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5 things we learned from Venture Café’s LGBTQ-focused Thursday Gathering

In celebration of Pride month, Venture Café Philadelphia — hosted at University City Science Center headquarters — brought together nearly 100 LGBTQ entrepreneurs, professionals and allies on June 20 for its weekly “Thursday Gathering” session.

The gathering, which takes place every Thursday from 3-8 p.m., convenes and “connects innovators to make things happen.” The goal is to create “serendipitous collisions,” with individuals who wouldn’t normally come together to discuss the innovation community, said Jen Rajchel, program manager and experience designer at Venture Café Philadelphia.

Throughout the month of June, Venture Café Philadelphia — part of the Venture Café Global Institute — is exploring the theme of “Authenticity and Identity.”

“As we know, LGBTQ people often face discrimination. We wanted to focus on how we can highlight that while also highlighting the ways LGBTQ people are creating innovation,” Rajchel told “This is an opportunity for [entrepreneurs] to reflect on their business practices and how we all can be more proactive about being inclusive.”

The event featured six breakout discussion sessions that included “The ABC’s of Allyship” and “The Queer History of Philadelphia,” along with resource tables hosted by LGBTQ-servicing nonprofits such as The Attic Youth Center, Morris Home and Pink and Blues Philadelphia.

Here are some stand-out takeaways from the Pride-themed “Thursday Gathering:”

Stand behind your values and your team will stand alongside you

Giulia Umile, chief operating officer at Slice Communications, led the “Values-Driven Workplace” discussion. Umile began the conversation sharing a story about the first time she had to fire a former client because of racist and insensitive remarks he shared with her and her entire team.

“We have a list of values written outside of our main conference room. The first one listed is integrity. I knew that we had to let this client go. I didn’t realize how stressful that relationship was for the people working on that account and the anxiety it gave them to be in his presence,” Umile said during the discussion. “I wanted to prove to my company that there are things that are more important in business than money. It was an opportunity to show my employees what we valued and that we stood behind those values.”

Your company’s foundation should begin with respect

It may seem simple, but respect for your employees can go a long way when it comes to maintaining a positive and inclusive work environment.

“Above everything else, it just comes down to respect,” Umile said.

That respect even extends to Umile having a relaxed dress code at Slice to allow the members of her team feel more comfortable in the workplace.

“It’s intentional because you don’t know what people are going through at home, whether it’s financial stress, a body image issue or a gender-identity crisis. I never want to force someone to dress a certain way. They’re allowed to be comfortable,” she said.

Diversity and Inclusion is continuously evolving in Philly

During the “Landscape of Diversity in Philly” discussion, Greg DeShields, executive director of PHL Diversity, shared how the City of Brotherly Love went from being dubbed a multicultural city to now being described as a diverse city.

“There has been a continuous evolution of diversity and inclusion in the city,” DeShields said. “Inclusion is key to how we enhance all of our existing ideas. Philadelphia has really embraced that as a part of its strategies.”

Equity is essential

There is no diversity and inclusion without equity. DeShields emphasized how the idea of equity is a strident way that we can provide access and an even playing field to everyone.

DeShields noted how news outlets such as ABC6 are providing coverage on diverse events such as the Pride parade and the Odunde Festival, events that usually happen annually on the same day. Those type of commitments, DeShields said, are what help to build the fabric of what is done in Philly around issues of diversity, inclusion and equity.

Being your authentic self > fitting in at work

One data point offered during the event: Tracy Brala, executive director of Venture Café Philadelphia, surveyed her Twitter followers, as well as Venture Café attendees, and found that 89 percent of those surveyed preferred being able to be their true, authentic selves at work as opposed to fitting in.

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing