Why ‘Coming Out’ Means More Than Being Gay In Tech

10/11/2016 12:54 pm ET Updated Oct 17, 2016
Flickr

Diversity in tech is something that everyone agrees that there needs to be more of -- more women, more minorities, more perspective. Diversity helps create better products and stronger organizations that help solve problems for a group of people that might have been underserved. It also helps to identify opportunities that other people might not have recognized, and propel the creation of new solutions to address challenges faced by a unique group of individuals.

As a CEO of a tech startup, I’m always looking for hard evidence to support bold statements like these. Afterall, I created a research platform designed to determine what works to improve outcomes. So, what are specific examples of businesses that have transformed diversity a success story?

It turns out, I didn't need to look very far. But, until very recently, I'd never considered myself to be an example of that diversity. I'm just a white guy ... who happens to be gay.

Several generations of dedicated gay men and women have made it possible for me to be open about being gay and that has been a huge accomplishment for the gay rights movement. The fact that being gay opened unique opportunities for me personally and professionally is the ultimate success story for the tech industry achieving equality and diversity for innovation.

Early in my professional life, I worked at a company that won federal and state research grants to conduct HIV prevention research studies. Anyone who knows anything about research studies knows they are a management disaster. Very few end on time or on the originally proposed budget. Studies targeting gay men were even more prone to failure.

For two decades, researchers successfully recruited and engaged men in gay bars and cruising areas. But, by the late 2000s, things changed.

Gay men had moved online -- first to platforms like Gay.com, then to social networks, and now, to apps like Grindr. Gay men had become tired of HIV studies: it seemed like a manageable disease and saw little incentive to be involved. And, finally, many gay men at risk didn't want to be found: any involvement in an HIV study would identify them as gay.

I had no research background, but I was one of the few openly gay men working at the firm and happened to have some marketing experience. Researchers sought out my unique ideas and insights.

Initial successes in recruiting and engaging guys into research studies turned into my first venture as an entrepreneur where I build my own consulting firm to address these challenges. Recruitment expanded into research study software development. Simple short term studies turned into traditional randomized controlled trials --all online.

Gay men have become early adopters of innovation and technology. They are also known as trend-setters. Online venues provided a safe space in some areas of the world where gay bars, pride events, and other real-time activities presented real risks.

But, more than anything else, putting research studies online made them easy, fun and accessible. And it is for those reasons that researchers in other fields started calling us, and heir research participants were moving online too.

They wanted more efficient ways to conduct studies and saw that opportunity went well beyond HIV studies. We created ProofPilot to make it possible for anyone to create a study online, on any topic.

The fact I'm a little bit different put me in a position to not only see an opportunity but also to experiment and make mistakes well before the wider world took notice.

I don't take for granted that there are many gay men and women who face discrimination and worse every day. ProofPilot is very proud to continue supporting researchers exploring ways to make the lives better for LGBT individuals around the world.

Personally, I've been extremely lucky to live a time and environment where being gay is something many shrug their shoulders at too. My experience with ProofPilot is a real and meaningful example of how unique perspectives based on diversity create business opportunities, and I look forward to continue seeing more people from different ethnicities, beliefs, sexual orientations, and more contribute to bettering our world and the human condition.

CONVERSATIONS