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Our new DEI Spotlight Series highlights the work of Massachusetts leaders to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in financial services.

Up first, we’re spotlighting Luke Lennon (they/he), an early-stage entrepreneur and transgender nonbinary person using tech to reduce barriers for fellow trans people.

Luke is the founder and CEO of Namesake Collaborative, which streamlines identity management for transgender, nonbinary, and gender expansive individuals in order to reduce barriers to health and wealth building. Luke also leads brand and community at Stratyfy, which uses transparent AI to help financial institutions and fintechs increase revenue responsibly while reducing risk and bias.

Thanks for joining us, Luke! Tell us about the work of Stratyfy, and how the startup is enabling inclusive finance:

It’s been proven time and time again that biased and black box lending decisions disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Stratyfy was started in 2017 to solve this pervasive problem – unequal access to credit – through radically transparent AI. Practically, what we mean by radically transparent AI is that our technology brings real, human understanding to the complex decisions businesses make every day.

A big part of that mission means also tackling model bias. We’re actively helping customers pinpoint and address bias in their models to reach more customers safely, opening doors for the underbanked.

In addition to Stratyfy, you’ve also launched Namesake Collaborative. How does the mission of Namesake intersect with inclusive finance?

There are so many unnecessary and discriminatory hurdles to legally changing one’s name and gender marker, but often, actually obtaining the legal confirmation is just the tip of the iceberg. Only 1 in 5 transgender people have been able to update all of their IDs and legal records with their names and gender markers. At the same time, 1 in 4 trans people report being harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted after presenting an ID that did not reflect their gender identity or presentation.

And it’s not just about the identity documents themselves. Since launching Namesake, I’ve heard countless stories of the ripple effects of not having ID documents that match one’s identity – from teenagers delaying getting their driver’s licenses or first jobs, to being discriminated against when trying to find housing, to being credit invisible (I’ve experienced this firsthand), and so many more. These effects are compounded for an intersectional marginalized community that is already economically vulnerable – transgender adults, for example, are twice as likely to be unemployed as their cisgender peers.

Identity is a key part of one’s autonomy and empowerment in so many ways, including financially. And yet from government to legacy to technology players, everyone is grappling with how to approach identity in a better way. The old systems and protocols are, in large part, biased and outdated.

So when we think about inclusive finance, we need to think bigger – about customers as whole people first. That’s where Namesake comes in.

Namesake’s mission seems very one-of-a-kind. What’s been the response from the community since you’ve launched?

Lots of excitement. Lots of “I wish I had this when I changed my name.” Lots of questions, sharing personal experiences, and desire to help. Fellow trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive folks get that this is a real challenge, especially depending on where you live. And it’s my job to make sure others outside our community understand how real a problem this is, especially with the very real and ongoing attacks on trans people in the US. It’s all interconnected, and it’s important that we work towards lived equity in multiple ways.

In our most recent success story, the Reverend Dr. Debora Jackson, Dean of the Business School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), talked about the impact of inclusivity: “The solutions are better when diversity is at the table.” Have you seen this principle in action in your work?

Totally. The trans and nonbinary community is extremely diverse (even though we’re often treated as a monolith), and as a white, transmasculine nonbinary person, I recognize my privilege and the limits of my lived experience as part of the trans community. So it’s important that even from the very beginning, we invite a range of people to help build this platform, with the goal of making it accessible and affirming for everyone. We’ve partnered with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) this summer to launch our closed beta for community feedback, and I can’t be more excited about it.

We also know you’re based in Boston. How has being based in Massachusetts impacted your vision or work?

Because of the fight of so many before us, we are relatively fortunate in Massachusetts as far as LGBTQ rights and protections go (although there is still ongoing work to do). What has been most meaningful to me is the strong community here. From MTPC, to the Transgender Emergency Fund, to Transhealth Northampton and many other organizations, there is a strong, collaborative network of support and community for the trans and broader LGBTQ populations here in Massachusetts. As we expand, it’s core to our mission that Namesake amplifies and augments existing efforts and initiatives driven for decades by organizations like these.

In addition, from my experience at MassChallenge FinTech I know how this collaborative mindset extends to the startup and fintech ecosystem here, and as Namesake grows, I know we’ll find many mission-aligned fintechs and financial partners to work with.

What’s one thing fintechs or financial services could do to further the cause of inclusive finance?

There are many ways to advance inclusive finance, and I think it starts with transparency – which is something that I’m passionate about both at Stratyfy and Namesake.

For one, be transparent to your employees – and prospective employees. Inclusion starts at home. How are you supporting your employees? What are your hiring practices? What do your compensation and benefits look like? And critically – who is making those decisions? Where did existing policies and procedures originate, and how could they be updated, eradicated, or changed? And startups: stop using being early-stage as an excuse to not prioritize this.

Second, I’d like to see more transparency and vulnerability in this industry overall. There’s enormous risk and pressure from all sides in this space, but ultimately, we’re people – and we’re never going to innovate if we’re too afraid to not know all the answers.

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