Why LGBTQ+ networks matter

WiHTL’s Proud Women event yesterday explored how companies can support LGBTQIA women and those who identify as non-binary.

Pride rainbow flag

 

Covid-19 has particularly affected marginalised workers’ mental health, with young LGBTQ+ workers often stuck in difficult family situations or cut off from support networks, an event for Pride month organised by WiHTL heard yesterday.

The event organised by WiHTL, which aims to increase women’s representation and diversity as a whole in leadership positions across the hospitality, travel and leisure industry, also heard of the greater likelihood of older LGBTQ+ people living alone and of the impact of loneliness on mental health. The cancellation of Pride and other events which play a big role in people’s sense of belonging and the loss of face to face support networks at work has really affected people, said Polly Shute, co-founder of Out and About LGBTQ. 

Karen Bosher, executive board director at pub group Greene King, said its LGBTQ+ network, Village Green, had organised lots of virtual events, such as cocktail parties in order to help people stay connected and that these had been really valued. 

Fraser Longden, Chief Operations Officer at Wickes, said the retailer had stayed open throughout the pandemic and that work had become an important space for many LGBTQ+ people. The company, for instance, held a big Pride party across all its stores and support centre functions last year at a time when there were few other community events.

Towards a more inclusive culture

Longden spoke of Wickes’ journey towards being a more inclusive LGBTQ+ employer. This started with senior leadership support, but he said it was also important for senior managers to listen to different people in the business, to educate themselves and to empathise and call out microaggressions. This helps to give the message that work is a safe space and one where everyone can progress, said Longden.  

However, positive messages from senior leadership are not enough. Longden said it is also important to mobilise the whole organisation through, for instance, employee networks and events and ally training. He mentioned the importance of badges to show customers and colleagues that they can raise any issues they need to and to encourage conversations so people can feel they don’t have to hide who they are at work.

Bosher said she was shocked by the lack of diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry after she moved over from retail. She set out to change things by signing up the City of Quebec pub, which she ran at the time as part of a portfolio of businesses, to the LGBTQ+ Venues Charter around five years ago. The aim of the charter is to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people to gather. 

Bosher also teamed up with Lesbian magazine Diva who got Greene King involved in Pride which led to a greater appreciation of how intersectional issues increase LGBTQ+ people’s marginalisation. She spoke of turning the Red Lion pub in London into the Red Lioness to celebrate England women’s football during the World Cup and of how Village Green drives everything the company does on inclusion for LGBTQ+ colleagues and ensures they have their ear to the ground, given the speed at which debates around sexuality and fluidity are moving. 

The inspiration for this work on diversity and inclusion, said Bosher, is to make everyone in the organisation feel comfortable and cared for. Over half of their employees are under 25 and issues of diversity and inclusion around sexuality are very important for them, she said, particularly as growing numbers now identify as gender fluid. Even so, 16% in a recent survey preferred not to reveal their sexual orientation. Bosher said it is important to keep sending out positive messages until they are fully embedded – every employee has been given a Pride kit this month, for instance. 

Pop-up events

Polly Shute spoke of the need to differentiate between gay men and gay women and to ask gay women what kind of events they want. “Surveys often consider bisexual and trans people separately, but do not separate gay men and women. Yet they are very different in what they want,” she said. She said women were more likely to want to connect through shared experiences and interests and were much less likely to use dating apps, for instance. Many gay women love sport and so pop-up sports-related events in safe venues were well received.

Other speakers included Anne Bourgeois, an Instructional Designer at travel firm Expedia which has its own Pride employee-led group for LGBTQIA colleagues and allies as well as a network of senior diversity and inclusion champions. She also spoke about the need for mental health support generally and for people to be given options, for instance, around uniforms. She called on employers who are considering taking action to start with the basics and to pick one thing they want to do and do it. Longden echoed this, saying “every change you make is a step forward”. 

Bosher added that it is important to keep the momentum going through employee-led groups, ally initiatives and asking for expert external advice. Shute said employers should seek to have co-chair of LGBTQ+ networks to ensure that gay women were heard since they are less likely to put themselves forward.



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