How to Be an Anticapitalist Entrepreneur: RC Woodmass and Queerit
RC Woodmass understands the unique value queer people bring to tech.
At last year’s Venture Out conference, they listed nine qualities LGBTQ+ people bring to the tech industry.
- Change tolerance
- Abstract thinking
- Communication skills
- Fast learning
- Vision for social change
Courage and communication? Qualities invoked when coming out of the closet. Resourcefulness and abstract thinking? Skills required to navigate the tech industry as a member of a marginalized community. Vision for social change and empathy? Essential elements for changing the status quo — and making sure you aren’t leaving others behind in the process.
RC Woodmass has employed many of these qualities on their road from opera singer to entrepreneur. Now the founder of Queerit, a “queer, feminist, anticapitalist digital agency”, RC is exploring what it means to “queer business” by subverting the binaries we accept as truths.
Here’s how RC Woodmass is putting workers first and holding themself accountable.
From Opera to Tech: A Journey through Gender
“It never occured to me that I could ‘be in computers,’” RC says. “I grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba, and at that point I was identifying as a woman in a conservative community. I was encouraged to follow my dreams of becoming an opera singer. That was acceptable for the gender I had been assigned.”
And so RC began a 10-year academic and professional career as an opera singer, where they were confronted by the gendered dynamic of the industry. While it’s common for opera singers to play other genders on stage, traditional gender norms are still enforced — and after they came out as nonbinary, RC felt they couldn’t keep singing.
“It’s difficult to make it in opera, so I always knew I needed other ways to earn a living,” RC says. “One thing about me is that I never give up — if something isn’t working, I fix it. (Massive Capricorn energy!) I saw some room for improvement with the Opera McGill website, and they gave me free rein to work on it. That’s how I taught myself CSS and HTML, and then eventually I fell into UX and product design.”
After a few years in tech, RC wanted to build something of their own and work with people who shared their values. They made the bold choice to start Queerit and state explicitly that they abide by anti-oppressive, anticapitalist values. “We may have lost clients because of this choice,” RC says, “but what we’ve gained are clients who believe in our message and are instantly aligned with us. We’ve created a hub of folks we love to work with.”
Creating an Anticapitalist Business Means Workers Come First
So how does a business embody anticapitalism? RC says they’re aware of the tightrope they’re walking by making this claim, but that the secret lies in the way workers are treated.
“We hire only queer and trans collaborators, and I’m always asking them how I can support them in their lives, not just feeding them their next client,” RC says. “I hope that prioritizing the worker’s experience is the new way of doing business as capitalism dissolves.
“When people think of a queer business, they think about rainbows — but when I think of a queer business, I think of applying anti-oppressive practices to the process of doing business. That’s what queering entrepreneurship means to me now, not just hiring queer people.”
RC recommends the following anti-oppressive, anticapitalist practices to run a queer business:
1. Don’t do it alone.
“Individualism is one of the principles that capitalism uses to keep us disempowered. The opposite of capitalism is solidarity, so I aim to be in community with folks who are directly impacted by my actions and seek accountability from them. In community, we share failures, struggles, challenges, and success. It’s harder and it’s slower, but it’s the only way.”
2. Examine the ethics of the tools you use and the institutions you support.
“One of the first things I did when I was registering Queerit as an official enterprise was to look for the financial institution that most aligns with the values we espouse.
“We opened our account with the Desjardins Social Economy branch, which re-invests money back into the local social economy. We also recently divested from Google, and moved all of our email, calendar, file sharing, and chat over to a more ethical solution called Zoho, after several instances of the company firing or punishing queer and trans folks for speaking out against oppression.
“It takes a lot of effort to examine these things and then take action, but it is a core part of how we put our money where our hearts are.”
3. Encourage your employees and contractors to unionize by allowing them to use company spaces to discuss union activity (if they wish).
“Unions are such an important accountability and solidarity tool, because they provide a legally protected avenue for workers to improve their situation. Capitalism prioritizes money, not workers’ rights, and people entrenched in the capitalist mindset usually try to dissuade unions from forming, in order to keep the cost of workers low. Unions are anticapitalist and can hold businesses accountable — be grateful for them!”
Questioning Performative Diversity and Inclusion: How We Need to Do More than Co-opt Language
As a business owner, RC is always thinking about two things: moving beyond performative diversity and inclusion and preventing power corruption within themself.
“I want to be clear,” RC says, “the women in tech and diversity and inclusion movements are important. We need more women in tech, and we need more diversity. But I can’t help thinking that we’re just asking people from marginalized communities to fit within the status quo.”
RC fears the day larger brands adopt revolutionary, anticapitalist messaging to sell more products. Just as pinkwashing — marketing through an appeal to the LGBTQ+ community — targets the queer community during (and beyond) Pride, RC is concerned that brands will co-opt anticapitalist messaging to boost brand power while upholding the systems that prevent BIPOC and trans/nonbinary people from gaining socioeconomic power. They say that business leaders need to be willing to hold themselves accountable and, in some cases, give up power so that others can have a voice.
“I know it’s scary to give up power — I can even feel that now, as a business owner. But I really think that transparency and accountability are the keys to building an inclusive business. Right now, I’m considering applying for a B Corp for Queerit. I need to be held accountable by an external governing body — because power corrupts.
“When I was focused on UX design, I was passionate about designing inclusive products. Now, I’m passionate about designing inclusive businesses.”
Want to be part of the LGBTQ+ tech community? Attend the Venture Out conference on March 19–20 at MaRS Discovery District.