Build Your Own Corporate Culture

Question: What are some challenges of being a gay entrepreneur?

Gabe Zichermann: It’s funny because I was talking about this with a woman named Amy Errett [ph] who was one of the cofounders of E*Trade and Olivia Cruises. The other day we were on a panel together at a gay MBA conference and we were talking a little bit about what does it mean to be a gay entrepreneur and what are the challenges. Both of us asserted that there really weren’t any as far as we could tell and principally I believe that there is still a ton of homophobia in the world and there is a ton of homophobia in the business world. But because I’ve been very out and very explicitly out in my life, in my professional life from the beginning I just don’t hear it. If you don’t like me because I’m gay or you don’t want to do business with me because I’m gay, then I probably don’t even know that because you’re steering clear of me. It’s when you’re closeted and people don’t know that you’re gay that you hear and see the things that are otherwise unsavory. I don’t necessarily want to change everybody’s mind in the world about homosexuality or Judaism, as I’m a Jew, or any of the things that I’m passionate about. What I do want is to be in an environment [where] I’m respected and have an equal opportunity to be successful and I’m creating that every single day by putting my parameters out there and saying this is who I am, gay, Jewish, chubby, in my mid thirties. This is who I am and you know you can self select out of my world if you’d like and so be it.

I think one of the challenges for all gay professional people is this idea [that] you’re going to be faced with a world that’s hostile to you and you’re lifestyle. Really it ends up being more quotidian than that. I mean when you’ve worked, especially in the corporate world, when you work in the professional world most of the hassle factor being gay is that… on Monday morning you come into the office and your friends are talking about their kids and their spouse and what they did for the weekend and the golfing that they did. If your lifestyle is not those things, if you’re not a gay person with kids and a spouse and golfing then you’re sort of forced to interpret what part of your life the other person does or doesn’t want to hear and what is contextually relevant. You know what is or isn’t going to make them uncomfortable and I think that’s actually a complicated dance at first. Over time, what you realize is you gain traction on that, so not being Pollyanna I am saying that I think single straight people have some of the same issues in a culture where you’re around a lot of married people or married people with children. There is a sort of expectation that people who are married with children can go home at 4:00 because they have to attend to their kids and of course who would say no you can’t go pick your kids up from school whereas the single person or the person without kids doesn’t get to do those things and that I think is more like a family status, a quality fairness issue than it is a sexuality fairness and a quality issue. My observation has been that most issues related to sexuality in the workplace are actually issues of family status and gender rather than sexuality strictly speaking, and that once you put those things into context then there is a layer certainly of explicitly sexuality related issues, but most of it is about family status and gender.

I have the benefit of being an entrepreneur and the benefit of living in the technology business and the games industry and being an entrepreneur in those environments. In the context of entrepreneurship and technology and the games industry of course I can be out. It’s my company, so in that way I can build a corporate culture that matches the environment that I want to work in and built with people who I respect and who respect me and who I feel comfortable with and with whom I want to come into work every single day and enjoy the relationship that I’m building with them. That is a degree of control that I don’t have in many other aspects of being an entrepreneur, but I certainly do in terms of who gets hired to work at my company. That’s definitely one thing that is rewarding about being [an] entrepreneur that you don’t necessarily get when you work in the corporate world. I appreciate it if you’re just starting out in your career and you want to go work at some big finance company or the Department of Defense or something crazy like that, then your considerations are probably different from mine, but I try to live a… I work so much I try to integrate my life as much as possible so that I can enjoy all aspects of it.

Recorded on October 22, 2009

Gabe Zichermann has started two of his own companies. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t felt the challenges of being gay in the business world. This video is part of a "Profiles in Entrepreneurship" series with Start Out, which promotes entrepreneurship in the LGBT community.

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