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Being LGBTQ+ in the workplace

June is Pride month! The international celebration honours the Stonewall riots that shook America in 1969. These riots, led by gender non-conforming people of colour (such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Storme DeLarverie), protested the constant police brutality against the LGBTQ+ community. It brought LGBT rights into mainstream consciousness and kickstarted a movement for greater equal rights, justice and equality.
Now, as well as colourful festivals and parties in the street, Pride is also a time for us to remember those lost to hate crime, to recognise the LGBTQ+ people who have impacted history, and to acknowledge the work we still have to do in securing equality for all.

In this podcast, we chat with our colleagues; Product Marketing Manager Barney and Javascript Developer Zé from the Dash product team.

We’ll be discussing what pride means to them. We’ll discover some of the experiences they’ve had being LGBTQ+ in the workplace and we’ll explore ways employers and employees can become allies to those who find themselves in a minority group.

 

Podcast produced by Let’s Talk Video Production.

So to kick us off, Barney, I'd love to explore what Pride means to you.

Barney: Pride is a celebration. But it's also a time to acknowledge the diversity of the community as well. The LGBTQ + community spans all ethnicities, gender identities, religion, class - it's such an expansive community. And I think Pride is a time to acknowledge how diverse that community is. 

It's also a really important moment to take stock and celebrate how far we’ve come and to recognise that there is so much work left to do. 

The experience of being LGBTQ is very different. We'll get onto this later, but there are some communities within this community who really need us to show up for them. I think Pride is a really important time to recognise that. 

Also, I think Pride is the antithesis of shame. In most LGBTQ people's lives, they will have experienced some degree of self-assessment and self-shame. The fact that Pride is the opposite of that is a really positive message. It's the time to acknowledge where you've come from and where you are now. That's what it means to me.

Zé, what does Pride mean to you?

Zé: Everything Barney said. Also for me, Pride is magical, especially the party side of it. LGBTQ people get to live as everyone else gets to live throughout the rest of the year. You feel like you belong in society. You're out in the streets partying and enjoying yourself. People celebrate you, and everyone accepts you as you are without having to go through shame, as Barney said, and without having to go through people questioning you or questioning who you say you are. 

So, if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer; people just celebrate you, and you get to be yourself and enjoy it. Pride is also a party with your friends and with your chosen family. And, after such a long history of fighting for our rights, and so much hate crime that still exists in the world, we get to show ourselves and we get to be visible, and there's no better way to be visible than to just be happy and enjoy yourself. 

As the old saying goes; revenge is a dish best served joyfully dancing in the street covered in glitter and colourful feathers! I think it’s an old fairy saying.

I think that also highlights the fact that we still have a lot of work to do, to make sure people in the LGBT community feel that way for the rest of the year. Pride is not just a weekend, but something we need to think about all year round.

Zé, you've worked at Bright for three years now, as a developer, what's been your favourite, Pride at Bright?

Zé: Two years ago, Simone, our Office Coordinator, organised a rainbow bake off as a fundraiser for the Rainbow Fund in Brighton. They provide support for a lot of charities here in Brighton. 

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During the fundraiser, there were some beautiful, tasty cakes along with rainbow and trans flags that she placed on everybody’s desks.  

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The sweetest thing is that months afterwards, even a year after the event, people still had the flags on their tables. I was quite touched by that.

During that same year, it was the year that the Brighton Pride route was diverted because of some roadworks and it went right by out the front of the office.

The tech industry is constantly growing and with it, so is its workforce. Zé, as a developer, do you think the tech industry does enough to support LGBTQ+ employees? What's your experience with it?

Zé: You see some of the biggest tech companies do quite a lot to support their LGBTQ + employees.  Google and Apple are good examples of workplaces supporting diversity. 

I do think part of it comes from actually having an LGBTQ presence in these companies. 

When growing up, tech is something that people can enjoy by themselves. Sports, for instance, can feel repressive. Of course, I'm talking from the perspective of a cis-gendered white man, which is really specific to me, but I personally, hated sports growing up. 

