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LGBTIQ+ Inclusion – The Power of Conversation

Conversation is both powerful and simple. It allows us to share ideas. In the workplace, almost everything rests upon it – not just talking about work, but sharing workplace banter and building personable relationships.

I feel like part of living and thriving in this modern world is just about how to have better conversations. 

I’ve worked in a lot of places – schools, universities, community organisations – and one of the easiest ways for me to determine my longevity in a workplace is for me to listen to the staffroom conversations. That is usually a perfect metric for the culture of the whole place – set from the top.

“Well you’re there to work anyway, why does it matter? Just don’t talk about your personal life while you’re there.”

Whether people agree or not, people do bring their personal lives into work. I have lost count of the amount of wedding video snippets I’ve had to sit through at work meetings, or the conversations I’ve been privy to about people’s married lives.

Many of us don’t want to air that, but it would be nice to be able to say ‘my wife’ without fearing discrimination, or risking professional limitations. You can choose to share less, but it is hard to sit in the staffroom and be completely private when everyone is having rich, fun conversations about what they know and who they know.

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“But what about the anti-discrimination act? You can’t do that nowadays!” That is the usual response I hear when I express that we have far to go. 

While there may be protective laws, imagine how limited they are in short-term contracts. Your job is not secure and someone above you will decide if your employment becomes permanent. If they have a bias towards the LGBTIQ+ community and they know you identify, they can simply say you are no longer required.

This fear can lead some people to lower their participation in aspects of workplace life in case it accidentally leads to coming out. So – less banter, conversation, or after work drinks. It can be hard, especially because people like to get to know new employees.

This really limits the benefits of organic, collaborative relationship building.

I remember when I first started teaching and people would constantly ask me about my engagement ring, which became relentless questions about my partner, asking to see photos of ‘him’, and then the intervention that followed when I said ‘she.’

Always having to watch what you say can also lead many people to experience stress and anxiety. The cumulative impact of this can lead to lower performance and a higher likelihood of moving on. This can be bad for business. High turnover is expensive and it looks bad.

The way some large organisations are addressing this is through LGBTIQ+ inclusion and diversity training. The idea behind this is to help workplace teams become more informed about gender and sexual diversity. This often includes describing lived experiences, terminology, and how to have more appropriate conversations with others. Most importantly, how to be an ally at work.

You’d be surprised at how much more comfortable it can feel when you see a rainbow lanyard or sticker sitting on somebody’s desk – you know that if you were to mention a same-sex partner or provide your preferred pronouns, you’d be safe.

Through doing this, the idea is to foster inclusive workplace cultures, where awkward conversations and assumptions will become less common. Sometime, it’s not the outright homophobia that people struggle with, but the low-level awkward conversations.

I can’t tell you how many times I have started a job to get to the lull in conversation that is punctuated with, “So…. do you have a boyfriend?”

You then get put into a checkmate situation where you need to lie by omission, create a story, or take the risk of coming out, knowing people may avoid you, treat you differently, or make your working life difficult.

LGBTIQ+ inclusion programs address some of this by showing workplace teams how to use appropriate, inclusive language. It is useful when this rests upon a good working understanding of lived experiences in the community and a rich discussion on the various identities – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer – and how people may relate to them.

We can all benefit from learning more – even if we’re all over this inclusion thing. 

Trying to do less of ‘that’s so gay’, assuming someone has an opposite sex partner, or using an inappropriate pronoun once a preferred one has been expressed, can help the whole workplace to thrive. When one group can feel more included, we can all thrive.

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Workplace wellness – it’s not about scented candlesj

I wish workplace mental health initiatives were more about helping people to understand the psychology of burnout and less about getting people to do yoga. The benefits of therapeutic lifestyle activities cannot be dismissed but bear with me here.

Like all modern careers, mine has had ebbs and flows of stress – some at reasonable levels, but sometimes, well beyond that and for prolonged periods of time. Some of the most serious stressful times have been influenced by the environments I have been in and their response to my identity.

Now, at risk of setting myself apart as a special snowflake, I do want to emphasise that I have seen all sorts of people suffer in highly toxic workplaces.

I have watched people work through lunch hours, compete dog-eat-dog style with colleagues for permanency, become attached to their devices 24/7, and give up weekends with their family for extra-curricular activities. I have watched some of the best and brightest people burn out in my midst.

It sucks. I know, I used to be there myself.

Exhibit A: 

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One workplace I was a part of hired a ‘wellness guru’ for a day of professional development. As part of the activities, we were asked where we would rate our wellbeing on a scale.

When he saw my minus number, he stopped and said, “Yeah… I can’t really help with that. You should see someone.” It was an awkward exchange.

I was a minus four, not just because of the weirdness towards my identity, but because I was also giving my whole self to my job with no breaks. I was working within an environment where everyone had to have their needs met, to the highest standard, with no let-up.

Demands had to be met, no matter how unreasonable or time-sensitive. 

Sometimes, the comment would be, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t do so much’ but it would always be followed with another expectation involving weekend time to complete it or another exercise in reinventing the wheel, to maintain the marketing pitch.

We’re innovative here. Look at our employees go. #GrowthMindset! 

Vomit.

You see, some leaders tick the wellbeing box by outsourcing to gurus with buzz words and platitudes. They arrive with their Pinterest boards about scented candles, mindfulness, and trail mix.

But none of that shit works if your whole working life is out of whack. I have seen many people suffer under unrealistic workloads and toxic culture. No amount of wellness Band Aids will heal your mind if you cannot take five after a long day.

The whole idea of wellness is in creating a life that you don’t have to escape from. 

I wish someone had explained that some jobs just won’t improve your standard of life, even if they provide you a living. It is not a backwards career step to cut free from a negative, unsuitable environment as an act of self-care.

Fostering an inclusive and healthy workplace culture is much more important than wellness days. It is really all about fostering a workplace where you’re not shamed for setting boundaries. It is about tempering the expectations of excellence to a place where you can achieve it without burnout. It is about feeling supported to set boundaries with demanding clients so the expectations don’t get out of hand.

Finally, it is about knowing that you are valued for who you are and what you bring.

These tones come from the top and they are what matters when it comes to employee retention. But – unlike the Pinterest boards and wellness guru days (which always seem to be catered by Subway) – these measures take hard work and strategy.

Maybe it is about time we start holding our leaders accountable for it.

Leaving wellness and inclusion to chance runs the risk of burning out some of our best and brightest – gay, straight, or otherwise.

In my experience, many people are fairly coachable when it comes to matters of wellness and they take responsibility for it – but the environment they work in needs to support that, too.

As for toxic workplaces – Namaste? Nah, I’ma go. And I’m taking a free box of paperclips with me.

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