OkCupid’s inclusive culture is key to the app’s new product innovation
- OkCupid gave LGBTQ communities more options years before other dating apps.
- Marcus Lofthouse, its product manager, explains how he promotes inclusive innovation.
- The key is to foster safe spaces for employees and to work with people from diverse backgrounds.
- This article is part of a series called “Culture of Innovation” exploring how companies are setting the stage for innovation, transformation and growth.
In the early 2000s, Marcus Lofthouse used Craigslist to find dates with other men. Lofthouse, which hadn’t come out as gay until 2008, was looking for a queer community online and could only find it alongside furniture ads and odd jobs.
But when OkCupid launched in 2004, it became the underdog of online dating. It offered inclusive options for LGBTQ singles. The app also offered specific questions for queer, trans and non-binary users – a novelty at the time.
It took years for other apps to offer similar options. It wasn’t until 2010, after settling a lawsuit brought by gay and lesbian users, that eHarmony added dating options for LGBTQ users, such as “men seeking men.” In 2014, OkCupid expanded its sexuality options to include options like “asexual, demisexual, and heteroflexible,” and it added more gender options beyond “male” and “female” to include options like as “agender, androgynous, trans man, and cis woman.” It wasn’t until 2019 that Tinder added similar options.
Lofthouse started using OkCupid and loved it because of the dating options it offered. He started working as OkCupid’s chief product officer in 2019. He now leads product creation at one of the world’s most popular dating apps.
Executives at OkCupid, a stalwart of the online dating landscape, tell Insider they prioritize innovation in the business. They work with a range of partners, including non-profit organization GLAAD and queer diversity, equity and inclusion consultants, to ensure the company’s products include people of all walks of life and are at the forefront of new conversations about inclusion. Lofthouse said Match Group, OkCupid’s parent company, copied its products and applied them to other apps it owns, including Hinge, Match.com and Tinder. In an interview with Insider, Lofthouse discussed how other companies can ensure new products are transformational and inclusive.
“We have a historic legacy of openness,” Lofthouse said. “We set the tone on things like LGBTQIA+ products and offers. Other apps are looking to us.”
Normalize queer experiences
While dating apps designed specifically for LGBTQ communities offer a range of gender and orientation options, apps for straight and cis singles have often overlooked this kind of intersectionality.
This year for Pride Month, OkCupid is adding a range of LGBTQ-centric questions for all users in an effort to include and standardize a range of experiences. For example, all users are now prompted: “What does Pride mean to you?” “Do you defend LGBTQ+ rights? “Is it important to you that your date cares about transgender rights?” »
The latest product rollout follows a number of innovative features launched by the company.
Earlier this year, OkCupid added definitions to its gender and orientation options to better serve LGBTQ singles and help educate allies. In 2020, the company rolled out the feature to all users to specify their pronouns, following a 2018 feature that gave LGBTQ users pronoun options. OkCupid allowed users to search not only for “male” or “female”, but also for “non-binary” daters. Bumble just added this option, and on Hinge, for example, the app allows a user to identify as non-binary but allows them to search only for men or women, not other non-binary users.
Many of these features at OkCupid have resulted either from listening to consumer feedback or employee insight. Having a diverse set of employees, as well as creating safe spaces for people to voice their opinions, is crucial for innovation, Lofthouse said.
“We hire the most qualified people and make sure to recruit candidates from diverse backgrounds,” he said. “But I think it’s fundamental that we have a number of openly diverse people, specifically from the LGBTQ+ space. We’ve normalized the conversations. We’re creating psychological safety.”
Lofthouse said OkCupid leaders model psychological safety by speaking openly about their personal experiences and holding team members accountable when something goes wrong. For example, someone can interrupt a meeting, point out that a comment was problematic and discuss it, instead of letting it slide.
Like any other historically marginalized group, LGBTQ communities are not a monolith. To ensure the company creates products that represent members from all walks of life, OkCupid executives partner with nonprofits such as GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and have commissioned DEI consultants and queer discussion groups.
“There’s a danger of sometimes having a representative of a group and then the assumption is, ‘Well, we checked in with a gay person. Let’s go with their ideas,'” Lofthouse said.
Companies must avoid the tendency to consult with a member of an underrepresented group and then “check a box,” the executive said. For example, the experience of an affluent cisgender lesbian white woman is different from the experience of a black lesbian trans woman.
“Start with the intention to be more inclusive,” Lofthouse said. “There are usually always partners who can help you, or someone who can take customer feedback. There are always feedback who can help you think of something a little bigger.”
Frankie Bashan, a queer dating coach and matchmaker, said big business has a responsibility to use their platforms to advance human rights.
“It is their responsibility to engender and create an inclusive environment, even if it pushes them out of their comfort zone,” Bashan said. “We can’t know everything on our own. So you hire an expert who does.”
The dating coach reviewed some of OkCupid’s features and agreed that it’s at the forefront of offering inclusive products.
“They’re kind of disruptive,” she said. “They’ve been in the lead.”