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Being out at work and the importance of LGBTQ leadership

I started working at Nelson Bostock in May last year. Less than two weeks into the job I got engaged to my partner after an amazing long weekend in Copenhagen. It was the best weekend of my life.

When I came back to work on Monday one of my colleagues noticed I was wearing a ring. “Is that new?” she’d asked. Despite myself, I blushed. I remember whispering my confirmation and trying not to draw attention to it. I was wildly happy and bursting to tell people, but these were new faces.

I wasn’t hiding my sexuality at work, but the thing about being “out” is that it doesn’t happen just once, and you can’t always control how it happens or who finds out, so it can be scary.

I needn’t have worried. The strangers who bought me cake and signed my engagement card I now call friends. But agencies are otherworldly. A youthful and diverse workforce usually attracts a liberal crowd. It’s comfortable. But it’s not all rainbows for everyone.

A Stonewall report from earlier this year, found that 35% of LGBTQ people at work have hidden their identity in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination. Further, The Human Rights Campaign, a US lobby group, found that 62% of millennial LGBT graduates go back into the closet when they start their first job. Everyone’s journey is different, but that fear I mentioned earlier is a big part of it.

The thing is, harassment at work can look a bit different for LGBTQ people. It’s not always direct or physical. For instance, cracking jokes or discussing someone’s sexuality in the presence of someone who is LGBT. This behaviour is particularly harmful for closeted people, or those still coming to grips with their sexuality. Not only can it be degrading, but also very intimidating.

Being out and being proud are two very different things and understanding that words matter is an important part of being a positive LGBTQ ally. In the workplace, active zero-tolerance policies on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic discrimination and harassment should be commonplace today for a start and having a channel for people to report anti-LGBTQ bullying or harassment is a no brainer.

Policies are important, but on my journey, it was LGBTQ visibility, representation and friendship that mattered most. When I first came out, for a while, work-Brad lived a lie. But when eventually my two worlds collided, I was lucky enough to know several other gay people – peers and leaders who not only made me feel safe but helped me to see that being gay didn’t mean a glass ceiling or hiding who I was.

The actions and words of leaders set the culture in the workplace (even if they don’t realise it), so it’s important that they speak out in support of the LGBTQ community. It’s for this reason, I’m proud to see Health Unlimited CEO, Tim Bird, chairing the exceptional panel at A Night of Unlimited Pride discussing the importance of out role models at work. It is so important.

Hope to see you there.

P.s happy Pride Month!

– By Brad Pogson, Account Director at Nelson Bostock Unlimited