Last month I attended an event where Simon Blake OBE, Chief Exec of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) spoke about mental health for LGBT+ employees in the workplace. One statistic stuck in my mind: that 62% of graduates who are openly LGBT+ at university go back into the closet upon joining their first employer.
This took me back 20 years. When I started my career - despite having a very open boss - it was a long time before I felt comfortable enough to be ‘out’ (and ultimately myself) at work. I ran the gauntlet of going on holiday with a ‘good friend’, being vague when asked “so, do you have a girlfriend?” and avoiding certain socials as the truth seems to emerge after two pints of lager (with me at least).
None of this helped me perform or integrate at work, nor did it help with what was already a stressful situation: leaving the comfort and familiarity of Manchester University to join a formal office in the City of London. Would I fit in? I wasn’t sure...
It was a long time before I felt comfortable enough to be ‘out’ (and ultimately myself) at work.
It is disappointing but not surprising that in 2020 many LGBT+ graduates still feel they cannot be themselves when starting their first job. It is a major step in their careers and the pressure to perform (and conform?) is great, quite often under a rigorous appraisal system. Nobody wants to reveal information that they feel may scupper their chances.
The good news is that many employers are today doing much more to understand, encourage and support LGBT+ communities in the workplace. ICAEW has the pleasure of acting as secretary to the Professional Services LGBT+ Group which facilitates meetings between accountancy practices to learn and share good practice in this space.
At the last meeting the focus was on mental health and some real tangible steps are being made. Highlights include: mental health first aiders across some employers with training in LGBT+ issues; LGBT+ role model awards; and allowing staff to choose their own pronouns on their emails and business cards, therefore reflecting their true identities.
Perhaps one of the most revealing and impactful initiatives is reverse mentoring. This is where senior figures within the organisation spend time with more junior LGBT+ staff to listen and understand what life is like for them. This develops new perspectives, understandings and more inclusive decision-making from the top.
At ICAEW we founded Together which is our LGBT+ employee network. We feel passionately that staff should bring their full selves to work regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We know this leads to greater wellbeing, confidence and motivation in the workplace.
For many in the LGBT+ community, being your true, authentic self and being proud of that is a daily work in progress.
I hope that we can play our part to create greater understanding and celebration of difference and diversity. This has to be good for everyone.
I include myself in that. However, something happened recently that made me even more determined: my partner and I adopted a 1 year old girl.
During the lengthy conversations with social workers that led to this event it was clear to us: our family unit may be a little different but in order for this amazing little human to be confident and proud of her family, we must also be confident and proud in who we are.
This is why I am co-Chair of Together. I hope that we can play our part to create greater understanding and celebration of difference and diversity. This has to be good for everyone.
Jonathan Worrell is Co-Chair of ICAEW’s Together (LGBT+ network) and is a Senior Manager in ICAEW’s Learning and Professional Development team