Sitting within a technology team in the large organisation I work for I take for granted the inclusive nature of the teams I work with and the confidence that empowers me with to bring my whole, authentic self to work and not feel a need to cover aspects of my life. In the UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are fortunate to have most of the same rights as their heterosexual, cisgender friends and colleagues. I can walk the streets holding hands with a guy in parts of London and not worry about hate crime, I can book accommodation or lodgings with my same-sex partner without worrying if we’ll be turned away, I can marry and I can get same-sex benefits for my partner irrelevant of gender.
I’ve been actively involved in the Bank’s LGBT employee network steering committee for 7 years now so participating in International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) seemed a no brainer. Last year I was invited to coordinate the global planning and marketing of IDAHOT with a colleague in Hong Kong and another in London. We had a simple ask of colleagues – that of wearing something purple to work for the day in order to show their visible support for LGBT inclusion – and then taking a selfie and sharing it on our global photo wall. The photo wall went crazy, with over 16,000 views to date.
After 3,500+ colleagues in over 40 locations across 24 countries engaged in the Bank’s IDAHOT 2015 initiative, this year I was asked to put forward an event outline for IDAHOT on 17th May 2016. Before I knew it I was the global lead for this inclusion initiative – planning a structured engagement and marketing programme to go even bigger and more purple for 2016. I’ve been fortunate to identify a network of over 35 globally located champions to take the global IDAHOT key messages and visual resources and adapt them locally to engage colleagues in their location. Using a GLocal approach (think global, act local) we aim to highlight the inclusive nature of our organization, and off the back of IDAHOT raise awareness and participation in our local LGBT ally programmes across the Bank. So far we have 49 locations across 29 countries pledged to show their values and commitment towards fostering an inclusive workplace. Over 25 cities will have tailored local events on May 17 – with our internal intranet homepage turning purple for one day only in support (a first!). From Ask Me Anythings, to afternoon tea and rainbow cakes, group photos, to a global, external multinational panel conversation with speakers including, Paul E. Singer and Manvendra Singh Gohil (India’s first openly gay Prince). There are lots of ways for colleagues to get involved.
Last week however I found myself having a personal crisis of confidence as to whether these types of diversity events do make a difference and if they add value or if they are just creating noise and detracting from core business deliverables. Sure the Bank proudly wears diversity as a key component of it’s values and beliefs, but when my immediate life already feels so inclusive am I just preaching to the converted? Then I started running a series of IDAHOT champion calls and when I heard from some of our champions in places like APAC, Italy and our service and tech centres it is clear how much more there is to do around global LGBT inclusion. Initiatives such as our IDAHOT’s ‘Dress to Express’ really do make a difference to colleagues in these locations (where many of us have teams), and sharing our support locally recognises how far we have come and makes our support visible for our colleagues across the world. Closer to home my experience talking to colleagues and other organisations is that not everyone in the workplace feels the same confidence or right to be their self at work, and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence there is more we can do to support our diverse LGBT colleagues in places like London and New York. Being visible and creating a safe and inclusive space is one of the best ways to remove personal barriers to being ourselves. This improves productivity amongst colleagues, fosters trust and openness and is good for recruitment and retention. When I think about my own personal journey I recall my first 6 months at the Bank where I actively covered my personal life and distanced myself from colleagues for fear of being judged or discriminated against. To many colleagues whose similar personal fears hold them back from being themselves today, then seeing colleagues they know participate in IDAHOT can unlock new conversations and foster a more inclusive culture for all.
So this is why I plan to wear purple on May 17 and to encourage colleagues across the Bank to ‘Dress to Express’, share photos via our photo wall and join in this global conversation to add to the rich tapestry of diversity – showcasing inclusion across the Bank.