LGBTI+: pride and support at work

23 minutes 29 seconds

Do all employers take pride in their people? In this episode we focus on the importance of organisations supporting their LGBTI+ communities and what practical steps they can take to become a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

We are joined by Lucie Garvin, deputy chair of the Acas LGBTI+ and allies staff network; Tom Price who is the senior leader champion for the Acas LGBTI+ and allies staff network; and Emma Dunn, Chair of a:gender, the cross-government network supporting trans and intersex staff across government.

We discuss:

  • issues affecting LGBTI+ people at work
  • how to set up an LGBTI+ staff and allies network
  • celebrating Pride and providing continued LGBTI+ support

Chau Doan: Welcome to the Acas podcast. I'm Chau Doan and today we will be discussing how we can support the LGBTI+ community within the workplace.

I'm joined today by Lucie Garvin, deputy chair of the Acas LGBTI+ and allies staff network; Tom Price, who is the senior leader champion for the LGBTI+ and allies staff network; and Emma Dunn, Chair of a:gender, the cross-government network supporting trans and intersex staff across government. Thank you everyone for joining me today.

Emma Dunn: Hello.

Lucie Garvin: Hello.

Tom Price: Hi Chau.

Chau: So with many Pride events and activities being either cancelled or postponed this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, today, we will be talking about how employers and organisations can support and celebrate their LGBTI+ staff at work during this challenging and unprecedented time. And also what steps they can take to make themselves a more diverse and inclusive workplace, especially employers who might have little experience or resources to do so.

Although the LGBTI+ community has come a long way in terms of gaining equal rights, especially in the workplace, we know that there's still a further way to go. So let me start off first by asking, in terms of individuals who identify themselves as trans, what can employers do to support any staff who might be transitioning or have transitioned? Emma, how could they make sure that an individual's confidentiality is protected during that period of time?

Emma: Well, the legislation exists, the Gender Recognition Act that actually says that it is an offence for somebody who has – in the course of their official duties – come to a recognising or an understanding of somebody else's being transgender. It's actually an offence to disclose that information to a third party.

So it's really important that is understood throughout all organisations. People have to understand that somebody's gender history – somebody's status as having a transgender past or their intention to undergo transition – is an intensely personal thing.

And it's not just about the personal nature of who they are at their core, it's about: trans people always get asked, and intersex people always get asked, those really kind of icky personal questions. And it's sort of things about what surgeries they might want, or what their genitals are... And that sort of stuff is really, really inappropriate.

So where managers can create an environment and demonstrate an understanding of the need to have those kinds of completely confidential conversations, and also the kind of conversations where the manager isn't squirming, and they're not being embarrassed about the kind of information that might be being disclosed to them.

That can be hugely beneficial in helping trans people to be themselves and to actually be honest about what they might need in terms of support in the workplace. Yeah, confidentiality really is key.

Chau: So it's about creating a confident and secure environment for their staff to come out for that. Have you seen any examples of that within any companies or organisations at all?

Emma: Well absolutely, I mean from my own circumstances. So I work at the civil service and within my own agency, obviously, I was... So I'm intersex and I was diagnosed as intersex. Well, I was diagnosed at age 14, actually, but the diagnosis was withheld from me. And I didn't come to an understanding of myself being intersex, or I didn't have confirmation from the medical specialists that I was intersex, until I was in my early 20s.

And at that stage, I was already a civil servant. And for many, many years, I carried a great deal of shame and stigma. And it wasn't until I actually had a line manager who demonstrated their inclusive values, who demonstrated their understanding of the need for confidentiality, that I felt able to actually come out and be open about who I was and what my circumstances were. And that was just a huge relief for me.

And what that did was it really enabled me to actually give much, much more in terms of my commitment to that organisation. Because I wasn't expending all of that mental time and energy hiding who I was and what I was going through, I could actually be really open and honest. And my manager was able to respond to that.

So on days where I had really bad reactions to the hormones that I was taking, my manager said that I could have a laptop so that I could work from home. And you know, this was back in the day when we didn't all have laptops, and we weren't all working from home. So that was a huge benefit to me. And it meant that my sick records improved, that I was able to contribute more to my team, that kind of thing was really, really helpful.

And I knew that I was in safe hands with that manager, I knew that other people who might show a kind of prurient interest in what might be the circumstances behind why I might be working from home, that manager was going to be really clear and explicit that it was nobody else's business. It was between me and them, and they knew what was happening. And that was good enough.

So having that real confidence, I think as a manager that you can support that person really helps.

