The discussion around diversity and inclusion covers many areas, but today I’d like to take the time to discuss the LGBTQ+ community and representation within the general workplace and my personal experiences in my own sectors, construction and technology. As we are nearing the end of Pride month, I wanted to share my thoughts on not only what Pride means to me, but how I see different attitudes impacting a wider community in the workplace.
My working life started in construction, both office and site-based, and I have since started my own business in construction technology; quite the change in environment from my early career days. I identify as lesbian, but too often I’d be afraid to say this out loud and it actually took me a long time to feel comfortable identifying as such. On different sites, I’d personally hear the term “gay” used in a derogatory and comical fashion. There would be stereotypes about both men and women which I didn’t see myself conforming to, and quite frankly in my early career days I’d let the comments go by without speaking out. Something which now I look back in hindsight I am certainly not proud of in the slightest.
The most recent survey results I could find for construction in the UK came from Construction News in 2018, where 59% respondents commented that they’d also overheard “gay” being used as an insult in the workplace, with 28% of LGBTQ+ respondents mentioning that they’d had inappropriate or offensive comments made about their sexuality in the last year. This won’t be too surprising for many, but it would explain why there is an LGBTQ+ population in this sector who are afraid of being open and honest about their identities, for fear of this behaviour. It is toxic, and it results in devastating impacts on individuals who feel they cannot bring their full selves to work. Don’t get me wrong, workplace inclusivity has come a long way in recent decades, and generations coming into the working environment now will have a very different (and I believe largely more positive) experience with the way we communicate and different pressures about how we reveal/conceal certain areas of our lives. There is of course a significant way to go, and I am a strong believer that saying these words out loud and having representation throughout the different layers of organisations is perhaps a more critical component than some of us may think, in creating an environment where it simply does not matter however you identify.
Running my own business now, I try to make an effort to be open about my identity and sexuality. Coming from an environment which didn’t appear to have a big representation (at least that I was aware of at the time), I am now conscious to make sure other LGBTQ+ identifying colleagues and businesses that we work with are comfortable with themselves and how they personally identify, whether they’re open about it or not. I wish I had the confidence to be my full self from Day 1, but looking back I believe even something as simple as the exposure to others in the LGBTQ+ space would have more quickly helped me reach where I am today.
There are many things I can talk about on this topic, and many things that I strongly believe need to change, but to leave a single call to action today, I’d like to say to everyone in whatever workplace you operate in: be mindful of the language that you and your colleagues use regardless of how you identify, and be willing to call others out on it even for the ‘small comments’. It might be that the individual is completely unaware of the toxicity of certain phrases, and this simply allows the opportunity to open a discussion around it (and if it they are aware, then this is an even more important reason to be raising it). This, of course, needs to be driven by strong leadership. We need organisational leaders to set this standard and create an environment for their teams which harbors inclusive and conscious behaviours. It is our responsibility to not only create this environment, but to raise awareness and educate our teams where we need to, and be responsive to change on such dynamic issues. I feel like there is a “fear of getting it wrong” when it comes to language around LGBTQ+ issues, but we need to be less afraid to talk about it and more comfortable with the idea of improving our own awareness and education. Without this, we will not see progress in the workplace.
I consider myself fortunate that I work with a remarkably accepting and inclusive team, but I hope that one day the idea of being “fortunate” or not won’t even be a consideration anymore. We shouldn’t even have to think about it. To me, Pride is a time to reflect on our own experiences and behaviours, and learn what more we can do to remove the barriers and discrimination that still exists. It is about feeling proud of who you are, however you identify, and feeling comfortable enough to be your full self 100% of the time.
If you’d like to reach out and discuss any of these topics then please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And to any in the LGBTQ+ community who feel there isn’t widespread representation in these sectors, you are not alone.