The importance of taking pride in queer visibility at work.

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“What 5 terms would you use to describe your identity?”

Take a moment and try to answer this for yourself…. Hard isn’t it?

My partner posed this question to me on our 3rd date and I still don’t think I’ve got my answer nailed 6 months later. But for the sake of argument here are my current 5.

Female. Queer. Butch. Athlete. Trans.

I’ve actually found this process of defining my own identity very empowering. I would encourage you to give it some real thought.

Off the back of this, I’ve also wanted to consider who are the most influential public figures who represent these elements of my identity. Essentially, who are my role models?

Role models give us strength, they teach us that you can achieve all of those things you thought would be out of reach. They can help to give us the courage to be ourselves. They’re crucial to changing the opinions of others too. Bold and brave public figures help to remove abstraction about ways of life previously considered as “other”.

So here’s another question for you.

“Think of 5 people who you would consider to be your most influential role models?”

Again, I’ll go first.

No surprises here they’re all women, 4 of whom are visibly queer, and they’re all badass. Learning more about these 5 women has not just taught me about them, but it’s also taught me a lot about myself.

Having people in the world who represent our personal identity, makes the world of difference in having the confidence to express that identity to others.

It’s made a massive difference to me this year, and I am very thankful to my partner for asking me this question.

Why does this all come crashing down when it comes to our working lives?

Notice that none of the people on my list were relevant to my working life? Point me in the direction of a well-known kickass queer Experience Designer and I will pore over their twitter feed for hours on end. (Seriously, please find me one!) Why is it, that even in the colourful and creative world of design, LGBTQ+ visibility is still so lacking?

Time for a history lesson.

As LGBTQ+ people in the UK, it wasn’t until 2003 that we were legally protected from discrimination at work. It wasn’t until 2007 that sexual orientation was written into the Equality Act. It took until 2010 for gender reassignment to be added as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act. As of June 2019, the UK Law still does not offer any provision for non-binary individuals. Even in today’s more “enlightened” society, LGBTQ+ are still fighting a daily battle just for their rights to live and love in their own way.

Our place of work is one of the most crucial arenas for this battle, and we’re still losing. Want to know how badly? According to research performed by UM (Universal McCann), up to 60% of UK graduates will go back into the closet when they enter the world of work.

Compare that with the fact that in the same research, nearly half (49%) of 18-to-25-year-olds didn’t identify as 100% straight. That means that potentially up to 30% of the UK’s emerging workforce feel like they need to hide their queer identity when they start work. What. The. Actual. F**k.

Despite all the progress that has been made in the 21st century, the working world is still dominated by heteronormativity and toxic masculinity. There’s still an oppressive amount of rejection of anything “other” and those brave enough to live outside of the box created for them.

This attitude needs to change, and quickly, before we condemn an entire generation’s worth of professional talent to a life of fear of being outside the norm.

So how can we fix it?

I must stress the we in this question, as this falls at the feet of basically everyone already in the world of work. We all need to work together to make sure our new young workforce doesn’t turn up on their first day thinking they can’t be completely themselves.

I’m not going to even try and pretend that I have the solution to years of baked in oppression, discrimination and generally shitty-ness. I’m not sure there is a cure for toxic masculinity. But I do feel it is the duty of every person not subscribing to this toxic agenda, to keep chipping away at this mountain we need to climb to make the world a better place for LGBTQ+ people.

So I have some more questions for you.

Question 1. Are you an arsehole? If not, please keep reading.

Question 2. Do you like a productive workforce?

Question 3. Do you like a creative workforce?

Question 4. Do you like an engaged workforce?

If you answered yes to any/all of questions 2–4, you should probably be thinking what more you can do to promote a culture in your business that promotes freedom of expression. If you answered no to any of questions 2–4, please reassess your answer to question 1.

Rather than trying to go into full detail about the benefits of fully expressing yourself and at your place of work (we’d be here a long time). Try watching this TED Talk from Mike Robbins, the author of Bring Your Whole Self To Work. I warn you though, it’s 12 minutes long.

Employers, having an anti-discrimination policy is not enough. You don’t get a pass because you’re telling your staff it’s not ok to be a dick. Your D&I campaigns should be about promoting freedom of expression, and creating safe and friendly environments for all your employees. They’ll thank you for it, and your business will feel the benefits pretty immediately.

It all starts with a mindset shift. We must demonstrate that showing Vulnerability at work is OK! Too long have we pretended you need to be immune at work, and felt like we only needed to share the essentials about ourselves. Vulnerability is bravery, vulnerability is strength. And guess what? People respond to bravery and strength.

Business leaders, it is your responsibility to set an example for your staff and colleagues. By showing vulnerability yourself, you are consciously giving them permission and most importantly freedom to do the same.

We’ve talked about vulnerability a lot in the UX & Strategy team this year, with multiple team members taking the brave step to discuss things that had been going on in their lives that traditionally may not have even been mentioned.

The power just a simple conversation can have is pretty extraordinary. So I implore you, dear reader, to not be afraid to share who you are and your life with your colleagues. You never know which life you might change by doing so.

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