In August 2017, Fujitsu joined forces with McGill University’s Queer McGill to march in Montréal Pride – our first pride presence in Canada – and we’ve been keeping in touch with them ever since. We’ve also been working with Start Proud in Montréal as part of their programme to engage with LGBT+ students, and potential employers, as they enter the professional work force for the first time.
Queer McGill along with McGill’s OUTlook on Business, SEDE (Social Equity and Diversity Education, McGill’s equity enforcement group), and Queer Engineer contacted me recently to ask if I’d be available to join a panel discussion that they were hosting, allowing audience members to ask questions of panelists about their experiences in being out as an LGBTQ+ person in the workplace. The obvious answer was yes!
The first thing that impressed me was that every element of the LGBT acronym was represented on the panel which enabled a rich dialogue of different perspectives. As with many diversity categories, there is a tendency to group people with similar but often also very different “attributes”, and then consider them to all have the same experiences – which they patently do not.
On the panel we had a lesbian working in academic career management, a trans woman working at an aeronautical engineering company, a bisexual woman working in financial services, and a gay man working in a technology company. A fantastic mix.
Mads Motush of Queer McGill said:
“The point of the event was to provide a space in which members of the McGill community could hear the stories from a diverse group of people who are out in the office. I wanted to hold an event that would allow up-and-coming queer graduates to ask the questions that people don’t usually get a chance to talk about.”
Something else that impressed me was that McGill University have a Librarian whose remit explicitly includes LGBTQ+ Studies. He noted that McGill library have resources of reference to assist students with researching companies from an LGBTQ+ perspective.
The organisers had sent through a set of questions in advance to get the ball rolling and gave us all an opportunity to share a little of our stories, and our thoughts and opinions on related topics. Here are the questions:
- Who are you? Please tell us a bit about yourself and the position you have in the office, how long you have been working there?
- How do you feel as an LGBTQ+ member in your office? How have your coworkers reacted to your coming out?
- What would have made coming out easier? Are there any provisions you wish your office/ human resources could have provided to make things easier?
- Do you feel you face oppression at work? To what degree?
- Do you have any advice you want to offer to young LGBTQ+ people in the office? What advice do you have for them for coming out?
The Q&A part of the discussion developed from that final question, into the context of LGBT+ people considering which companies they should consider working for.
Here are the points I made in closing the discussion in response to that final question:
- Research companies that are visibly engaging in pro-LGBT+ programmes outside of their organisation. For example, do they have published policies that reference LGBT+ inclusion? Do they have affiliations with community organisations that are championing for LGBT+ people?
- Find out what the “lived experience” is of LGBT+ people inside the company. Reach out to your contacts and see if you can be introduced to an LGBT+ person working at the company. Attend events so that you can speak to those currently or recently employed by them.
- Assuming you join one of the companies, go at your own pace. Some people want to be out from day one, which is fine. Others want to test the waters indirectly, which is also fine! Whilst it would be great for everyone to be themselves from day one, the reality is that coming out is often a one-way process and many want to be sure that it’s ok for them to do so. Perhaps engage in discussions with colleagues and managers about inclusion topics more generally and sense the tone of the responses.
- If you do come out I would urge you to be an agent for change. Whilst there’s nowhere yet that LGBT+ people are universally respected and free of bias much progress has been made in recent decades. LGBT+ people should be grateful and respectful of the legacy created by those who have gone before them. LGBT+ people should, in my opinion, in turn “pay it forward” and seek to create a positive legacy of their own.