Guest blog by Debi Linton (Student Recruitment and Outreach) and Allán Laville (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science).
Earlier this year, on 26 April, four members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group, Yasmin Ahmed (the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR), David Ashmore (from Procurement), Al Laville (from SPCLS and Co-Chair of the LGBT+ staff and PhD network), and Debi Linton (from Student Recruitment and Outreach), attended the Stonewall Workplace Conference 2019, Europe’s leading conference on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) inclusion in the workplace that takes place annually in London.
This is one of several blogs (see also here and here) reflecting on the sessions that this group attended and the discussions had at this meeting. This particular blog focuses on learning from the session at the conference on workplaces that are inclusive of LGBT people who are also Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME), and the session on understanding the experiences of LGBT disabled people.
Creating workplaces that are inclusive of BAME LGBT people
The Stonewall Work Report 2018 (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report) gives clear examples of how being BAME LGBT is different from being white LGBT. For example, 1 in 8 BAME LGBT employees have lost their job in the last year because of being LGBT, compared to 1 in 25 of white LGBT staff. One potential reason for this difference could be the barriers that BAME LGBT people face in being able to perform to the best of their ability at work. In the BAME LGBT workshop [that was part of the Stonewall workplace Conference], it was shared that one reason could be lack of wider support and that 1 in 2 BAME LGBT individuals do not feel part of the wider LGBT community. This in turn could affect wellbeing and the ability to perform well at work. Other points were the role of unconscious bias and racial harassment. In relation to combating this at Reading, unconscious bias training is delivered as part of recruitment training and via online modules, and the University has clear policies and reporting processes around harassment and bullying.
In relation to improving practice, it was stated that it is important for BAME LGBT individuals to feel able to contribute in meetings, be praised for work ethic, and to have visible role models. It can be argued that these points apply across Diversity and Inclusion and protected characteristics (Equality Act, 2010). Exploring this further, the first two points strongly rely on the dynamic within meetings, those you work with and the approach taken by the line manager. These points should be consciously considered by leaders/managers to make all staff feel able to contribute in meetings and to acknowledge work that has been completed well.
In relation to visible role models, Stonewall run a BAME LGBTQ role-model programme, which is free to attend. The next programme is in Manchester on the 29th August 2019 (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/get-involved/get-involved-individuals-communities/bamepoc-lgbtq-role-models-programmes). In the videos provided on this webpage, the speakers discuss the benefits of sharing experiences with others to realise that you are not alone in the difficulties faced. At Reading, we promote role models through the ‘Faces of Reading’ project. This project shows the diversity of our staff by considering LGBT+, disability, parental or family leave etc. If you would like to put yourself forward for this project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A final area of good practice was cross-network discussions to target as many considerations for BAME LGBT people as possible. At Reading, we have both a Cultural Diversity Staff Group and the LGBT+ Staff Network (https://www.reading.ac.uk/diversity/diversity-networks.aspx), and are looking at setting up cross-network discussions and events. If you have any ideas for how we could approach this, please contact Al Laville at email@example.com.
Experiences of LGBT+ disabled people
Disabled LGBT+ also reported feeling excluded from the wider LGBT+ community. Part of this is the accessibility of the community itself; meetings in inaccessible places and a lack of support for the individual needs create barriers that prevent any interaction with the rest of the community. As a specific example, much NHS literature on the transition process is presented in ways that is inaccessible to blind people.
It also emerged that, because of the effects disability has on quality of life, sometimes disabled people can come out to themselves or their family later in life, as their disabled identity takes precedence. The effects of inaccessibility can often be more impactful and more stressful than any lack of LGBT+ inclusion, though of course they can exacerbate each other. LGBT+ people are more likely than others to lack any familial support outside the workplace, and this can have a massive impact for disabled people.
However, there are many ways in which the LGBT+ and disabled communities can work together. As with the Cultural Diversity Staff Group, we also have a Staff Disability Network, which is open to both disabled and non-disabled staff. At the Workplace Conference, we were reminded of the Social Model of Disability: the idea that “disability” isn’t a thing a person has, but rather, they are “disabled” by society’s lack of accessibility. This was brought up as a comparison to diverse LGBT+ identities, who are often brought together by a shared experience of oppression, despite varied experiences across the spectrum (touched on in an earlier blog).
When thinking about best practice, it is important to recognise that accessible work practices benefit all of us: many people undergo periods of being temporarily disabled, through acute injuries, or become disabled during adulthood, so having practices and infrastructure in place can save stress and harm later on. We are required by law to make reasonable adjustments (https://www.gov.uk/reasonable-adjustments-for-disabled-workers) and if there are any needs required for specific disabled employees that aren’t covered, Access to Work (https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work) can fund any additional requirements.