On Tuesday 22nd June I had the pleasure to attend the fourth webinar of the I&D series ran by the City & Guilds Foundation. The session’s primary focus was how to best support members of the LGBTQ+ community bring their authentic selves to the workplace. The panel also discussed ideas on how to elevate members of the community to senior positions within organisations and the role representation plays in psychological safety of LGBTQ+ members of staff.
The speakers were Tanya Compas, CEO and Founder of Exist Loudly, a charity that supports black LGBTQ+ youth; Jason (Jae) Sloan, Organisation Development Lead at GSK; and our very own Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of City & Guilds Group. Dr Ann Limb, Chair of The Scouts, Vice-Chair of the City and Guilds of London Institute, chaired the session.
On a personal note, as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I found the webinar incredibly insightful, inspiring and, at times, quite emotional. Listening to how members of my community have stared down the face of adversity to ascend to the positions they have in the corporate world served as such an inspiration to me, particularly as this space has not always, and oftentimes still isn’t, inclusive of LGBTQ+ folks.
This is only my high-level summary, and so would highly recommended watching the recording in case you missed it.
Inclusion, belonging, and psychological safety
After some introductions from the panel, where they share their personal stories about their experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community, the question how do we genuinely get that cultural shift to one that leads to belonging? is raised to spark discussion.
Tanya begins by passionately highlighting the crux of the issue in the corporate world. They explain how, mistakenly, companies tend to pour time and resource into their external perception in relation to supporting the LGBTQ+ community, focusing on brand and marketing through representation in collateral and other marketing channels. They said that this is simply not enough – businesses must look inwardly too, auditing their organisations to better understand the levels of inclusivity and psychological safety among their staff.
Further, Tanya points out an interesting observation about levels of activity during pride and history months. They quip that during Pride and Black History month it’s their busiest times of year, the times people most want to listen to them. However, they add that this shouldn’t be the only time – both the corporate world and wider society need to be listening and taking seriously the lived experiences, histories, issues etc. every day, not just in the dedicated months.
Kirstie then explains how City & Guilds, encouraged and supported by trustee Frank Douglas, undertook the lived experience project to do just that – internally audit the lived experiences of colleagues from all identities to understand the challenges of belonging. She talks about some of the findings of the project, highlighting that psychological safety and the ability to bring one’s authentic self is key. Tanya adds to this, explaining that being among those who are like yourself is the one of the best ways for marginalised groups to feel psychologically safe at work.
Enabling LGBTQ+ employees into leadership roles
Jae highlights that although acceptance of LGBTQ+ folks in the workplace is more common than it used to be, there’s still a lack of support for those in the community to get into senior leadership roles. They explain that the system, as it currently exists, is set-up for the cis, white male, and so it’s hard, even when members of the community ascend to these roles, to be a part of this system. Jae passionately called for a “shake-up of this system,” and better support for folks in the community to work their way up to senior leadership positions.
Ann asks what City & Guilds have been doing to address this. Kirstie candidly admits that although we’re on the right path, there’s certainly more work to be done. She explains that that it’ll take time and require support from colleagues across all levels within the organisation. It’s through behavioural change, via training programmes and other initiatives, that this’ll be achieved.
Going above and beyond
Jae keenly observes that box ticking and target setting, although important, are bare minimum tasks. If we want impactful change, they explain, organisations need to go above and beyond. To Jae, this means dedicated coaching programmes; senior leaders showing up where they need to be and using the correct and inclusive language and terminology to make those from the community feel more included; and tangible, measurable actions following discussions and strategy.
Jae invites allies to not only just stand by the side lines, but join them in the arena as they and other members of the community champion change.
Kirstie champions the grassroots community groups which have been set-up within City and Guilds. Through them, she tells the panel, marginalised groups and their allies have created a safe space for one another, creating a movement to help drive impactful change.
Tanya makes a pertinent point in relation to discomfort. They explain that we need to welcome and embrace the uncomfortable – without it, without having those tough conversations that cause discomfort, we’ll never see progress. Tanya added that initiatives like lunch and learns help facilitate these discussions and share knowledge – without them, they said, they wouldn’t have discovered within themselves their LGBTQ+ identity.
Until we’re unafraid to rock the boat and have those uncomfortable conversations, set-up the mechanisms to coach and support staff from the LGBTQ+ community, and promote belonging to make those from the community feel psychologically safe in the workplace, no meaningful change can truly happen.
We know that diverse teams have a return on investment commercially too through attrition, productivity and recruiting talent. Inclusion, diversity, and belonging pays and without it, organisations are shutting out potential talent and innovation, two key elements that are crucial in growing innovative and ambitious organisations across all industry sectors.
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