As a young and rapidly growing startup, Passbase’s culture is shaped by every new team member. For Pride Month this year, we’ve focused on cementing our culture of inclusion internally within the company. Pride months, be they in June or other times of the year, puts a spotlight on diversity through LGBTQ+ topics, and we want to expand its reach to other intersections of inclusion.
We’re taking Pride Month to reflect on what has been done at Passbase and what we can still work on as we continually diversify our team. What faces, bodies, and voices are absent and that Passbase still needs to make space for? How can growing awareness of LGBTQ issues be an entry point for more nuanced and intersectional considerations, like anti-racism, ableism, neurodiversity and awareness of working realities for colleagues residing outside of the US and the EU?
Within the company, Passbase has incorporated various forms of inclusion that may be useful for other lean companies figuring out how to create safer workplaces. Below, we are sharing the questions that have shaped some of the initiatives, both intentional and spontaneous, that have shaped Passbase in the past year.
How do we acknowledge what we don’t know?
People who identify as queer or come from any marginalized community don’t want to be told that a company is inclusive; they want to see how it is. How do the leaders in the company acknowledge what they may not be aware of if they are cis-gender, white, straight, and/or male? In order for Passbase to create a safer environment, the company leadership completed an unconscious bias training with the platform Hone in 2020 to have a better understanding of the subtle ways that people are assessed and treated differently. This framework helps individuals in the company take a step back and invite feedback and create a culture of learning.
Creating a framework to give people an opportunity to claim entitlements is also key. For example, the company introduced cultural and religious holidays for team members to take that would not count against their annual leave. This approach allows people to observe the days that matter to them, such as Eid or the Mid-Autumn Festival, without creating a heavy administrative burden on HR to look up and impose specific days on individuals. Cultural holidays and social movements such as Pride and Juneteenth are shared on the company cultural channel and become more than just a day off for an individual, but an opportunity for a company to learn.
How can we create safer spaces for people to bring their different identities to work?
Visibility remains essential for creating more equitable work environment. This does not mean that everyone is obligated to come or be out as queer or to disclose their personal information, such as health conditions or neurodiversity. However, the normalized presence of individuals who have these identities, traits, or conditions helps more people feel comfortable and safer to disclose parts of their identities. Normalization happens through the compounding of individual initiatives, such as individuals introducing same-sex partners or Pride emojis in Slack. It also happens when a company participates in LGBTQ-related workplace events. No queer person is obligated to represent a company and no individual should ever feel pressured to, but their presence inside and outside a company creates awareness.
Visibility is not the goal, but the result of initiatives. In order to create safer spaces, allies creating visibility for issues and perspectives is crucial. Rather than relying on a representative from gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans community to speak up and attest to how something hurts, allies need to advocate for these considerations. When allies do create these safer spaces, such as proactively educating each other on LGBTQ+ issues, asking about people’s pronouns and correcting other people who may misgender a trans or genderqueer individual, the natural result will be increased visibility for queer individuals.
What are small changes can impact people every day?
Earlier in 2021, the shootings in Atlanta of Asian women in massage parlors re-invigorated protests against anti-Asian racism and felt personal to some Passbase colleagues. In the wake of this event, the company reflected on the language that is casually used. Word choices for compliments — slayed, killed, owned — is all too real for a host of communities whether Black and people of colour or gay and trans individuals. Colleagues quickly found alternatives to give compliments and kudos to each other. In many cases, the changes are small, but their effects ripple throughout the company.
How can we widen diversity and inclusion discussions to include accessibility?
Queerness is only one aspect of a person’s identity that can be marginalized. The growing mainstream awareness of LGBTQ+ issues around access to basic rights is a gateway topic for greater considerations around accessibility for all individuals. For example, the web remains inaccessible to people who cannot see because we do not have sufficient audio descriptions. When Passbase updated its Manifesto earlier this year, we began with our vision of a “universally accessible identity infrastructure for a safer, more human Internet”.
When concepts of access and accessibility are built into the company language, it reminds us to keep this factor at the top of our minds across departments. For example, low-hanging fruit for audio description is to include Alt Text image descriptions on our website and social media content.
How can inclusion be baked into a product?
A culture of inclusion in a company reflects in the company’s product and services. This includes how the product is made and who it can serve.
Product terminology or marketing language decisions can dismantle norms that reflect unconscious bias. For example, when colleagues looked at a diversity and inclusion terms list and saw that popular industry terms “blacklist” and “whitelist” were racist, there was a quick decision to change Passbase’s product terminology to “allowlist” and “denylist”.
Inclusion also means who Passbase chooses to serve. Passbase’s identity verification services are readily applied for commercial industries such as finance, crypto, or even the gig economy and real estate. However, in order to work towards our vision for a new identity infrastructure that powers the next generation of digital services serving humans – one that gives control of identity information back to individuals — we need to think about how our product can empower communities like the LGBTQ+ community. Last year, Passbase powered Las Vegas PRIDE’s identity verification when the early Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns forced quick pivots to online events that needed to provide security and safety for attendees. Passbase’s identity verification helps remove fraudulent accounts, trolls, and bots and also allows for age checks for adult-only events.
As we continue to build out Passbase’s team and service offerings, we continue to think about how we can design our technology conscientiously to be more intersectionally inclusive. These questions and conversations continue to drive our product and company development. Within our first year of launch, Passbase had over 100 paying clients and has a product with 14 different languages. As one team member put it, “We have the opportunity to humanize digital identities”.
If you would like to join us on this journey, check out our careers page!