Beginning the Somewhere project in Manchester in 2015, Kathryn Pierce has come a long way in creating a new circular social enterprise business model. Since setting up in Scotland in 2018, alongside business partner Thomas Anderson-Thatcher, Somewhere has created a vibrant new LGBTQ+ culture and enterprise magazine, Somewhere: For Us, and also making waves is their new Rainbow Enterprise Network supporting queer businesses across Scotland.
I discovered from personal experience setting up as an LGBTQ+ entrepreneur that there is very little bespoke support for queer businesses in Scotland or indeed in the UK, with noticeable gaps in the data as to how large a community this actually represents.
Focusing in on this for my Enterprise Masters’ research at Manchester Business School, I uncovered an uncharted world, with a hidden business community experiencing a genuine sense of fear and risk attached to being an openly LGBTQ+ business owner. Perhaps, as football is to sport, LGBTQ+ enterprise is the last radical bastion in the business world – and maybe that’s why there are so few openly LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs in the public eye. Well, can you name any?
My research also showed that a seldom-discussed aspect of being an LGBTQ+ person is ‘minority stress’, the cause of which is that, for the most part, being LGBTQ+ isn’t actually about the person themselves. More often than not, and especially in a business context, being LGBTQ+ can instead be about managing other people and their expectations of who you are, what you stand for, how/if they relate to you and whether they like you.
It can be a complex (and tiring) dance of dealing with others’ judgements and perceptions, which in turn can cause negative mental health outcomes (especially as discrimination is rife) as you work out where or how you fit in, in a cisnormative and heteronormative business world. That can make a working day a very long day indeed.
Being an LGBTQ+ business owner compounds this experience further. As your own boss, you might think that being in charge and running your own ship, that things might be easier, but my research discovered quite the opposite. The perception of risk is significant – with the potential for disclosure decisions to affect your suppliers’, customers’, colleagues’ and supporters’ expectations of you, and your relationships with them (for better or worse) – AND the risk of a direct impact on your livelihood.
With regard to gaps in LGBTQ+ business data, and as the 2022 census will undoubtedly show, one of the key issues is that the LGBTQ+ community is ‘self-selecting’ which creates a complex and unknown landscape. In reality, while this ‘self-selection’ implies choice, is it really if we are fearful of homophobic/biphobic/transphobic suppliers, customers and colleagues? If our agency is removed, then arguably our options are limited. For some, the closet may seem like a safe place, as maybe it’s the only ‘space’ we can own or control, but as my research also showed, we are restricted by it and also governed by it. For others, the opposite is also true – being visibly LGBTQ+ in the workplace can be of both personal and professional importance, especially if the business caters directly for the LGBTQ+ market, for example. All of these are difficult courses to navigate, in a world which sees LGBTQ+ people as differing from the norm, and not always in a good way. Arguably, and just as in our personal lives, keeping our true selves out of a work context has huge impacts on our mental health and places limits our potential, preventing us from living our authentic lives.
For true inclusive growth to be possible in the business sphere, a number of things need to change. For existing workplaces and business support services, the answers are simple in theory but complex in practice:
Clear out unconscious bias and tackle conscious bias head-on
Be smart with your language
Be more informed
Be aware of all types of families and relationships
Level the playing field
Use pronoun choices for everyone
Use gender neutral relationship names such as ‘partner’ in the first instance
Don’t assume everyone is cis gender
Make being “different” a celebration and not a consideration
And as for that business support network gap, Somewhere is now co-creating a new Rainbow Enterprise Network with LGBTQ+ and ally business owners across Scotland and beyond. This is our new space to champion and celebrate queer business, with built-in mentoring opportunities and a new Somewhere Enterprise and Research Fund (derived from magazine and Network membership income). The Fund will soon be supporting start-ups and helping generate LGBTQ+ focused research projects, including a closer look into those data gaps. There’s a lot to do.
Somewhere is a new community interest company (CIC) created to support the LGBTQ+ community across Scotland and beyond, primarily through innovative projects and partnerships, research and our brand-new LGBTQ+ quarterly magazine, Somewhere: For Us. Now in our third year, we have three broad strands of activity – our magazine, our Rainbow Enterprise Network and our research projects, which include the first LGBTQ+ Masters scholarship in Scotland, in partnership with University of Edinburgh Business School and a new Collaborative Doctoral Award with the School of Geosciences focusing on the Cultural Geographies of LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurship in Scotland, funded by the AHRC and Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities.
Kathryn Pierce is founder of Somewhere and Co-Editor of Somewhere: For Us magazine. She is a former TV producer and media business development director. Since moving to Scotland in 2017, she has pioneered the launch of Scotland’s first MBA LGBT+ scholarship and more recently, a new culture-led LGBTQ+ PhD research programme in partnership with University of Edinburgh. She is an LGBTQ+ inclusion activist-advocate and social entrepreneur whose work has been recognised with numerous accolades.