Chau: So would you say that the great situation would be to build that great element of trust between employers and also their LGBTI+ staff? To create that open and honest environment for them to be in, but also to help them potentially come to their employers with any problems or concerns they might have.

Emma: Yes. Yes, absolutely building trust. And we've talked about it like it's a really simple thing. But of course, it's an incredibly complicated process. It's not something that can be done overnight. And it is, I think for me, about kind of really being clear about what your values are as an organisation and as a manager, and living that, role modelling that, demonstrating that so that people can really see you're not just talking the talk, you're walking the walk.

And where you're doing that people will open up to you, they will tell you what you need to hear about the circumstances that they're going through or the issues that they're facing, if they are experiencing bullying, harassment, discrimination; they will feel much more confident in kind of surfacing those tensions, telling you what the issues are.

So yes, walk the walk, if you're a manager, if you're an organisation, walk the walk and show people that you care about them.

Chau: Emma has mentioned about the challenges and difficulties that trans and intersex staff might be facing. So Lucie, can I ask you what are the other challenges that LGBTI+ staff might be facing in the workplace as well?

Lucie: I guess there's the discrimination side of things, which is perhaps a more extreme side.

So individuals might be discriminated against, because of their sexual orientation, or their gender identity. There's perhaps more subtle a side of things, challenges that LGBTI+ people might face as well. And that's perhaps the challenge of whether they're out or not. And if somebody isn't out at work, then that can affect them in lots of different ways. It might affect their mental wellbeing.

And that might have a knock-on effect for their productivity as well, because they feel perhaps that they're constantly trying to hide something about themselves that's really important. So maybe not being able to bring their full selves to work can have a big impact as well.

Chau: So if that's the case then, what would you say to someone who would like to encourage that open and honest conversation with their staff then? If they're having difficulties to encourage their staff to do so?

Lucie: Yes, that's a good question.

I think having good policies, having clearer policies that are inclusive of everybody... Using inclusive language, something that speaks to everybody, gender neutral language can be super helpful. So what I mean by that is, Acas for example, with our policies, we've worked through them to make sure that they're gender neutral. And we use the kind of: members of staff, the employee, the manager, 'they/them' perhaps rather than using ‘she/her’ or ‘he/him’, talking about members of staff or members of management for example.

Training is also really important to making sure everybody feels included in the workplace and can be their true selves. And this is training on inclusivity and diversity, and it's kind of regular training as well. So it's not necessarily just a tick box exercise, it's doing varied training regularly. This can kind of help those folks feel able to be themselves at work.

Chau: Thanks Lucie. You've mentioned about policies and training that employers can put into place to help their staff. And Tom, I know you're the senior leader champion for the LGBTI+ and allies staff network. What would be the benefit for an organisation to set up a network if they haven't done so already?

Tom: Well, I think one of the principal benefits is effectively making sure that your colleagues feel they have a voice and that the organisation is listening to them.

I mean, Lucie's mentioned the importance of taking action. I think that's really important. I think it's really important that organisations take action, listen to staff and take action, even if it's not about issues on the scale of inappropriate behaviour.

You know, it's great to have a strong organisational narrative around inclusion. But to be effective, it really has to lead to action. And a staff network is a great way of prompting an organisation to change things, and to do things differently. To explore different ways of doing things that really support LGBTI+ staff.

Chau: What would you say to an organisation who feels that they don't need to set up an LGBTI+ staff network? So if they felt that they're inclusive already. Or if they believe that they don't have any LGBTI+ staff in their workplace.

Tom: I mean, I think I'd really challenge them to think about whether or not they really are listening to their staff.

I mean, I think it's easy for people to kind of assume that they have a good relationship with their staff, that they have open conversations in the workplace. But I think that a lot of people from straight cisgender backgrounds like me, can really struggle to get to grips sometimes with the issues that are tremendously important to those staff.

And actually creating a network so that you can have a space where people can tell you about their experiences, can tell you about the challenges they face in the workplace can be a really helpful way of expanding that conversation.

And building kind of relationships, I guess of trust, consistency and accountability, effectively the cornerstones of effective allyship. Yes, I would strongly encourage organisations to explore setting up staff networks, if they can.

Chau: So if they don't have a network set up already as such, so for example if they are a small organisation just started out. How would they be able to go about that, Lucie?

Lucie: Yeah, a good place to start is finding enthusiastic volunteers. So there may be somebody in the workplace, they might not necessarily identify as LGBTI+, they may be an ally. An enthusiastic ally, who wants to take some steps to set up a network or community.

Get buy-in from the top of the organisation, even a small organisation. If it's supported right at the top of management, then it can really help that community and network start up properly.

