The Diversity Network at Simply Business is passionate about providing a platform for underrepresented groups such as the LGBTQ+ community to talk about their experiences at work. So Simply Business was delighted to team up with the Diversity in London meetup group to discuss the importance of being inclusive in the workplace. At the event, I shared some of my lived experiences of working in industries such as video gaming, media and technology as an openly gay man.
As a Senior Software Test Engineer at Simply Business, I'm pleased to say that my working environment is an inclusive one, but the industry hasn’t always been that way.
Early on in my career in software test engineering, I started professional life in the video gaming industry - a predominantly 'male, pale and straight' working environment. It was not easy at that time to be openly gay at work; phrases such as "that's gay", whether intended innocently or not, were hard to hear from colleagues. I was bold enough to raise the issues I was experiencing with HR, and this influenced a shift in attitudes towards greater inclusivity at work, albeit slowly.
These experiences were against a backdrop of new employment equality laws in the UK.
2007 - Equality law came into play in the UK, with the introduction of the Equality Act Regulations 2007, which legislated that LGB employees could no longer be discriminated against in the workplace.
2010 - The Equality Act in the UK was extended to include the transgender community.
2020 - It's now a decade on since the Equality Act came into effect in the UK. While it's encouraging that changes in legal rights and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace have been happening over the last decade, change has been slow.
In a survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in 2019 of 701 engineering and technology employers in the UK, only "12% of companies surveyed were taking action to increase diversity in their engineering, IT and technical workforces in terms of the ethnicity, LGBTQ+ status and disability of the workforce". At Simply Business, we're proud to be advocates of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
An earlier study by the IET found that around a third of gay engineers felt their sexuality was a barrier to career progression. Over half of LGBTQ+ workers had heard jokes about gay and lesbian people at work, and one in five had been told to dress in a more masculine or feminine manner.
While there has been positive change in recent years, there is still more progress to be made.
Here are some suggestions on ways that companies can make their LGBTQ+ colleagues feel more supported in the workplace, and tips on how their allies can make their voices heard too.
If your employer does not already hold awareness events and level ups on minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community at work, ask if they'd be open to doing so. At Simply Business, the Diversity Network runs events during Pride month, including talks about lived experiences, film screenings and level ups on how to become an ally to support LGBTQ+ colleagues.
Resources that we've introduced at Simply Business to support LGBTQ+ employees include:
Conduct surveys to understand how staff identify themselves so that the right support can be provided for LGBTQ+ employees. The data gathered will provide insights into what actions can be taken to create positive initiatives to influence an inclusive culture at work.
Ways of raising awareness might include:
At Simply Business, I've spoken openly about my lived experiences as a gay man at work events such as Simply Business Pride Month 2020. In giving a talk on Diversity & Inclusion, for me it's about acknowledging the past and understanding why sometimes, the experience in the workplace wasn't always that great. You can hear my talk at the Diversity in London meetup in this YouTube video.
Opening up the conversation about issues at work can help break down perceptions and stereotypes, as well as giving colleagues an opportunity to understand more about the LGBTQ+ community.
Even in 2020, I still hear of people struggling to tell their managers they're gay because they're worried that it will hinder their career progression. The fact that people are still unable to be their authentic self at work in 2020 should be a concern for us all.
Having worked at several companies over the last 9 years, I've learned how to navigate the workplace as someone who is openly gay. If you're looking to encourage greater inclusivity and awareness of LGBTQ+ issues at your workplace, here are some tips based on my lived experiences.
It's not always easy to start a conversation on LGBTQ+ matters at work; but speaking up in the workplace can help to surface issues and enables companies to understand how they can do better to cultivate a more inclusive workplace. Employees who may be hesitant about speaking out on LGBTQ+ matters will feel more supported at work if their issues are visible to colleagues and managers.
When it comes to speaking out at work or at Diversity & Inclusion events, being authentic helps to evoke a connection or an emotional response from the audience. It's not always easy to achieve, but people tend to appreciate authenticity, even if they are surprised to learn something unexpected.
When discussing work experiences from a minority perspective, it can be easy to forget that not everyone will be aware of the issues facing someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ or what certain terms mean. So it's important to give people some context around the types of issues you've encountered at work, as well as some historical context about the LGBTQ+ community.
It can be difficult to talk about certain topics in an open forum. While it's tempting to give people a non-sugar coated insight into past or current experiences, it's important to stay within the range you're comfortable in discussing. In this way, you remain empowered to help others understand your perspective and manage the conversation.
When giving a talk about the LGBTQ+ community, one way of breaking the ice is to encourage participation from the audience. Introducing a quiz is a fun and thoughtful way to teach people something about the LGBTQ+ community. The audience will feel invested in and, most importantly, it generates emotion. Topics that may seem uncomfortable initially can be turned around when people realise they do not need to know all the answers, and they don't need to be afraid to ask.
I'd encourage anyone from a minority community who feels able to speak up about their working experiences to do so, by:
Bring your authentic self to work. Create your own door and walk through it!
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