StartOut Code of Conduct

Introduction: Why this Code Exists

As an organization that has diversity and inclusion at the root of its mission, we publish this Code of Conduct (“Code”) to state our explicit commitment to creating diverse and equitable spaces where all members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies can thrive. We created this Code with the understanding that our community has both shared experiences as LGBTQ+ people, and also many different experiences in regards to gender, gender identity and expression, age, national origin, citizenship status, religion, race, body size, socioeconomic status, ability, physical appearance, mental illness, neuro(a)typicality, veteran status, or any other under indexed or underrepresented cross section within our community.


Having a Code ensures that we all understand the extraordinary level of respect we expect within our community and provides us with a clear roadmap for correcting our culture should we stray from our course. Whether blatant or hidden, barriers to access, inclusion and success have no place within StartOut.

Scope: To Whom and Where the Code Applies

This Code applies to all interactions within the StartOut community and our shared professional lives, including the StartOut offices, StartOut Growth Lab, StartOut events in all Chapters, off-sites, StartOut travel, Slack and email, online community spaces (NetworQ and Forum), marketing campaigns, social media, fundraisers, or any other space in which we represent StartOut. This Code applies to staff, contractors, volunteers, board members, advisors, and StartOut community members at large.

Our Values

We conduct our mission with respect across all platforms. Not all of us will agree all the time, but we aim to approach conflict through assuming best intent, recognizing our own potential to grow and learn, and with the utmost empathy to others’ lived experiences. We will be respectful when dealing with other community members as well as with people outside our community.

We conduct our mission with transparency in order to build a community of trust. We want all our staff and members to be accountable for their impact and we will work to maintain open lines of communication with our community.

We work with and alongside other members of the StartOut community: staff, programming board members, volunteers, mentors, investors, community partners, members etc. Peer-to-peer support and community collaboration has been core to our longstanding success.

Diversity and Equity
We believe in championing diversity and creating equity, not merely because it’s a mechanism to grow and strengthen our community’s impact, but because at our core, we are committed to addressing structural discrimination.

Expected Behaviors

Value Others
Our community thrives because of a collective willingness to share knowledge, resources, contacts, advice, and support. If someone gives their time to support you, acknowledge their comments, take time to thank them, and then pay it forward to other members!

Show Professionalism
StartOut is a professional organization advancing entrepreneurs and championing economic empowerment. This is a space to speak about business ideas and bring our best professional selves. In accordance with this goal, we treat everyone we meet with the highest standard of respect as we would any colleague or collaborator in a professional environment.

Trust Intent, Name Impact
Trust that everyone in this group has each other’s best interests at heart; but if someone says something incorrect or hurtful, name what impact that has. We are imperfect and continually learning. While we empower you to speak directly to others in the community, please feel free to reach out to StartOut staff if you are uncomfortable speaking to someone directly or email us at

Foster Inclusion
Inclusivity takes intentional effort. With this in mind, we will take proactive steps to make members of our community feel welcome and included.

Treat People the Way They Want to Be Treated
Other people in our community may have different needs from our own, so we must consider their perspectives to communicate effectively. We work best together when we empathize with one another.

Take Care of Each Other
As a community, we have a commitment to stand up for and support each other. If you see something that seems like it could have caused harm within our community, reach out to the impacted person to check in, even if the incident seems minor. If you are comfortable, feel empowered to speak with the person who may have violated our community standards to let them know how their behavior impacts others or report the incident to our staff.

Best Practices for StartOut & LGBTQ+ spaces

Respect Pronouns
Please don’t assume the pronouns of other members based on their presentation or appearance. Some of our members use gender neutral or genderqueer pronouns. To learn more about pronouns, please read more here. A best practice is to introduce yourself with your name and your pronouns, which gives others clarity on how you’d like to be addressed and creates space for them to share their pronouns with you.

Use Gender Inclusive Language
Instead of saying “hey guys” or “ladies and gentleman” try using gender neutral and inclusive language, such as “hey ya’ll”, “folks” or “esteemed guests.”

Keep Information Confidential
Some members may or may not be out in their communities. Please do not share people’s affiliation with StartOut, sensitive information they may have shared within StartOut, or their LGBTQ+ status to people unless you have explicit consent.

Use People’s Correct Names
If someone in the community has changed their name or goes by a different name than their legal name, please refer to them by the name they share. Be sure to introduce them by that name, and do not share their “dead” or legal name with other members of the community. This is another form of “outing” members and disrespect.

Make Space/ Take Space
Be aware of how your privilege or lack thereof influences how much space you take up in a room (ie how much you talk, how much physical space you occupy, how loud your voice is relative to others, and whether your voice is heard). Make an active effort to encourage participation from marginalized members, and draw attention to their ideas and contributions (while crediting them).

Be an outstanding Ally
You do not have to identify as LGBTQ+ to belong in this community. If you do identify as LGBTQ+, we ask that you reflect on your social position (class, language, body, legal status, etc.) and be an ally to people more marginalized than yourself. Allyship is about actively reframing knowledge and actively changing power dynamics. Allyship is also acting like an ally when no one is watching.

Educate yourself
Listen and learn, even when you feel confused or uncomfortable. Educate yourself instead of asking others to educate you – there are many amazing resources online written to help reduce the frequency and impact of these conversations on marginalized people. Acknowledge your privilege.