So, I learned how to code instead. It was something that I could do on my own and on my own terms. I felt like it was a safe space for queer people. 

I hope that nowadays it's different and sports is more embracing but I think, partly because of that, there's more LGBTQ presence in the tech industry. And also, when you work in an office, individuality is appreciated and rewarded. People don't need to dress up or wear uniforms or anything, people can just wear whatever they want, and show themselves as they are.

During the last year, in particular, we have all taken to the internet more than ever before. And especially with tech companies, it's very important that they are supporting online communities too. 

: The internet is a great way to connect with people. People don't need to feel alone in the world anymore, because you can easily connect with others around the world.

Barney: I think for most LGBT people, especially growing up now, at least in the past 20 years, the internet has been probably a lifesaver. It's meant that no matter where you are in the world, when you're feeling alone, and like you're the only person like you that's maybe feeling a certain way, there are communities of people like you out there online that you can talk to who might just not be in the same town as you. I think has probably been transformative for a lot of LGBT youth growing up.

Barney, could you tell us a little bit about your experience of being out in the workplace?

Barney: My experience has been largely fine. Most of my battles at work in being out have come from within myself. I'm sure every LGBT person will recognise this, but when you're meeting a new person for the first time, especially in a work context, you can get slightly nervous sometimes introducing the fact that you're a gay person. 

For instance, you may be trying to suss out when to drop in that you have a boyfriend. That's not necessarily a reflection on your colleagues, it's more about your own history of growing up and not necessarily used to being able to talk about it freely. You may have faced repercussions or prejudice and it’s about trying to unlearn some of that instinct to hide yourself.

I’ve had some people assume certain things about me or my interests after me telling them I am gay or that I have a boyfriend. But I think on the whole, for me, it's been largely positive.

However, I realise I am quite privileged. I am a white cis-gendered, middle-class, gay man. And I've also been lucky to work in industries that have been fairly accepting. So the fact that my experience of being out in the workplace has mostly just been me trying to overcome some internal stuff I've learned, that isn't necessarily reflective of the LGBTQ + community of being out and truly themselves in the workplace.

In particular, right now, there are some real challenges for trans and non-binary people. There's a lot of misinformation and hostility out there.

Going back to what you mentioned about unlearning the reflex to hide who you are and having a boyfriend — for anyone who may be feeling the same way, do you have any tips for them or any advice you could give?

Barney: For me, it has come from just getting older. As you get older, you may feel more confident in yourself and, hopefully, you care less about what other people think. It’s not necessarily the case for everyone, but if you are in a position to be open about yourself, you should try and do so. The more experience you have of it being treated as ‘fine’, the more you start to tip the scale. Hopefully, you’ll find you start to outweigh the negative experiences of the past. 

So Barney, in your opinion, why is it important to foster an inclusive workplace, both for the individuals and for the company?

Barney: That's a really good question. And I think as you've alluded to, in that question, it's not just about LGBTQ people, it spans all sorts of other communities outside of this. I think at the end of the day, if you care about your employees, mental health and well being (which you'd hope all companies do) then this is something that you need to be taking seriously. Everyone has the right to feel like they can be authentically themselves at work. 

I think some companies might feel like, "Oh, we've got LGBTQ employees, it's all fine. We don't need to do anything, we're clearly attracting employees to the workplace, it can stop there." And that, sadly, isn't the case. For LGBTQ + people specifically. 

I was reading a Stonewall report that was published in 2018, about being out in the workplace. And there are some genuinely astonishing, quite upsetting statistics in here:

  • More than a third of LGBT employees have hidden their identity for fear of discrimination. 
  • One in five trans people wouldn't feel comfortable reporting transphobic bullying
  • Almost a third of non-binary people wouldn't feel comfortable arriving at the workplace in clothes that reflect their gender identity or who they are inside. 

