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Taking Pride of (work)place

Written by: Zeynep Livatyali-Esen
Published on: 22 Jun 2023

As June rolls around, so too do the colourful symbols of Pride. Kickstarting with the ‘Stonewall Uprising’ in June 1969, Pride, as we know it now, began when LGBTQ+ individuals in New York City resisted a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, well known at the time as a popular gay bar. The protests and clashes that followed were a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. The first Pride march, held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, was a powerful demonstration of unity, resilience, and visibility.

Over the years the Pride movement has evolved and grown, as have our outlooks and, therefore, society. However, there is still a long way to go, with the journey to make life a more progressive and inclusive place for all being nowhere near over. To find out more about how much work needed to be done, I spoke to some individuals in the LGBTQ+ community operating within local government who were kind enough to share some of their experiences with me. 

Nothing highlights the progression we have made more than a female, gay, chief executive sharing with me her experience when first starting in local government 30 years ago. With no role models to look up to, and society not being as safe and accepting as it is now, she didn’t feel comfortable being ‘out’ in the workplace and was soon actively hiding her true self.

As one of very few LGBTQ+ chief executives, she is aware of her status now as a role model, not only to those in her council but also across wider local government. She is someone who has risen to the top and now feels fully supported to be who they are at work – this type of success story plays a vital part in encouraging future generations to feel confident and unapologetic in who they are.

Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. I heard from chief executives who have not come out as gay as they feel it might impact the perception of them, and others in the sector who are unwilling to disclose their sexual orientation because they are worried about what might be done with that sensitive information.

I spoke with a gay man who works within IT who made it clear he wouldn’t feel comfortable with the wider team knowing his sexual orientation.

The machismo that is often found in male-dominated landscapes, while stifling to those who do not ‘fit the mould’, can also lead to unconscious bias during the recruitment process. I spoke to an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) consultant who shared with me the work he does to challenge the ‘will this person fit in with the dynamics of my team’ perspective. If your dynamics already lack diversity of thought, it is likely that you may unconsciously deter further diversity from being attracted or successful at the recruitment stage.

As a recruiter when working with clients we ensure that we challenge these approaches and ensure that actions, behaviour and word support a more inclusive approach and that everything from job description through to final interview are reviewed for inclusivity.

But this is only half the story. There are plenty of LGBTQ+ workers already in local government who still struggle with disclosing their sexuality, feeling the need to hide. The number of people struggling to come forward is still largely undocumented, as many distrust the collection and handling of their information. After all, who will have access to the data, and just how will it be used?

If your staff do not feel comfortable being who they are, it can affect their mental health, their work, and their personal life. An EDI consultant in my network talked of the need to to run multiple campaigns to reassure staff about the safety of data collection methods and to explain why they were being asked these questions. Finally, after three campaigns, the amount of LGBTQ+ disclosures had trebled.

There is so much more diversity in our organisations than we realise, encouraging and supporting staff to feel safe and comfortable to be who they truly are at work will also bring more disclosure and more knowledge.

As well as the support network it provides, feeling confident and comfortable enough to be your true self is one of the main reasons Pride exists. But pride in oneself takes more than just one month to develop. Employers should be making sure that staff feel able to be out, proud and themselves all year round, as they will also see the very best of their workforce in return. 

Zeynep Livatyali-Esen is a local government consultant, Executive Interim, at Penna