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Let’s celebrate LGBT+ leadership at all levels

Let’s celebrate LGBT+ leadership at all levels

There seem to be lists for everything nowadays – this week it was the Financial Times’s top list of LGBT+ leaders and allies.

Leadership is important. People in positions of influence get to help shape how workplaces operate, including creating supportive places for other LGBT+ colleagues. Despite legislative victories and huge progress on equality, prejudice still exists.

But, leadership isn’t just about top executives. The story of equality so far is the sound of thousands of stories of LGBT+ friends, work colleagues, neighbours and family defining what it means to be out, respected and proud.

Our latest survey of LGBT+ members showed that over forty per cent of people felt uncomfortable about being out at work. Thirty per cent of respondents said they had been bullied or harassed but did not feel confident about reporting it to a manager. Nearly half said that they thought reporting an incident of unwanted behaviour might have a negative impact on their career. 

A TUC survey in 2017 showed that nearly two-thirds of respondents had heard homophobic remarks or jokes directed at others at work. Over a quarter had such comments directed at them.

We have come a long way since I first came out at work. The likes of Stonewall, trade unions and other community groups have given voice to our experiences and pushed the corporate and political worlds to see the value in creating respectful workplaces. As trade unionists, we know that equality was not handed down, it was fought for.  We continue to fight for it.

The findings of our survey, alongside many others, demonstrate that there is still a job to do to ensure that work is a supportive and inclusive experience for LGBT+ people. Not only should everyone have the right to work in an environment free from harassment, our workplaces should welcome diversity.  

Trade union members were at the forefront of LGBT+ campaigns for equality, first creating change in our own organisations and then pressuring employers, government and public institutions to change.

Trade union members today are essential to the campaign for equal marriage in Northern Ireland; at the heart of campaigns to protect funding for local government, health and community organisations, many of which support LGBT+ people; and central to work about achieving greater equality for trans people at work. 

For Prospect, I am really proud of the part our members in Northern Ireland have played in the Love Equality campaign to ensure equal marriage is a reality in all parts of the United Kingdom.

While lists are important, the real agents of change often go without accolades or publicity. We should applaud those who get recognition, but not forget the leaders who are out at work bringing change at all levels.

They are union members, co-workers and colleagues. They are union representatives helping to ensure trans members have support at work when they transition and supporting LGBT+ colleagues to deal with issues of discrimination when they arise. They are union members who are the core of many LGBT+ staff networks because advocacy and caring for your colleagues is what makes us tick. They are union organisers sponsoring and supporting community Pride events across the country.

Prospect’s LGBT+ Network brings together members to provide support and advice, campaign against discrimination in the workplace and build a network of advocates across workplaces where we have members. 

We are not alone. In our BECTU Sector, the LGBT+ committee brings its focus to effecting change across the broadcasting and entertainment industries. Our science members are working with brilliant colleagues in Pride in STEM to challenge stereotypes in sciences, data and engineering. Our members take part in Pride events in their communities.

We are now providing LGBT+ training for members in a number of workplaces looking at the history of equality, where unions fit in and how we can advocate for change at work today. All of this is leadership. All of it makes a difference not just to LGBT+ members, but to the growth of our union as a more representative body, and to the culture of employers where our members work.

Let’s celebrate leadership for what it really means, and for those champions making a difference every day.

If you would like more information about Prospect’s equality work, or to join our LGBT+ Network please email rainbow@prospect.org.uk

Andrew Pakes

Andrew Pakes


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