As the founder of Capgemini’s LGBT network OUTfront, I seem to spend a lot of time musing on the difficulties of being LGBT in the modern workplace. Imagine my delight therefore when, at a joint event held by Capgemini and HMRC on IDAHOT 2017, I found myself surrounded by 160 colleagues who were all there to support me. And obviously not only me, but their LGBT colleagues at work, and LGBT friends and families at home. It was a truly amazing feeling, and I know I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
Advocating for diversity in the technology industry, or in the workplace in general, can sometimes come across as a bit preachy. I am well aware of this, and have to admit that even I did experience a bit of a “come and be educated” reaction when the idea of a joint LGBT event was first mooted. It felt a bit like we were asking people to optionally attend school as adults – which sounds awful!
In order to convince myself of the value of such an event, I had to identify a more specific objective – and the one I settled on was “action.” What I wanted was for each individual to take one action away from the day. Not everyone was going to be spurred into marching on parliament, but everyone could at least leave the event having decided to do one small thing to make a difference. I actually wrote a list of suggestions in advance of the day – what might people want to do? What would people be willing to do? And what was realistic once the heightened emotion of the day was over?
Having listened, talked, engaged, written, literally laughed and cried together, below are a couple of the main actions we agreed to take:
1. Challenge Behaviour
This was a core theme for many people at our event, and links nicely to the #NoBystanders campaign from Stonewall, which encourages people not to brush off everything as ‘banter’ and ‘jokes’, but to instead say no. If everyone said this, it would make a huge difference to what people understood as acceptable in the workplace.
2. Use Inclusive Language
Words are so important. And the assumptions behind them are equally so, particularly as they are often wrong. Businesses need to be encouraging people to talk about “partners” automatically instead of “boyfriend”, “girlfriend”, “wife” or “husband” etc. This is a gender-neutral word which doesn’t force people to come out through its use, equate to them telling a lie, or make them feel excluded from talking about their same sex partner.
3. Be A Visible Ally
According to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2016, at least 70% of the LGBT workforce in the UK are currently in the closet at work, and in some areasthis rises to 80%. With stats like these, it is clear that just being actively inclusive of your known LGBT colleagues is not enough – you probably aren’t aware of half of the LBGT people around you! One way to be more visibly supportive of the LGBT community, if you have a network for example, is to wear a pin or a lanyard from that group around the office, or to add their logo to your email footer.
4. Be Visible As A LGBT Person
This was an interesting action that many people committed to taking, and not one I had expected. I am fully of the opinion that if you are able to be out – and people have many perfectly justifiable reasons why they aren’t – then you should be. Yes, it is hard to be the first, and yes, it is easy for me to make such statements as a middle class, white, cis, woman in the UK who came out just as civil partnerships were legalised. But I know that this not the case for everyone, which is why it is so important for people to come out if they can. They are helping to make the workplace a safer environment for those who are unable to yet. For that, I thank them.
5. Raise Awareness
This was the action which received the biggest response on the day of our event. Having attended, people wanted to do something – to go away and talk to their teams about what they had learnt. They’re going to share the videos with their teams, peers and colleagues, friends and family. They’re going to set up local sub-LGBT groups. They’re going to support their local charities. They’re going to do that one thing, actually one big thing, and if 160 people do one small thing each, then therein a movement is made.