Inclusion is for everyone - Richard McKenna reflects on the value of LGBT History Month to those out at work – and their supportive colleagues
This year’s UK LGBT History Month in February has resonated with me more deeply than ever – perhaps because I have been privy to many more personal accounts about LGBT than ever before.
I recently ran a series of inclusion masterclasses in Delhi and Mumbai. I often open these sessions with a bit about me: I am 47, my husband is Rupert, I love my cats and I have some care responsibilities for my mum. In India, I was told a number of times by senior colleagues in large corporations that this was the first time in their 25, 30 or 35 years of work that they had ever heard anyone openly stating in the workplace that they were gay.
As a gay man in the latter part of my 40s, I often find that my LGBT history is being played back to me. Being on ‘the scene' in the late 80s and 90s was often glamorised by the historic moments in popular culture: Colin and Barry in Eastenders, Beth Jordache in Brookside (I was a massive Brookside fan and still miss it today). I suppose what I wasn't getting for so much of this time was the workplace storyline. Perhaps it was just in the events I was going to, and the articles I was reading.
Inclusion isn’t a new ‘fad’; there has always been inclusive managers, employers and colleagues in pockets around the country, but we perhaps didn’t celebrate them enough at the time.
I often tell one particular story to demonstrate the kind of unspoken – but very necessary – support that managers should be providing to their employees.
In the 1990s, I was working in a communications role for a financial services firm. The day after what I thought was a very successful client event, a few client contacts rang the office and commented that I had been "away with the fairies" during the evening. I knew this wasn’t true: I had secured a number of leads from that evening and the amount of personal positive feedback outweighed these comments.
What was true was that I had come out to some of these clients during the course of the evening, and while they ‘played it cool’ in front of me, it was apparent that I would be the talk of the office the next day. I immediately discussed this with my manager because I was worried I had jeopardised the business relationship by revealing my personal orientation.
Without hesitation, my manager rang the lead at this client account and said that if this was the case – if they found the fact that I was gay a matter of mirth – he would have no hesitation in terminating the contract.
Today, as a society we are much better at championing those supportive managers and colleagues in the workplace, and employers are increasingly recognising the benefits of LGBT inclusion.
As we reach the end LGBT History Month for another year, there have been many discussions about who campaign is for. On reflection, it seems it is about the LGBT community – but as a director of Inclusive Employers it seems obvious to me that inclusion is for everyone, about everyone, whether we’re LGBT or not.
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