Executive Director Johnny Shaw explains how companies can continue to support the LGBTQI+ community long after Pride Month ends.
Pride is once again in full swing across New Zealand, and for me personally, it’s a joy to see the iconic rainbow flag flying high for all to see. But, as an out and proud (honorary) Kiwi, it got me thinking about how far our rainbow journey has come and, importantly, whether it’s ‘done and dusted’?
Without doubt, we’ve got a lot to be proud about here in Aotearoa. We’re an inclusive society, an LGBTQI+ destination (despite the odd pandemic) and have been recognised as one of the most LGBTQI+ friendly countries not once, but multiple times. We’re even able to claim the enviable title of the most rainbow Parliament in the world. Thumbs up to that!
But what about the places where we work? I’ve had the opportunity to work in a few countries and for several organisations throughout my career, and they’re not all as rainbow friendly as New Zealand. It’s easy for corporations to hang up a rainbow flag, blast Kylie’s latest track (a personal favourite, as everyone at Anthem knows), and call themselves inclusive when Pride Month kicks into gear. And don’t get me wrong, those are important. Seriously important! But, in my view, there’s more that we can do. I’m lucky to work in an agency that takes genuine joy in its culture, its people and everything that makes us who we are, as is the case for many New Zealand businesses. So, with our frankly stellar track record here, you might find yourself asking a question that I’ve often pondered – surely it’s irrelevant whether you are LGBTQI+ in the workplace, right?
Essentially yes. But for many, that’s not always as accurate as some might think. Most people ‘at the office’ don’t just talk about work. Let’s face it – many of us spend a considerable amount of time in work mode, so much so that the conversation naturally turns to what we did at the weekend, the latest kid’s birthday party our brood went to, or, for me, the marathon dog walk my husband and I went on (mostly me). The reality is that for many LGBTQI+ people, ‘coming out’ is one of the most (if not the most) stressful, profound, nauseating and anxiety-inducing moments in their lives – trust me, I speak from experience. And when those conversations in the workplace do venture beyond the day-to-day and creep into our personal lives, they’re actually “coming out” again. In reality, LGBTQI+ people can sometimes feel like they’re “coming out” again, and again, and again.
So what more can workplaces do to be LGBTQI+ inclusive?
1. Support, create, activate
It may seem like an obvious thing to do, but creating networks where LGBTQI+ colleagues can build a likeminded support group, and that their fellow colleagues not only support but genuinely champion diversity and inclusion, is a no-brainer.
Aon Plc – one of the largest insurance brokerage firms in the world, has won high praise internationally for its LGBTQI+ and ally support programme.
“Supporting LGBTQI+ colleagues and the LGBTQI+ community is something that has become a part of our culture at every level, from our senior leaders who lend their voice to the importance of LGBTQI+ equality, to our colleagues’ work outside Aon to advocate for the LGBT+ community,” says the broker’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Community Affairs, Katherine Conway.
An active network, with regular meetings, a game-changing event schedule or speaker series, a supportive and onboard leadership team, goes a long way, and can help build a culture where LGBTQI+ colleagues don’t feel like a minority group, build an important and valued team within an organisation.
2. Be a supportive ally
I once heard someone say in a conversation completed unrelated to diversity and inclusion, that ‘there is no cause without allies’. How very true that statement is, right! LGBTQI+ inclusion needs to transcend the organisation. Allies – non-LGTQI+ co-workers – can have some of the most powerful voices, and have a huge role to play in fostering a culture that becomes the norm.
Stonewall – the UK-based LGBT rights charity – wrote that “…straight people have a critical role to play in creating gay-friendly workplaces… Their involvement – often precisely because they’re not gay themselves – can have a transformative effect on the culture of an organisation and the workplace experience of staff, both gay and straight.”
Whether it’s implementing a formal allies programme at work, or calling out examples of discriminatory language or behaviour, allies are crucial to building an environment where it’s not just acceptable for LGBTQI+ employees have a voice, but where all employees are able to participate.
3. Own it
There are so many incredible examples of organisations showing their support for the LGBTQI+ community. Whether it’s saying diversity and inclusion is crucial to a company’s mission and vision, creating or signing up to an LGBTQI+ pledge, to even publishing regular diversity and inclusion progress reports – all are great ways towards building a company that genuinely and authentically supports LGBTQI+ inclusivity.
Of course, there are other steps, too, and this might seem obvious, but quite profound for organisations with a global footprint. HR policies I took for granted in the UK, weren’t applicable in the rest of the world. Take health insurance as a good example. Originally from the UK, not so long ago my career took me to Asia, where I was surprised to find that my expat health insurance policy, amongst other examples, didn’t include my husband due to local LGBTQI+ laws and regulations. Thankfully, the company I worked for at the time made sure my husband was covered, but it was only us moving that brought the issue and glaring disparity to the fore.
Having gone through what was a particularly stressful situation, my advice would be to keep in mind that it’s not just about offering opportunities for career growth, but also considering the different issues that can arise for LGBTQI+ people.
There are of course plenty of other examples of how organisations, and the people within them, can take transformative steps to building universal LGBTQI+ inclusivity within the workplace. Here at Anthem, we’re working closely with Diversity Works, are proud supporters of the Pride Pledge and are charging full steam ahead with our own diversity and inclusion efforts, and I’m thrilled to be leading the D&I charge for our little slice of heaven.
For me, seeing the rainbow flag flying high is more than just recognising and supporting a particular group within society. It’s about progress, acceptance, achievement, solidarity and the countless opportunities that stand before us. If we had more of it, we might actually be able change the world, and change it for the better. So, over to you.