Dot com bust 2.0 is decimating queer tech industry workers

Last week, Microsoft announced that the company plans to axe 10,000 workers, amounting to approximately 5% of its staff. This mass layoff follows a current pattern of instability within the tech sector that includes the collapse of the cryptocurrency company FTX and Elon Musk’s cataclysmic overhaul of Twitter following his acquisition of the social media monolith in October. 

This “dot com bust 2.0,” as some financial analysts refer to it, reflects a downward spiral in the US tech industry, which hemorrhaged $7.4 trillion in 2021. While this negative trend affects workers on multiple levels, from corporate recruiters to software engineers, it disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ community, women, and people of color.

Massive layoffs result in a freeze on new hires, which impacts not only workers but also corporate recruiters. According to data analysis performed by the career site Zippia, nine percent of people working in corporate recruitment identify as LGBTQ+ (compared to a 2021 Gallup Poll assessment that 7.1% of Americans, in general, identify as LGBTQ+.) To Colin Smith, a former corporate recruiter based in Washington, DC, this profession attracts members of the queer community because of their distinct culture.

“I think that with the adversity that LGBT people face, it sort of allows them to be better communicators,” explained Smith during a recent phone interview. I think, generally speaking, communication is something that LGBT people just excel on. I really enjoyed being able to help people  make their lives better with a better job situation.” 

Even more than the LGBTQ+ community, this hiring freeze disproportionately affects women of all gender identities and sexual orientations in corporate recruitment. According to the Zippia analysis, 62.5% of all corporate recruiters identify as female. With the flurry of firings at not only Microsoft, but also those recently announced by tech giants Amazon, Lyft, and Google’s parent company Alphabet, the resulting hiring freezes would likely affect over 100,000 women working in this field. 

And recruitment isn’t the only area in the tech industry where female employees face challenges. For Justin Fanok, a former software engineer who most recently worked for Plex Systems, one of the biggest problems he’s witnessed women face is the stifling of their professional input.

“I’ve only ever had a few females that I’ve worked with in the tech field, and that’s few and far between,” said Fanok. “It’s almost like their perspectives kind of gets shut out. A lot of times, it’s the person with a loud voice who ends up being heard. The type of voices that get heard and listened to are typically male.”

The tech industry’s discrimination toward women has also been observed by Dr. Ali Mushtaq, a sociologist and adjunct professor at Chapman University. Being ignored is just one of the many challenges faced by women in this field, specifically those that identify as trans.

“I think tech, in general, is a culture that’s more accepting of LGBTQ people than a lot of other industries. But then at the same time, you’re still dealing with questions about trans inclusion issues,” said Mushtaq, “you’re dealing with various aspects of micro-aggressions, you’re dealing with the employee lifecycle, retention, advancement, being able to go into higher leadership positions, questions like, ‘are we able to open up gender-neutral bathrooms?’ And then questions about whether or not sexuality affects they’re able to get promoted within these workspaces.”

In the tech sector’s current climate of mass layoffs, the higher one’s level within a company usually equates to a lower chance of termination. Since minorities such as women and workers who immigrated to the United States for employment face a more difficult struggle for career advancement, they are far more likely to be laid off. For those who moved from culturally misogynistic and homophobic countries, losing their work visas means returning to potentially dire consequences.

“I had a friend who worked at Warner Brothers,” continued Mushtaq. “He just got laid off and now he’s gonna have to go back to India in a month. That’s an example we don’t necessarily think about because a lot of us are citizens. You’re looking at the way in which minorities and women are put in positions where they’re sort of dispensable, or they’re more on the lower rung.

“So what ends up happening is, those positions are the first thing cut by management. And so those people are going to be the ones first to get fired. So it does affect people of color and gender minorities more disproportionately, and absolutely will probably hurt them, especially within this industry. Ultimately, I think that there needs to be more support and more mentorship for people in tech, especially if you’re a woman or a person of color, to access a lot of positions.”

One such program is LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based nonprofit offering free tech education and job placement for people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations. Maggie Techner, a teacher in this organization who identifies as a gay woman, shared an experience similar to the one expressed by Mushtaq. 

“We did have a student that was from Ukraine in my last class. And she was here on a visa from Ukraine before the war started, and then lost touch with her family and was trying to take this class as well as deal with all of that back home. And that’s just things that you don’t even think about being an extra stressor on some of these kids.”

If Techner’s Ukrainian student were to lose her visa, she would return to a war-scarred country where over 7,000 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded nearly a year ago. And the situation is even direr for queer Ukrainians, evidenced by the tragic story of Alexander.

Alexander was fleeing the decimated city of Kherson when Russian soldiers detained him, according to the UK-based independent media outlet openDemocracy. While going through messages on his phone, the soldiers discovered he was gay and sent him to the notorious Olenivka prison in the Donetsk region. Prison administrators disclosed Alexander’s sexual orientation to the other inmates, which put a target on the young man’s back.

“The prisoners began to harass me,” Alexander said. “For a while, I resisted, but after a few days, I was forced to do what they said. Almost every evening, 10 to 15 men raped me, until I was released by the representatives of the administration.”     

For the many white cis-het tech bros who risk losing their jobs in the “dot com bust 2.0,” the consequence is unemployment. But for some, specifically queer immigrants, this downward trend in the US tech sector is a matter of life or death.