By Dr Caroline O’Hare, Business Communications and Marketing
In the last month, Exploristics has been celebrating LGBT+ Pride. For many of us it has been a chance to start to learn about the importance of showing more meaningful active support for our LGBT+ community and move beyond well-meaning passive assent. For me personally, this has been an eye-opening journey. I have had the chance to learn about the negative interactions and social messaging that my LGBT+ colleagues and friends may be experiencing daily from a wide range of sources. It has laid bare my own misperceptions about how to be an ally and has shown me the need to create a safe space for more open communication as we pursue our ongoing journey towards increasing company diversity and inclusion.
Pushing for more
Firstly, I have come to realise that at least for me personally there can be an intergenerational divide when it comes to understanding greater LGBT+ inclusion. Growing up in the eighties, when being gay was socially divisive and impacted by the ignorance and bigotry that came with the horrors of AIDs, I was under the naïve impression that we already lived in a more inclusive society when it came to issues of sexuality and gender. Although great strides have been made since then in terms wider social acceptance of same sex relationships, including the legal recognition in the UK and Ireland of same sex partnerships and same sex marriage, I realise now that this really is just the start of our inclusion journey rather than the finish. I see some parallels here with the journey towards greater gender equality. Some people feel that women were liberated from traditional social roles decades ago. However, the daily reality for many women is that they are still burdened by many of their traditional responsibilities, but with a full-time salaried job too. Here again, some visible progress has been made such as more women in the workplace with some achieving high profile roles. However, the devil is in the detail when it comes to careers in STEM, childcare, pay, household responsibilities and equal numbers reaching senior decision-making roles meaning that while women have been striving for equality, they have certainly not yet achieved equity. I have come to understand that this may also ring true for the LGBT+ community in the workplace.
Secondly, I have realised the importance of language in creating a more LGBT+ inclusive workplace. Over Pride Month I have started to learn about the impact of the use preferred pronouns and how contentious this can sometimes be, as a well-known national building society recently discovered for itself. There is always the risk of accusations of ‘wokery’ and an associated backlash from some who feel that this might be a step too far. In some cases, this might highlight a generational divide in understanding. I know from my own teenage children that they are comfortable with the use of preferred pronouns and cannot fathom why others might reject it.
Learning from mistakes
In the last month, I have also learned how well-meaning actions aimed at being inclusive can sometimes have unforeseen, unintended negative consequences that can add to the strain of those already feeling under pressure from the social norms. I have learned to examine what the social norms are; to understand that that they have never been fixed in history and to consider the sense of not belonging that might be felt by individuals that do not fit with today’s particular set of often-unspoken conventions. I have learned that while asking questions can help the learning process for those who do not identify as LGBT+, intrusive questioning can add yet further pressure on those locked in a never-ending loop of explanation. Importantly, I have learned that it is OK to make an unintended mistake and that rather than resent it, I can use it as an opportunity to see why it would impact another person negatively and to learn from it going forward.
The importance of action
Finally, I have started to learn about how to provide more meaningful allyship for my LGBT+ colleagues beyond Pride. I have learned the importance of having active and visible allies especially within senior management to help create a more inclusive culture. I was asked recently to think about what my first step would be to try to become a better ally. For me, this blog marks the start of my journey along this road. It shows that it’s never too late to learn and be open to dialogue and other points of view; surely an important lesson for us all in a world riven by conflict and hardship.
View recent excellent Pearn Kandola webinars on how to be an LGBT inclusive organisation
I attended last month.