Last week I attended a really interesting roundtable run by Pride in London and InterComms. It was for communications professionals to discuss LGBT issues.
Almost the first statement was: “As an industry, we face huge issues in finding and retaining good people”. This is a message we often hear from people in construction, so it was both reassuring and worrying that this was from someone in PR. Reassuring, because it shows we in construction aren’t so different, and of concern, because this challenge is only going to get harder. However, it is reassuring that the ultimate message about respecting people and valuing them for who they are is part of the VGC culture.
It’s hard to be fully inclusive.
The InterComms representative shared the difficulty in recruiting LGBTQ spokespeople from minority ethnic groups. Other speakers from gay publications pointed out that some BAME groups may find it hard to accept LGBT+ people, so there are fewer role models, and the few people who are out get stretched quite thinly. One suggestion was that while gender isn’t binary, it’s sometimes easier to go for the big targets – for example, inviting more women to LGBT events.
That led into a discussion about whether Pride in London is fully inclusive. Some people feel it has become too mainstream. Personally, I think it is tremendous that supporting LGBT rights is becoming accepted so widely! However, Pride in London’s speaker reminded us that hate crime is on the increase in the UK. (Ironically, the Metropolitan police say that Pride in London is one of the safest events on the calendar.) And Pride is more than a big party – it has a role in changing attitudes and protesting on behalf of people who don’t have the same rights as we do in the UK. Mainstream or not, 40% of UK LGBT people still feel uncomfortable about coming out.
If you can’t be yourself, you can’t give 100%
Diversity means different things to different people. One thing that strikes me is that some differences are obvious – someone’s racial group or gender (or whether a woman is pregnant) may be very visible. Religion, sexuality and some disabilities, including learning difficulties, may be more hidden. And perhaps that makes a difference in how easy it is to be authentic at work.
One speaker pointed out that people do their best work if they are comfortable with who they are. But two thirds of graduates go back into the closet after getting their first job. So it remains a challenge to ensure people don’t feel excluded, perhaps all unwittingly, because of ingrained attitudes.
There was some discussion over straight allies.
While other Pride cities’ events have paid staff, Pride in London’s team is made up of volunteers. So the Pride speaker shared that the Twitter storm over posters about straight allies was hurtful to the volunteers whose aim was to do their best. Criticism for its alliance with big business is also difficult, because without support from big mainstream brands, Pride wouldn’t be possible. It costs an enormous amount to put on! And with the festival two weeks before the parade, Pride in London has more events than any other city in the world. Another speaker pointed out that the more controversy and debate on your Facebook feed, the higher Facebook ranks you.
I was reminded of the International Women in Engineering day #menasallies – which I liked very much. I feel strongly that it’s important to respect everyone, whatever their race, gender, sexuality or ability. Those who find it difficult to declare who they are, whether that’s religion, learning difficulty, sexuality, or something else that is ‘different’, need others to stand up for their rights. I was charmed by the people who came up to thank me for saying so!
Thanks to Hotwire PR for hosting the event.
Back in the office
I’ve discussed the event with diversity lead Kim McGinty, and our group services director, Ciara Pryce. Kim is doing a lot of work on women in construction, and is attending other LGBT events, including the Pride in London ‘Marching towards diversity: building an inclusive and innovative workforce’ meeting on 7 July. We are using input from these events to update and improve our three-year EDI plan. This is an ongoing process – VGC has been working on EDI since 2007. We received industry awards for our recruitment and retention processes, and we are shortlisted for the 2016 Construction News Diversity Champion of the Year award.
As part of the plan, we are partnering with Diversity Hut to look at how we can make our processes more inclusive.
We are also partnering with Samaritans, as well as raising funds for them, in promoting their support for people in distress. I’ve been doing work with training manager Ryan Frost on communications to encourage trainees to ask if they need support because of faith needs, or difficulty reading, or anything else.