Unacceptable Behaviors

We want to give people the opportunity to grow through recognizing the impact of their actions and follow up with clear behavioral changes. Usually, we will give people a warning and the opportunity to correct their behavior before removing them from StartOut. Any egregious actions that are violent, hateful, threatening, or intentionally harassing can warrant removal without warning at the discretion of our staff and/or board.

Unwanted sexual/romantic contact
StartOut is a professional organization, focused on furthering business goals and building professional connections. Please do not engage with others in ways that would be inappropriate in a professional context, including but not limited to:

• Engaging in unwanted physical contact or simulated physical contact (ie emojis or textual comments like *hug* or *backrub*)

• Unwelcome and non-consensual sexual attention

• Sending crude or explicit messages or images

• Gratuitous or off-topic sexual images or conversations

• Stalking or following

• Continued one-on-one requests to contact without response or after request to cease

• Non-consensual photography or videoing

• Requesting/assuming inappropriate levels of intimacy with others

• Assuming consent for physical or romantic contact based on prior consent in other contexts

Harassment or Violence
StartOut is committed to providing harassment free spaces (both online and in person) for all community members. Harassment includes, but is not limited to:

• Offensive comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, age, national origin, citizenship status, religion, race, body size, socioeconomic status, ability, physical appearance, mental illness, neuro(a)typicality, or veteran status. 

• Unwelcome comments regarding a person’s lifestyle choices and practices, including those related to food, health, parenting, drugs, and employment.

• Deliberate misgendering or use of ‘dead’ or rejected names.

• Threats of violence.

• Incitement of violence towards any individual, including encouraging a person to commit suicide or to engage in self-harm.

• Deliberate intimidation.

• Stalking or following.

• Harassing photography or recording, including logging online activity for harassment purposes.

• Sustained disruption of discussion.

• Patterns of inappropriate social contact.

• Continued one-on-one communication after requests to cease.

• Deliberate “outing” of any aspect of a person’s identity without their consent except as necessary to protect vulnerable people from intentional abuse.

• Publication of non-harassing private communication.

• Intentionally ignoring or protecting abusers or offenders within the community.

Hateful or Discriminatory Actions
Targeting a member or members for their viewpoints or identity or encouraging discrimination is never acceptable within StartOut.

Microaggressions are a subtler form of exclusionary or harmful behavior. These often well intentioned but insidious behaviors continually denigrate people based on group membership. These offenses impact our most marginalized community members and take a significant toll on their wellbeing and feeling of belonging. Some examples of microaggressions are:

• Compliments or jokes on how someone of a marginalized identity doesn’t conform to widely held and harmful stereotypes associated with that identity (ie. “you speak such good english” “you are the whitest black person I know” or “you are so articulate”)

• Asking certain community members to perform unskilled or unvalued work more frequently than others based on stereotypical roles, such as expecting women or POC to get coffee, take notes in meetings, or clean up common spaces

• “Mansplaining,” speaking over, or cutting off marginalized people, pedantic corrections that are insulting and unproductive, patronizing comments, or assumptions about someone’s knowledge or lack thereof based on their identity. (ie assuming a woman lacks technical expertise, or correcting grammar of a non-native speaker in a conversation when the content is clear)

• Tokenizing members of a community and asking them speak on behalf of/ for their entire marginalized community (ie “Can you tell us the black opinion on this?”)

• Mispronouncing someone’s name repeatedly without effort, nicknaming or shortening someone’s name without consent because it’s “too difficult to pronounce”

• Fetishizing, gratuitous compliments, or unwelcome attention around characteristics, behaviors, or traditions associated with marginalized communities (ie commenting on or touching black women’s hair) 

• Including someone’s identity in a description of them when it is irrelevant to the topic (ie “a black author” or a “female athlete”) 

Tone Policing or responding negatively to the emotion behind a person’s message while ignoring its content (telling someone who is discussing an issue that makes them upset to “calm down” instead of responding to their concerns is an example of tone policing).

Reporting a Problem

StartOut is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, age, national origin, citizenship status, religion, race, body size, socioeconomic status, ability, physical appearance, veteran status, etc. We do not tolerate harassment of staff, programming board members, volunteers, and members. We welcome everyone to learn from interpersonal accidents as we cultivate understanding of one another’s experiences..

If a member engages in harassing behavior, the StartOut team may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from StartOut events and community activities.

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact the StartOut immediately:

Commitment to Improvement and Culture Building

StartOut as an organization is committed to growth and improvement. We understand that none of us are perfect: It’s expected that all of us, regardless of our backgrounds, will from time to time fail to live up to our very high standards. What matters isn’t having a perfect track record, but being ready to acknowledge our mistakes and improve.

If you are approached as having (consciously or otherwise) acted in a way that might make a community member feel unwelcome or uncomfortable, refrain from getting defensive; remember that if someone calls you out, it likely took a great deal of courage, trust, and personal investment to have that conversation with you. The best way to respect that energy is to acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and move on—with a renewed commitment to do better.

In that vein, we as an organization promise to continuously re-evaluate and update this Code based on feedback from our staff, members, board, and volunteers.

Our community is invited to contribute to or suggest changes to this Code by filing an official note at or through written or verbal feedback to anyone on our team. All changes will be reviewed by our team and if necessary, legal support.

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