And kind of invest in those volunteers. So if senior management or management at any level can give time to those individuals, or that person, to make sure that they can set it up fully and they've got time maybe away from their day-to-day work, even  just a little bit of time away from the day-to-day work to do that. That can be really, really helpful.

Chau: Thanks Lucie. We know that staff networks can provide a lot of support and help. And some of the things that they do include setting up events and activities for their members. I'm wondering, with the impact of the pandemic and with many in-person events such as LGBTI+ History Month and Pride being either cancelled or postponed this year: what are the things that you're doing, Emma, in your own organisation, to celebrate instead?

Emma: Thanks Chau. Yes, we found that the lack of sort of physical in person Pride events has actually had a really significant impact on our members, who really tell us how much they value the opportunity to actually go out and be in a safe space with other people like them. To be outside, to be proud of who they are, to be open, to be vocal.

So yes, they've really struggled with the lack of actual physical in person events. One of the things that our network has done in collaboration with the civil service LGBT+ network is that we have set a series of Pride events online so that people can still feel that they have those connections to each other, and they can still celebrate who they are. And they can still have those conversations with other people who recognise the issues where they don't have to start from square one explaining what's going on.

And something that we've done specifically within a:gender, and this was as a result of the pandemic hitting is that we actually introduced at that stage an online social meeting. So every Thursday night we all gather together, we have in-jokes, we have a silly quiz where we give out prizes, and it's just an hour of nonsense.

The rule is that you get bonus points if you appear on camera with a pet or a child. And you have to have a 'quarantini' which is an alcoholic or a non-alcoholic drink, made with whatever you have in your cupboard in lockdown.

And we just have an hour actually just celebrating each other, making those connections. And obviously over Pride, you know we've had rainbow themed quizzes, we've got people dressing up, we've had Pride-specific quizzes.

So that's been a really huge bonus for our members in that it has still given them the opportunity to kind of celebrate themselves, celebrate who they are, meet with other people who are like them, and it's really benefitted their mental health.

So I think for organisations, recognise and leverage the power of hybrid working. If everybody in your organisation is able to access online video conferencing, think about giving them the time and giving them the resources to put on events like that, because it really can help people, their mental health and their wellbeing to feel connected to each other, especially during Pride.

Chau: Would you say that by doing it continually as such, so rather than just doing a one-off event for Pride, it will be a benefit to organisations to support their LGBTI+ networks going forward?

Emma: Absolutely, 100%. I think it took a pandemic for us to realise the power of holding those meetings. And as I say, when we've gone through Christmas, and we've gone through Easter and we've gone through Pride, and we've had all sorts of themed events throughout the year. And it took that for us to realise actually how powerful that was and how necessary it was and how it shouldn't and it can't just be a one-off thing.

And we're really lucky, a lot of our members tell us that their workplaces actually regard this as being so important to their mental health that they're actually allowed to attend that hour's meeting each week. On the clock, that actually it can be considered to be part of their working day. But yes, where organisations can actually set something like that up and actually give people the time to attend and give people the resources to attend, the payoff is just threefold, fourfold. It's incredible.

Chau: Emma has just mentioned about the mental health of LGBTI+ staff, so Lucie if someone is struggling with their mental health, what access to support can they go to? Or is there something that the employer could refer them to, to get help with that?

Lucie: Employers large and small, I mean the individual might be best placed to have a chat with their own GP, their own doctor might be able to help and signpost as well, if they're struggling. And sometimes talking to a professional can be really, really helpful. But there are lots of organisations out there that can provide mental health support.

Employers might also have an employee assistance programme, which may have access to a helpline that may allow them to call up any time of the day, any day of the year, and have a conversation with somebody who's professionally trained.

Again, it might be an area where staff networks can assist as well. A staff network may have some really good ties and links up with local organisations or national organisations. And an individual who might be struggling, it's another benefit of having a network or a community within the workplace. You know, having somewhere that people can go to and say, "look, I'm struggling", not for them to give the professional help, but a signpost, a place somebody feels comfortable to go, "look, I think I need a little bit of help at the moment. Do you know anybody?" And the network can perhaps provide that signpost on as well.

Acas also has some really good examples. We've got 'mental health first aiders', individuals who have been trained to deal with kind of immediate issues as well as the signposting on longer term options for people who might be struggling.

So kind of invest in that training for your people, no matter how big you are, whether you're a large employer or small employer, whether it's one person or several people in different offices. When folks know that there is somebody there that they can turn to, not just maybe a line manager or a colleague, that can be really beneficial as well.

