OUTstanding: Peter Arvai of Prezi on how tech companies can embrace their LGBT+ staff and the rise of "possibility" models

It’s widely acknowledged that the tech industry needs to do more to encourage diversity, particularly because diverse teams create better products and can make more money. 

And while there are several initiatives around helping to address bringing more women into tech, and people of colour, there is less information around LGBT+ people in the tech workforce. Particularly when studies show that seven in 10 LGBT+ employees in Britain have experienced sexual harassment at work according to the Trade Union’s Congress, and a YouGov poll for LinkedIn earlier this year found that LGBT+ workers are paid on average £6,700 less per year than their straight colleagues. 

This is where the importance of the annual OUTstanding list comes in. Created by the diversity champion INvolve, the list celebrates the work being done by LGBT+ leaders and allies across the globe to ensure LGBT+ inclusion is top of the agenda in the workplace. 

On this year’s LGBT+ Executives list is Peter Arvai, CEO and co-founder of presentation software Prezi. “I am really honoured to be on this list. We believe that diversity is not only morally the right thing to do, but is also good business,” he tells the Standard

Arvai was born and raised in Sweden by two Hungarian parents, who defected during socialism. He says he’s always been interested in how storytelling and tech can be combined to help people make better decisions. Prezi was born out of this desire, as a presentation tool that ditches the slide mentality of PowerPoint in favour of a canvas so you can zoom in and out of the document to showcase the ideas displayed there.   

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There are over 100 million Prezi users around the world and the company has offices in Budapest, where the company started, as well as in San Francisco and Riga, Latvia. Research by Harvard found that Prezi is more organised, engaging and persuasive than both PowerPoint and oral presentations. 

Arvai has always been open about his sexuality in the workplace and says he has always received support from his mother, co-founders and employees. “Whilst I’ve certainly encountered some resistance and negative comments on the internet, I have found being out has helped me garner greater trust and respect amongst my colleagues and employees,” he says.

However, being open about sexuality isn’t an easy thing to do in Hungary. Homosexuality is legal in the country, however same-sex couples are not eligible to the the same legal rights that opposite-sex couples are. On top of this, a pro-LGBT Coca Cola campaign relating to Budapest’s Szieget music festival this year sparked calls of boycott from the nationalist Fidesz party. 

Arvai has ensured that Prezi has an open and inclusive workforce, particularly in Budapest where its employees have reported being abused for holding hands on the streets (Prezi)

As a result, Prezi has cultivated an open and inclusive work environment. It co-founded an NGO, WeAreOpen, along with companies espell and Google, to engage with companies in Hungary to stand up for tolerance and inclusion, and represents over 75,000 employees. During Pride this year, Arvai and his leadership team organised a storytelling meeting where employees could share their stories about issues they have faced regarded their sexuality, from difficulty growing up to violent threats for holding hands in central Budapest in 2019. 

If you want to create a more inclusive workplace, you need to be willing to be vulnerable yourself, he says. “To spark honest discussions about inclusivity and openness, your personal experience of inclusion is a key resource and you need to create a safe environment so people find the courage to have the uncomfortable conversations.”

One benefit of the OUTstanding list is to showcase diverse role models to the next generation – but Arvai thinks we should think of them as “possibility models”. Growing up in Sweden, there were only three publicly out gay people: a makeup artist, a TV host and a comedian. “I couldn’t identify with any of them. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur so it caused a tension deep inside as it wasn’t abundantly clear to me that I could be openly gay and have a successful career in business.” 

Luckily, thanks to his work as well as others on the list including Pedro Pina, VP of global client and agency solutions at Google, for Europe, Middle East and Africa, that is certainly changing. 

“I am really grateful that teenagers growing up today struggling with accepting themselves for being gay, can see diverse role models who they can relate to,” he adds. 

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