He who shares his story of…
I worked hard at school and into tertiary education, and then into my first years in my career. I can’t remember the moment that I, myself, realised I was into boys. But I do remember telling my family. Well, I remember the build up to telling my family. That took a lot more emotion and mental energy from me than the actual event. The actual event was over in moments from when I told them. My family were accepting and loved me for who I was regardless of what gender I loved.
It wasn’t that simple being an engineer in a male-dominated industry. It was very quickly evident that being a homosexual was not something that was going to be accepted by my peers as I started and was quickly progressing up that career ladder in my adulthood. Even though I often politely rejected my “partner” attending a corporate dinner due to work commitments, the invitations would keep coming. I wondered how many times my work events could clash with my “partner’s” before someone started to be more curious to my circumstances at home.
Outside of work with my friends and family, I was proud of who I was. I was proud of who my partner was. He was very successful at anything he put his mind to, and anyone he met would appreciate his company. But that didn’t make it any easier for me to tell my manager or team members that I was in love with a man.
I had been around them when they made assumptions of others being gay. I had heard the tone of their voices as they brought themselves to say that “he was one of ‘them’ you know?” I had been in a position to have to laugh along with them as someone pointed out that around March each year, that guy in the Technical Services team would go to Sydney. Then someone would speculate on the costume he would be wearing that year in the Mardi Gras parade. They would laugh at whatever they said. I would laugh too.
Even now these days, after having the acceptance of gay marriage by the Australian government, I feel that I need to use non-gender specific pronouns when speaking about the love of my life. I am still not authentically myself at work. I don’t feel my manager or team are ready to accept that about me. I am not confident that admitting I am gay will not hinder my career progression even despite the capability I have proven over the years. No one has given me any reason to believe my feelings are not founded.
Many people still choose to keep their sexual orientation hidden from colleagues because of the perception that this disclosure could undermine professional bonds or affect career progression.
It is easy for companies to have anti-discrimination policies in place that includes sexual orientation and gender. They may even be committed to hanging up a rainbow flag and calling themselves inclusive when Pride Month comes around. But just saying you are and having a policy that says what you need to say is not the same as being a genuinely inclusive workplace.
When we used to talk about equality it was largely about gender. We need to appreciate that today it’s a lot broader than gender. Attention needs to be drawn to the experiences of workers who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer people (LGBTIQ) who are working in industries or businesses that don’t have inclusive policies and practices. The working world is still far off from being truly welcoming to LGBTIQ folks. The solution to this lies predominantly with the leaders of teams in businesses.
The Call to Action
Diversity is about ensuring people see themselves represented in the environment around them. But diversity efforts fail without inclusivity. Inclusion is about ensuring all employees see themselves represented not just in their workplace environment but in organizational policy, leadership, behaviors and attitudes.
There is no such thing as an inclusive workplace without an inclusive leadership team. Regardless of the policies and programs an organization has in place, inclusion efforts will fall flat if this behavior is not modelled by the leaders.
Ultimately, inclusion is about creating a welcoming and supportive environment where all employees are accepted for who they are and the value their unique perspectives and experiences bring to the workplace.
Confront bias and reduce the use of non-inclusive language by calling it out (whether it’s from yourself or others) and encourage others to do the same.
People managers should be invested in the care and well-being of those who work for them and are responsible for ensuring their teams interact in a professional and respectful manner, regardless of what their sexual preferences are. You as a leader needs to start this today.