Chau: Tom, in terms of getting senior leaders on board with supporting their LGBTI+ staff... So, if there is an allies staff network for them to join, how can they encourage the senior leaders to do that? So if they're potentially hesitant to do so?

Tom: Well, I think the key thing and the sort of the theme through I guess my contribution to the podcast is really around action and people being seen to take action.

And I think that's one of the, perhaps the principal, motivations for senior leaders to join a staff network is that it's demonstrating that they are not just paying lip service to the need for diversity and inclusion within their organisations. That they are committed to ensuring that they are part of those open conversations that a staff network fosters.

And I think that a staff network can be a great way of learning. You know, I think that if you're – particularly with LGBTI+ colleagues – if you're straight, if you're cisgender, actually taking some time to listen to the experiences of the members of the staff network, and to learn from them and to understand what challenges they face in the workplace, can be tremendously beneficial.

And I think that yes absolutely, that would be a huge benefit for any member of a senior leadership team who's thinking about joining a network.

Chau: Would you say then, even if someone doesn't identify themselves as part of the LGBTI+ community, it would still be a benefit for them to join an allies network?

Tom: Absolutely. I mean as I said before, I'm a straight cisgender man, but I volunteer to be the senior champion, because I firmly believe that ensuring our LGBTI+ colleagues feel valued and able to be their full selves at work is a responsibility of everyone in an organisation.

It's not just something that falls to members of the LGBTI+ community. And it's really important that senior leaders role model that. That they understand how they can aspire to be an effective ally, and that they show other people in the organisation that this is something that's personally important to them.

You know, I think that it's been... I found it tremendously rewarding. I think that I have had the opportunity to interact with some amazing colleagues, some really incredible colleagues, who have a whole world of experience, that they've been kind enough to share with me.

I think that yes, learning to be an effective ally has been a real journey for me. I mean, to be honest I think that I've participated in conversations about allyship, I've been to training sessions. But until I started in the role as the senior champion, I guess I've really had to learn how to try and practice that allyship, how to really aspire to be that effective ally.

And I think fundamentally, one thing I'm really committed to is driving positive change in the organisation and being able to do that on behalf of the LGBTI+ network, be able to effectively amplify their voices, to use my privilege on their behalf is, I mean, fundamentally, it's got to be a good thing to do. It's the right thing to do.

Chau: If someone is listening to this podcast today, what's the one thing they should start doing, say for example tomorrow, if they wish to include an LGBTI+ community within their organisation? Or if they wish to support that?

Tom: I think the idea of seeing whether or not there's interest in setting up a staff network is a really powerful one. I mean critically, I think the important thing is listening to your staff, finding a way of listening to your staff. And when they tell you things: take action.

Emma: Yes, I couldn't agree more.

I was just going to say the first thing I think you need to do is find your staff, find where they are. The second thing you need to do is talk to them, have a conversation with them.

And as Tom said, listen. Listen to them and take action on what they're telling you. If you really want to be an effective ally, you can't do that in a vacuum, you can't do that. You can't make assumptions about what might be an issue in your organisation or what your community might need.

You're going to have to have those conversations and where you have them, trust me, they'll tell you and you can act on that. It's a really helpful thing to have that engagement with your staff.

Lucie: Yes, I mean, I agree with everything Tom and Emma have said.

I think, you know, if you're an employer and you're interested in setting up a network or a community in your workplace and you're not sure where to start, yeah, listen to people. Find who your people are, and capitalise on them, really invest in them and give them time.

But I guess as an employer, if you're not sure where to start, do a bit of research. Google's your friend. Find other workplaces. If you've got contacts with other people in a similar line of industry as you, get on the phone, have a chat with them, see if they've got anything similar and what they've learned from it, and how they set it up in the early days.

You may be a member of the Chamber of Commerce, you may be part of an employer group. Reach out to them, ask questions, do your own research, as well as trying to find those individuals and start listening to those people and what they want and what they need.

Chau: Fantastic. It's been wonderful listening to all your insights, advice and top tips on how organisations and employers can support their LGBTI+ communities at work. I'd just like to say thank you for everyone for joining us today.

Emma: Thanks Chau.

Lucie: Thanks Chau.

Tom: Thanks Chau.

Chau: This has been the Acas podcast. You can find out more information about supporting the LGBTI+ community at work on our website at acas.org.uk, including research, guidance, blogs, and policy templates. And we have all the links in the episode notes.

If you require more specialist and individual support, then we have a fantastic range of expert advisers who can provide bespoke work to cater to your needs. So please do get in touch.

Contact details and information for this service is also included in the episode notes. Thank you for listening.

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