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How two women at healthcare giant GSK are backing their LGBTQ colleagues

Being able to be out and proud at work isn’t something many in the LGBT+ community feel comfortable with.  You may be completely open about your sexuality with friends and family but as soon as you get to your desk at 9am on Monday morning, you put your true self back in the closet.

In Britain we spend an average of 42 hours at work each week. That is a significant amount of time to spend in an environment where you may feel isolated, introverted and even be questioning whether you belong. Luckily this isn’t the case for us all, coming to work at some organisations can be the total opposite, LGBT+ employees feel supported, safe and valued by their company and colleagues.

Claire and Chrissie work for a healthcare company that puts great importance on inclusion and diversity. It’s a place where employees can wear rainbow lanyards, where the rainbow flag flies high during Pride month and have their own LGBT+ employee network “Spectrum” which ensures their voice is always heard. It’s also a company that places encourages employees to be allies, who act as friends or supporters of the various diverse groups it contains.

Although neither identify as LGBT, they are both passionate about supporting the LGBT+ community within their workplace and consider themselves proud allies.

Claire (l), Chrissie (r)

What made you to want to become an ally?

Claire:  An Ally is someone who, although not personally identifying as LGBT+, supports the equal rights of the LGBT+ community and takes personal accountability for driving this forward. I had always been an advocate for inclusion and diversity, but only really in a reactive way. Everything changed when Chrissie introduced me to the music of punk band ‘Against Me!’ and front woman Laura Jane Grace. We listened to her audiobook on our commute and were captivated by the account of her life, including her struggles with gender dysphoria. Shortly after, Chrissie shared a post on social media in support of gender-neutral bathrooms, and I was horrified to read, amongst the many supportive messages, a transphobic response. I challenged the individual and was shocked that he was unwavering in his view. I decided then and there to be more overt in my support of LGBT+ rights, and this led us to find and join the Spectrum Employee Resource Group (ERG) at GSK.

What have you found yourself getting involved in?

Chrissie: We joined the UK Spectrum Leadership team in May 2017, and immediately became involved in delivering and developing the strategy for the ERG, including working on GSK’s submission for the Stonewall Equality Index. We were so proud to not only come 21st but also to have our ERG receive ‘highly commended’ recognition.

Claire: Our first ‘big’ event on site was to run a stall for IDAHoBiT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia). We baked rainbow cupcakes, made support ribbons, and handed them out along with information leaflets. That one event doubled the number of Spectrum members on our site and was a great success in raising awareness of issues faced by the LGBT+ community. We also took part in our first Pride parade in London, alongside the GSK float last year. My eldest daughter Olivia joined us, and has since become a big advocate of the LGBT+ community, by challenging and educating her classmates! This year I will be also be bringing my youngest daughter Maria to Pride in London, and Chrissie and I are attending Amsterdam Pride in August – we can’t wait!

Why do you think having visible allies in the workplace is important, and how do you show you are an ally?

Claire: We have had great support from the site leadership in financing rainbow lanyards, and it’s lovely to see so many diverse people wearing them. Simple things like this are key in visually demonstrating our support. We’ve also distributed desk flags so that LGBT employees can easily find ‘safe zones’ and allies.

Chrissie: I think it’s also important to get involved in LGBT+ events on site. It demonstrates to others who might not think they are included that there is a place for allies too… in fact it’s vital that allies be involved. We are also very keen on showing our support on social media, helping to educate through the sharing of articles and support information.

What does being an LGBT inclusive employer mean to you?

Chrissie: It’s that the employer actively seeks ways to improve their support of the LGBT+ workforce, including ensuring company policies are fully inclusive, supports and promotes LGBT+ employee networks and events, and that leaders act as role models in their support of LGBT+ employees.

What tips would you give to those wanting to support LGBT employees at their workplace?

Claire: The first step would be to recognise your privilege, and work to identify and resolve any unconscious bias. Be visible in whatever means you can, and know what resources are available on site should anyone reach out to you. Speak to colleagues who may identify as LGBT+ so that you can better understand and fully embrace the drive for equality, sharing this knowledge and passion such that others join you.

What is your hope for the future?

Chrissie: People perform better when they can be themselves, so my hope for the future is that nobody need hide who they are. Everyone should be able to speak freely about their relationships, friends and family without fear of recrimination. My hope for the future is that straight privilege becomes a thing of the past and that everyone be treated with equal respect and understanding.

GSK is a partner of mygwork, the LGBT+ & Allies business community.

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