Creating an equal and positive working environment for LGBTQ+ community

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post, Anthony Smith-Wells, account manager at Advanced, talks about how to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for LGBTQ+ people in the tech workplace. 

My name is Anthony Smith-Wells, I am 31 and have been working for software company, Advanced, since July 2018.  I am proud to say that I have been instrumental in creating a more accepting, equal and positive working environment for those in the LGBTQ+ community in an industry that is far from diverse.

I’d like to share my story and hopefully, as a minimum, it will cause others to stop and think before making any thoughtless, and potentially hurtful, comments and, as a maximum, may even encourage other organisations to follow Advanced’s lead in enabling staff to create a safe environment in which to challenge bias.

Let me put you in the picture: prior to 2018 I had spent six years working in police custody, a people-focused Government organisation with an open, diverse and tolerant work environment. Moving to a sales team in the technology sector, then, to make better use of my marketing degree, came as something of a shock to the system.  Anyone who has worked in, or with, tech sales teams will know it can be a traditionally masculine environment.

I am also a gay man and have been married for over five years.

Don’t get me wrong, my sexuality was not in any way a secret.  If I was asked, I told them the truth instantly, and my leadership team was corrected when members assumed the gender of my partner to be female.  I just didn’t broadcast the fact.

Keeping calm and carrying on, though, wasn’t working.  I found myself feeling more and more marginalised as I couldn’t relate, or contribute, to conversations around the office.  In the end I started to feel very isolated: my confidence took a dive and my work productivity wasn’t far behind it. I was spending my work life always second guessing or overthinking every minor action, just in case the people in my immediate environment were not accepting and could hinder any career progression if they ‘knew.’

But I was suffering, and something had to change.

There were two turning points for me:

One of Advanced’s core values is ‘do the right thing,’ and so I felt supported in calling out some of the terms and references used in order that I could feel comfortable contributing to conversations.

Secondly, with my work performance being below par, I knew I needed to get comfortable in the workplace in order to reach my potential.

Fortunately for me, Advanced is a forward-thinking organisation in this regard, with a genuine focus on equality. At the time, various ‘minority’ networks were being created around the organisation, and I saw how these networks provided support for those who joined and created a safe place for members to share experiences and educate others who are supportive allies.

This inspired me and, with the incredible support of the HR team, and in particular our chief people officer, Alex Arundale, and CEO, Gordon Wilson, I decided to spearhead the creation of ‘Team Rainbow’ which is Advanced’s LGBTQ+ network.

Team Rainbow is a community for LGBTQ+ people, and their allies, to have a safe place to discuss their experiences, both at work and in their personal life, that directly impact how they feel they are treated at work.  Here, we can identify areas for improvement, flag up process gaps, and ultimately allow our team to feel comfortable to be themselves at work.

The network is in its infancy at present, but I truly hope that it is not needed in future.  Sadly, the tech sector generally still has some work to do, but groups like Team Rainbow are a big step towards progress. My dream is to be able to amend the name of the group to LGBTQ+SA, with the ‘SA’ on the end standing for ‘straight’ and ‘allies.’  What is also encouraging is that Advanced is supporting the D&I community groups at a board level and James Green, our MD for managed services, is the c-suite sponsor for LGBTQ+ this year, ensuring all efforts are recognised at the highest level.

So why am I sharing all of this in such a public forum?

Firstly to highlight the problem: we spend more time at work than we do with our loved ones, so it’s crucial that we all play our part in making the work environment the best place it can be for everyone to thrive, be productive and progress.

Secondly to offer some tips in how both employers and employees can help:

Employers:

  • Don’t make diversity and inclusion a tick box exercise. A gender pay gap review, for example, doesn’t mean your organisation is inclusive. We need to eradicate systemic prejudice. Getting it right will mean happier, more productive employees and a corporate reputation as a progressive brand.
  • Create opportunities and support networks for those who may feel under-represented so that they have a place to go for support or to share experiences.
  • At the same time, though, also don’t pressure people to come out, allow all people to join these groups under the guise of an ally if required.

Employees:

  • Think about your choice of language and the effect it could have on those around you in the workplace.
  • Find the courage to challenge behaviours or language that could be considered offensive, or even criminalised. People need to be taken to account.  If you don’t have the courage, speak to HR for advice.
  • Go along to some of the network meetings to show that you’re an ally and a friend to members of these groups. It’s good to know there’s support on the ‘shop floor’.
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