Ally your forces in diversity

Colin KimberColin Kimber shares what he has learned from the recent LGBT+ in The Workplace Conference 2020.

Hate crime is on the rise; one in five LGBT+ people was affected 
in the past year – two in five were trans people specifically. And one young person in five feels held back from accessing work because they are part of the LGBT+ community.  

Mental health statistics within the LGBT+ community tell a shocking story of high levels of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. For workplace and facilities managers, it was a sobering reminder that we need to connect with our role as social leaders to positively affect all aspects of our people’s lives.

Here are key takeaways from the conference to consider:  

  • Put culture at the heart of everything you do. Providing a support culture has a positive effect on everyone and is particularly effective for diverse groups like LGBT+ employees. We can see box-ticking a mile away. The efforts of our organisations must be authentic.  
  • Provide allies – including an ally spectrum. Allies are essential to drive inclusion but they are often unclear about what they are supposed to do. Is everyone supposed to wave rainbow flags and march in parades? A Microsoft representative referred to an ally spectrum: Apathetic to Aware to Active to Advocate. An ally can be anywhere on this journey; they don’t have to understand everything or take part in everything to support inclusion. Just creating space for conversations to happen or challenging potential ignorance in others is enough.  
  • Understand pinkwashing. Pinkwashing is that moment in Pride month when everyone sticks a rainbow on everything. The LGBT+ community can smell a rat. Companies should support an inclusive approach all year round, not just for a few weeks in the summer. One speaker said: “You wouldn’t stick a Fairtrade logo on your product without adapting your supply chain. The rainbow flag should be no different.”  
  • Get policies written (and right). You could be a group of like-minded and supportive individuals but you still need policies to support inclusivity. They can’t just be policies that state what happens when something goes wrong. Waiting until an employee announces his or her intention to transition before writing a policy about how you provide support is too late. This could have the negative effect of making that person feel like an afterthought. Proactivity and communication are key here – build an infrastructure and communicate it well.

Why these events matter

This was my second year attending the conference and my experiences at each one have turned out to be quite different from each other.  

In 2019 I was finding my feet on my journey of ‘bringing my whole self to work’. The conference gave me a real sense of community and support, which led to an increase in self-confidence and a realisation of my potential for influencing change.

I entered the 2020 conference more self-assured and confident to stand alongside other delegates as an advocate for inclusion in all its forms – quite the shift for someone who not so long ago would put so much effort into concealing who I was, staying silent when I saw issues due to being unsure about the ‘right thing to do’.  

These experiences, alongside working at a firm that wears its inclusion agenda on its sleeve, and the work I do as part of LGBT+ in FM have changed my work-life experience, which has made me a happier, healthier and more productive employee.

The day was inspiring and invigorating, but the thing I valued the most was how it challenged me personally.  I was reminded about just how much I still don’t understand about what some members of my community go through.

Listening to stories from the non-binary community were enlightening. Keeping the conversation going is essential when it comes to inclusion. Remain curious. Remain open to the value of our differences. Remember the potential of our impact on those around us. We are social leaders, after all. 

Colin Kimber is associate director at Pareto FM

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