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Authenticity Is A Trait Of The Best Leaders – Lynette Seow, Co-Founder at Safe Space™ Singapore

To mark PRIDE month, we’re sharing the stories of inspirational business school students and alumni around the world who are using their business school experiences to make the world a more inclusive place.

  • Name: Lynette Seow
  • Position: Co-Founder and COO, Safe Space ™ Singapore
  • School:  BBM & BSocSc (Singapore Management University); MTech (NUS); MIT Sloan Class of 2023

Could you tell us about Safe Space and what it does?

Safe Space™ is the leading trusted B2B2C digital mental health ecosystem partner, serving over 90+ international clients across APAC, EMEA and ANZ and in 30 different languages. We do this by driving value & positive outcomes through social impact and innovation.

We strengthen mental resilience by providing fast & affordable access to quality mental health therapy care (online and offline), preventive education and a tailored EAP program that is hyper local and scalable globally. With our 94.3% Net Promoter score, our employee assistance program has a high 59% utilization rate compared to the global benchmark of 4.3%.

What has your experience been of launching a business as an LGBTQ+ founder?

Coming from Singapore, sexuality isn’t as frequently or openly discussed. I wouldn’t pass as straight, but there sometimes was anxiety when conversations around relationships arose in various situations and I’d tried to avoid the topic. It was quite easy to keep discussions “strictly business” and stick to numbers and data.

However, ultimately, I figured that if I wanted to BUILD a Safe Space for people to come to, I had to BE one to the people I met. If improving mental health is my mission, and a disproportionate percentage of LGBTQ+ people experience mental health struggles, how could I ignore drawing attention to this cause even if it meant being a bit more public about my personal life. It meant sharing about uncomfortable experiences, internal struggles and ongoing unconscious discrimination. 

That said, being an LBGTQ+ entrepreneur has had some unique opportunities. There are many LGBTQ+ folks who have started businesses because they struggled to bring their authentic selves to a corporate workplace. Having access to this network of fellow entrepreneurs and queer-run businesses creates a strong sense of community and support. People are exceptionally willing to help you out by making an introduction or taking a meeting with you when they can identify in a personal way with you, and that helps to build deeper connections that has business benefits.

How did your MBA at MIT Sloan help you launch this business?

I was already working on Safe Space before enrolling at Sloan and we were already revenue-generating. However, the entrepreneurial culture and community is pervasive throughout Sloan and being part of that ecosystem was exhilarating. 

Most of the professors did recognize that there would be a decent number of startup founders in each class, and tailored the content of class discussions to take that into account. The team at the Martin Trust Centre were also amazing; the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence were always willing to share their vast knowledge and experience, as well as make introductions to whomever they thought would be helpful to me.

Finally, having random conversations with classmates who were also working on their own startups and being able to exchange stories and tips from fundraising to hiring made me feel very supported. “Sloanies helping Sloanies” is core to MIT Sloan’s culture, and anyone would make time for someone who reached out just for a coffee chat to share experiences.

What specific initiatives or programs does your business school have in place to support and empower LGBTQ+ students on campus?

The Sloan Pride club was a big source of support during my time in school. I made great friends through Sloan Pride, and the school administration was supportive about the various initiatives the Pride did. There were often separate LGBTQ+ networking sessions with various companies that created a unique space for LGBTQ+ students to be comfortable bringing that part of their identity to a recruitment setting.

How important do you feel it is for business schools to have these types of initiatives?

Extremely. I was part of the Admissions team of Sloan Pride and so many queer-identifying potential students look at the bond within the school’s pride community as one major decision factor when choosing which school to attend. If business schools want to attract the best talent, they cannot ignore this.

Having these types of initiatives is also important for non-LGBTQ+ students. Providing opportunities for them to learn more about the community and to ask questions to understand how to be an ally helps to develop more well-rounded empathetic leaders.

Have you experienced any unique challenges from being an LGBTQ+ entrepreneur?

Minorities, in general, face really low odds when fundraising. It’s a well-known statistic that only 2% of VC funding in the US goes to female founders. Layer on another level of “other-ness”, and the challenges compound. That said, I’ve not had any challenges that I can precisely attribute to being LGBTQ+; it’s often understated details like being unsure about whether there’ll be any backlash if I were more open about my sexuality or gender identity, whether that will become my defining characteristic as opposed to the quality of my work.

How important is it to get more LGBTQ+ individual into senior executive roles, and how can we do so?

Extremely, I think authenticity is a trait of the best leaders. Having LGBTQ+ folks who are open about their identity in senior positions addresses the lack of representation, provides visible role models and mentors for people earlier in their careers and allows for deeper conversations on a broader scale. Overall, I think this will help everyone, LGBTQ+ or not, be able to be more authentic at work.

One small way to start is to be conscious of heteronormative language. If that is the norm in the workplace, LGBTQ+ individuals will feel excluded or unsafe. It also cuts out opportunities for diverse voices, because this could impact hiring decisions (less likely to hire LGBTQ+ individuals) or if they are hired, LGBTQ+ individuals may not be able to perform to their full potential.

What advice would you give to other LGBTQ+ individuals who are considering pursuing a business education or starting a business?

Look for queer business communities, e.g. LBGTQ+ startup founders, or reach out to the Pride clubs in business schools. They are a valuable resource to share experiences, provide mutual support, and be part of an influential and helpful network. This will also help you decide whether this is a community you’d like to become a part of for long.

Sexuality and gender identity are important parts of your identity, but not the only parts. You are a full, complex person, so remember to celebrate and be proud of those other aspects of yourself too!

Just do it. Give yourself a chance and even if things don’t work out, you would have learnt something that you can take into your next adventure. It’s ok to be bummed for a bit, but remind yourself that you are not your failures then get up, dust yourself off and be open to what’s next.

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