So I think that underlines that there is still a lot of work to do. Companies can't afford to be complacent with this. You can make the point that there have been studies, like a McKinsey report, which show that diverse organisations are more profitable because you have a diversity of opinions, thoughts and experiences to draw on. That’s great, but it's also a slightly cynical argument - because at the end of the day it's just about employees happiness and their mental well being, and that should be prioritised regardless of profit. So like I said earlier, if you care about those things, this is something you should, for sure, be taking seriously.

I read that Stonewall report, and I found it genuinely heartbreaking. And I realised that my reaction to that was probably to do with my own privilege and naivety, to be honest. I'm a straight, cis-gendered white woman. And I feel like I have the responsibility to educate myself around other people's experiences and to understand the experiences of marginalised groups. Of course, I'm fully supportive of the LGBTQ + community. However, I know there are certain things I can change and things I can do to further support my friends and colleagues.

This brings me on to the idea of allyship and how workplaces can better support their employees. 

Zé: Workplaces can offer training and support around diversity. There are a lot of little things that are actually quite simple that can be done, but often people are not aware of them.

For instance, pronoun use. Just by people showing what their pronouns are is a very simple way of welcoming everyone to represent themselves and let everyone else know what the pronoun should be, so that they feel more respected and included. We make a lot of assumptions when we talk to people. We tend to read a lot of body language from people and expect them to be a certain way, but really, you don’t know anything about them.  So it’s important to be open and let people be themselves and then accept what they tell you. We have to remember to not gender people by what they look like. 

Another example: here at Bright, Caroline, our Head of People, has been rewriting all the job adverts so that they read more neutrally and feel fully inclusive because language carries a lot of these constructs with it.

For a lot companies, across all industries, it has been the default to use male pronouns and masculine words. And that certainly happens in Portugal. I'm Portuguese and Romance languages are fully gendered. It's difficult to take those assumptions out of the language, but it can easily be done in English

So, to combat this, at Bright, Caroline has been rewriting job adverts so that whoever reads them and no matter how they identify themselves, they can identify with it and feel like they would belong in the company. 

What often happens is that you may read a job ad and you assume that it's a company run by and for straight white men.

At Bright, we currently run our job ads through a gender decoder. It takes out any of the masculine words, for example, the word ‘competitive’. The decoder will then make suggestions to ensure the content isn’t too masculine or too femine — just neutral. 

Zé: These things are really easy. Just little shifts in mentality. And just as when you're walking in the street, and someone's coming in, everyone shifts a little bit to the side, and you give everyone space, it's not difficult at all.

Barney: That's a really interesting point. Sometimes companies might think of diversity and inclusion policies as being a huge project. And obviously, you should have all of those policies in place. But it doesn't necessarily have to start there. There are some quick and easy things that we could all be doing right now, I'm sure, which would make a huge difference to employees.

Yeah, exactly. And as Zé mentioned about using pronouns, this can be something that you can include in your email signature without much hassle at all. If everyone does it, no one has to feel pressured and everyone can feel equal. 

Zé: For a non-binary person, it can be a bit daunting to have to out yourself and say that.

I also mentioned this idea of allyship. In Forbes, allyship is defined as "a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability within marginalised individuals and or groups of people." What does this mean to you? And how can people build allyship with those in the LGBTQ + community?

Barney: Allyship is intersectional, so this isn't just about how to be a better ally for an LGBTQ + person. As a member of that community, I can be a better ally to other communities. There’s definitely been a few years of that really coming to the fore, especially with the MeToo movement, and Black Lives Matter. Whilst all of those movements encapsulate different experiences, there are some really key lessons that we can take from them and apply them to all sorts of communities that we can better show up for.

  1. I think it also means acknowledging that your lived experience is different to somebody else’s lived experience of the community that you're trying to support. Sometimes that can be a difficult conversation to have as it means acknowledging certain privileges you might not have even recognised before, and how that affects people of that community.
  2. Allowing and opening up space for people within the community that you're trying to support and letting them share their experiences and having those conversations, that should really be treated as a privilege because it can be a scary thing for people in that community to do. So, if they’ve taken the time and the mental energy to do that, it's really beholden on all of us to listen to their experience, rather than judge them or tone police them.
  3. Taking the lead from the community that you're trying to support is really important. So not dictating what they should and shouldn't be responding to, and how they should be feeling, taking the lead from them. If they're saying, actually, this upsets me, and here's why. 

