I attended the Stonewall workplace conference on the 27th of April 2018 in London. There were over 800 delegates present from the private, public and voluntary sectors. Below I summarise the main ideas from the event.
Allies – Top 5 points
- Recruit allies. Find ways to incentivise them to step forward, change is difficult without the support of allies (especially very senior ones in organisations).
- Have signifiers – lanyards, mugs, stickers, posters, badges – in different areas of an organisation to normalise being LGBT+ in the workplace and provide a welcoming environment for customers.
- Some BAME LGBT+ people come out inthe workplace and are able to be themselves because of strong organisational support policies. This is helpful because many are unable to be ‘out’ to their families and friends. Lloyds Bank has found this to be the case.
- ‘If not you, then who?’ Challenge people and apathy by asking them to step forward. It adds organisational value in terms of public perception, contributing to local charities, building skills and confidence among staff.
- Provide allies with tools and time. Accept that allies are on their own journey and the learning takes time.
BAME LGBT+ in the workplace – a long journey
- You can’t separate overlapping identities (race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation etc.) and expect people to choose allegiances.
- Minorities can’t only fight for themselves and they need to recognise other minorities to build more vocal support for minority issues.
- The main issues identified by studies were family shame within a collectivist community, colonial overhang in countries of origin for some, lack of BAME LGBT+ role models, lack of support and encouragement for BAME role models who are LGBT.
- They recommend that unconscious bias training for recruiters needs to include interrogation of issues specific to BAME LGBT+ because of the levels of marginalisation.
- You can choose to be yourself and build allegiances so future generations have a better time.
Gamal ‘G’ Turawa the first black gay police officer spoke about his personal journey and how he stepped up on his own. His was a story of neglect, homelessness and much more. You can see a video of how he came out at Pride. I urge you to watch it and recognise his courage.
Gamal joined the police force because he wanted to be as close to being white as possible.He finally made a choice to be himself at work. This has enabled him to save many lives and help others develop self-worth and self-esteem. There were brief interchanges with the audience and all the BAME LGBT people from private and public and third sectors have had to do the work themselves because of marginalisation from the white LGBT and heterosexual community and fear of being spurned by heterosexual BAME communities. There seemed to be little progress in white LGBT people stepping up and it is left to BAME LGBT people, most often, on their own in each organisation, to provide an example. ‘I couldn’t find anyone who looked like me’ was the common mantra. There was discussion about racism on the scene and research by Outlife showing that BAME LGBT people were overwhelmed by the levels of racism. Gamal said that we have to make a choice to be ourselves and recognise it is hard but find ways to make it a joy rather than a burden.
Encourage senior leaders to become allies – Top 5 tips
- We need allies in high positions because there is no other way to cut through the bureaucracy to make changes, even simple ones such as titles.
- The main barriers to engaging very senior managers is time, vocabulary and the lack of preparation about what people want allies to do.
- You need senior leaders to make LGBT language part of common language of the organisation and diversity and inclusion has to be an integral part of what a business does.
- Preparation. Have concrete, specific and realistic expectations to be conveyed to potential allies with specific details about what exactly you need them to do.
- You need to demonstrate the value of being an ally. Some organisations give people additional benefits for being allies – recognising their time and work through appraisals, sending them in training etc. all of which needs to be covered with bare minimum expectations or a pledge.
I encourage you to come along to one of the BAME LGBT+ network meetings so we can support each other and learn from each other about improving workplaces for everyone. It can be hard to stand alone. There are very few out BAME LGBT+ people in the workplace and we need to form collaborative networks to ensure we are resilient enough and have the tools to make things better for everyone.