owner buy-in when proposing such a change to the status quo? After all, nobody’s complaining, so why change anything? Well, while some people might be forced or fatigued into compliance, research shows that baking diversity into your product increases your total addressable market (TAM) and will drive revenue. Not only that, but living those values in the work environment also results in more collaborative, higher-performing teams.

“Teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively.”
2019, Harvard Business Review

A Playbook to be Proud of: Implementing Inclusivity

In order to guide best practices like this and others, Beatrice put together a playbook to “…equip you with knowledge on creating inclusive user account experiences for the… LGBTQ+ community.” Within, they address:

  • Maintaining an easy, reliable reference of compiled research across disciplines

  • Ensuring accurate data collection from marginalized groups for data-driven products

  • Reducing the burden on marginalized groups by educating product teams

  • How industry norms exacerbate the experience of not belonging for many LGBT+ users

Assuming good faith from your employer, the playbook also includes resources such as pitch letters and slide decks to help advocate for these changes in your product or service and get professional buy-in.

Building Technology for Neurodiverse Consumers

There is a diversity of humans in this world; as such, every human’s brain is unique—not just the 20% classified as neurodiverse. So why did a recent survey of managers reveal the following?

“Half of our respondents… would be uncomfortable employing someone with one or more neurodivergent condition.”
The Institute of Leadership & Management, Workplace Neurodiversity: The Power of Difference Report 2 - Perceptions about Neurodivergents (requires a free account)

That’s unacceptable—but sadly understandable. Just as we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of neurodiversity, so too do we all have biases. Even if it’s easy to be aware of that, it’s hard to change. The best way to improve? Surround yourself with a diversity of people, and catch yourself falling into old patterns as early as possible. As speaker Ruby Rose stated, “Build for everyone, build with everyone”

She then delved into particular aspects of accessibility that apply to neurodivergent peoples’ experience of digital products, including:

  • Sensory sensitivity
    Avoid excessive use of color, sound, or distracting movements—or allow customisation of those features

  • Clear communication
    Some neurodiverse people find it difficult to interpret nuance or idioms (not to mention non-native speakers)

  • Predictable interfaces
    It can be difficult to balance this one against UX improvements, but when there’s a familiar interface pattern, sticking with that pattern can be helpful to neurodivergent people

  • High-pressure interactions
    Asking a user for immediate action can be incredibly stressful, and is likely a dark pattern. Avoid wherever possible.

  • Customizable interactions
    With all of these, offering a level of customization can be a helpful compromise (e.g. offering a switch to turn off dynamic loading of results as filters are applied)

red graphic stating “yes” to: "inclusive language, gender neutrality, plain language, sentence case text, translation and localization” and stating “less” to “deep industry jargon, idioms and slang, emoji overload, alternating cases, and screaming in all caps”

Advocating for neurodiverse-inclusive design decisions like these requires prioritizing conflicting needs and demonstrating their value in a profit-driven world. Just saying, “Here are the best practices!” is a very hard sell. As designers, we need to understand the language of profit to align our efforts with business objectives. And the way to start showing the value of these improvements is by collecting metrics on the diversity of your user base. Ultimately, by embracing neurodiversity and championing inclusivity in our design processes, we not only create more accessible products but also foster a more equitable and empathetic society for all.

Mapping Diversity: A workshop on DEI Audits and Inclusion Processes

Despite recent budget cuts, a reduction in focus groups, and scattered anti-DEI laws, an organizational focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion remains critical. In this workshop, Geronda Wollack-Spiller gave us the tools to guide conversations away from performative DEI efforts and towards genuine inclusivity—especially important considering the increasing integration of AI into everyday tools.

First, though… what actually is the difference between diversity, equity, and inclusion?

  • Diversity
    All the ways that people are different, both innately (race, gender, sexual orientation) and acquired (marital status, religion, education)

  • Equity
    The effort to address systemic imbalances and tailor solutions to individual needs

  • Inclusion
    The creation of spaces that embrace diversity and prevent exclusion

We then learned about the ISO 30415:2021 global standard for conducting DEI audits. This systematic approach assesses current status and identifies areas for improvement. As part of the standard, maturity levels are categorized as below:

  1. Initial
    Unpredictable processes, uncontrolled and reactive

  2. Managed
    Process characterized by projects that are often reactive

  3. Defined
    Process is proactive

  4. Quantitatively managed
    Process is measured and controlled

  5. Optimizing
    Focus on process improvement

a slide from the presentor with a lightbulb as the focal point and text stating that mapping initiatives involves creating a visual representation or documentation of the various strategies, policies, and actions your organisation plans to take to promote DEI.With an audit, organizations can pinpoint weaknesses and develop strategies to proactively enhance DEI in various areas. This includes hiring and performance reviews, product marketing, and supply chain management. A comprehensive approach like this ensures that DEI initiatives are effective and sustainable in the long run.

With the basic concepts down and a DEI audit completed, companies can begin mapping concepts to actions. Some actions to take for each aspect include:

  • Diversity
    Evaluating recruiting and hiring practices, supporting employee resource groups and mentorship programs

  • Equity
    Pay equity audits, equitable promotion practices, accommodations for employees with disabilities

  • Inclusion
    Fostering open communication and inclusive leadership, providing unconscious bias training

Geronda stressed the need to recognize intersectionality, avoid superficial mapping, and ensure stakeholder involvement as part of this process. Skipping any of these aspects can contribute to biased policies that overlook systemic issues. But for companies that take the time to really dig into each, the reward is not only a more equitable and welcoming environment for all—but increased profitability!

Product Management for Trans and Non-binary People

Eve Hwang kicked off this talk by providing a really helpful comparison of the differences between project managers and product managers.

  • A project manager is in charge of building a discrete object, such as a skyscraper, with…
    • …a high degree of certainty

    • …a high change cost

    • …many dependencies
  • While a product manager prioritizes investments in the workstream of a digital product…
    • …with lots of ambiguity

    • …with a relatively low change cost (e.g. ditching 2 weeks of software work isn’t really that bad)

    • …where planning before building is like doing the work twice

With this in mind, Eve then dove into the unique advantages of trans and nonbinary people which naturally lend themselves to product management roles. Many of us have had to shed masks or assumed identities and grapple with the complexity of our own identity. This struggle can foster resilience and a conscious effort to live authentically.

Resilience is also essential to advocating passionately for a product's value. Moreover, it makes us less susceptible to being swayed by preconceived notions, allowing for more objective and inclusive decision-making. Authenticity makes it easier to understand and accommodate varying needs while interacting effectively with diverse teams. Taken together, these strengths helped Eve move into the product design world without a formal education, and hopefully can inspire other trans and nonbinary people to achieve the same!


Given the focus on accessibility and inclusion over the past few days, I’m immensely grateful that TransTech continues to hold their summit online. Not only because I wouldn’t have been able to fly out to Chicago for a few days (where the summit was held pre-2020), but especially for our immunocompromised or disabled colleagues! What benefits one marginalized group benefits us all! Getting together with such a huge crowd of trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming tech and tech-adjacent people was wonderful—and likely only possible in such a virtual environment. Until next year! 👋


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