But also, on that point, it's not leaving everything to the people in that community that you're supporting.It does take quite a lot of energy. So for example, in the LGBTQ community, if I'm raising an issue that I feel quite personal about, or that I think affects me and that we should change, that does take quite a lot of energy and it can actually be slightly traumatising for people. You shouldn't always leave it to people of that community to advocate for change. You can also take some of the burden.

Zé: Often, people have already been living a constant uphill battle every day of their lives. And it doesn't have to be always on them to have to change things. Allyship is also about taking action and calling things out even when there are no queer people around or black people for example. Whenever you hear something that feels unfair, it's calling it out. Because when you put pressure on people from those communities to be the ones to do it, their whole life is already that battle, they don’t need another one in their workplace.

Barney: That's exactly it. That's a really eloquent point. And you might have certain access to spaces that those people might not do. It's important that you carry that conversation into those spaces.

Going back to what you said Zé, about taking action even when there aren't queer people around, I think that's a really great point. I think it's very easy for all of us to fall back into the same behaviours, the same sort of old thinking and attitudes that we've maybe grown up with. You might be trying to make a change in the workplace, but you need to take that home with you as well. 

Zé: Yes, it’s about making your comfort zone a comfortable and inclusive space for other people too.  

Barney, do you have any recommendations for people wanting to know more about the LGBTQ + rights, culture and history?

Barney: Yeah, of course. There's a lot of resources out there if you’re interested, that you can definitely support. To name a few charities which are really worthwhile if you do care about these things. Stonewall and Mermaids right now in particular, with everything that's going on in the media, need your support - they do really valuable work. There’s also Switchboard, LGBT Foundation, and many others.

If you're interested in LGBT culture, I mean, it's maybe a bit of a cliche, but RuPaul’s Drag Race is a really good way to start.

 

Often we're used to seeing LGBTQ narratives painted with tragedy. But Drag Race is the other side of the coin - it’s a celebration. And you've got Drag Races Espana, Australia, UK, it's a celebration of the diversity and the strength of the LGBTQ community. Often you find the queens on Drag Race sharing and bonding over their history, and the past traumas they've overcome but also learning to really be comfortable with themselves and turn it into art or comedy. It's a really uplifting and sometimes educational and eye-opening show to watch. Sure, can be problematic. But I think that's probably the best place to start if you are interested in learning a bit more about what it means to be LGBT today.

Zé: I also find it really interesting how what makes them different is what makes them so successful and amazing at what they do. The strength that they get from different life experiences.

Barney: Definitely. Yeah, that's a good point.

Going back to your introduction, you mentioned the Stonewall riots - there's a really good documentary on Netflix I’d recommend for anyone interested in that quite momentous period of history called The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha P. Johnson was a trans person of colour, who was a really pivotal part of that protest. But also, she was a really inspirational figure for LGBT rights in America and around the world. It's definitely worth the watch.

Zé: do you have any queer figures that you find inspiring?

Yeah, I'd have to say my trans friends. Being with them, it's shocking the constant battle that their life seems to be. For instance, my friend, Emma, she's amazing, she's always really positive, welcoming and warm. She's amazing. But when I hear about the things that she goes through in life, sometimes they're just heartbreaking. Simple things that I never think about. I find her very inspiring.

Also thinking about queer figures, there are some figures that are not quite real and they sort of never did anything for anyone: they’re Mythical figures. What I find really interesting is that throughout history and throughout the whole world, there are mythologies with queer gods, goddesses, spirits, etc. I love it because it just shows how queer people have always existed throughout the whole of history. And in several cultures, they are part of the cosmic order of things.

Amy Burchill
Written by Amy Burchill

Amy is the Marketing Executive at Bright. When she's not juggling content and writing about herself in the third person, you can find her binging true crime documentaries or sitting at the local village pub.