Pride Month is a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities in the world of work. It’s also a valuable opportunity to think more critically about how we can continue the conversation and take those all-important next steps.
We grabbed a coffee with our DEI Partner, Sam Gingham, to chat about workplace diversity and inclusivity through an LGBTQ+ lens. We asked Sam what Pride means to him, how to be an LGBTQ+ ally at work, and how employers can improve diversity in recruitment. Here’s what happened…
Can you start by telling us more about your role as DEI Partner?
I joined Robert Half relatively recently to support all things Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Over the last couple of months, I've focused on assessing where we're up to; Robert Half has a real aspiration to become an increasingly diverse and inclusive employer and to play our part in enhancing inclusivity in business and as a recruitment leader in our market.
I came to DEI from the LGBTQ+ community — as a gay man and as a person who has experienced elements of identity-based discrimination all through school and into the world of work. My involvement started with employee network groups and business involvement groups more than ten years ago, when the topic was less talked about.
You’re currently setting up Robert Half’s employer network group for the UK’s LGBTQ+ community — can you tell us about that?
There's been movement in the last 12 to 18 months within Robert Half to develop Employee Network Groups (ENGs) in the US — two in particular, the Global Women’s Equality Network and Black Employee Network, have translated themselves over into UK-based chapters, but also into other countries where Robert Half operates. This is before I even started working here and reflects the amazing work of colleagues working in our global business!
I'm here to support the ongoing evolution of those groups. To give them ideas, insights regarding infrastructure, and to support the process of growing ENGs. I'm supporting the business in moving towards the development of a fully established LGBTQ+ employee network group, amongst others, within our UK business, which is a localised extension of the pre-existing global group.
These groups are led by the voices and lived experiences of marginalised people, but they also encompass allies — people from outside those communities who are passionate about wanting to make a difference.
What would you say to someone who believes being part of the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t have anything to do with work?
I think it's really important that we challenge those ideas. If we don't create environments where everybody can come to work as their whole authentic selves, then we’re missing a trick with regards to capitalising on those people's potential and ultimately the contribution they can make to our business.
Inclusive businesses with diversity of thought and diversity of lived experience at the heart outperform those that lack diversity, and we see this again and again in the statistics. It makes commercial sense and frankly, having more diverse teams is just more fun.
Which companies are making strides for the LGBTQ+ community?
For me, any company with a robust and inclusive policy suite and action-based employee network groups are good examples of progress.
For example, looking at things like family policies and making sure they’re inclusive of non-heteronormative families. Also, the development of trans and non-binary policies, which include zero tolerance for transphobia as well as practical guidance for managers to support individuals who are coming out as trans or non-binary.
I think another important marker of businesses that really do well in this space is the expansion of private medical cover to support individuals who may be at most risk. The statistics tell us that LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to experience mental health challenges, so it’s essential for businesses to make sure that their wellbeing and benefits packages support LGBTQ+ people, too.
In your opinion, why is Pride such an important celebration to honour?
It’s important to have specific times of the year where the focus of the world shines on marginalised voices. It's an opportunity to feel safe, feel supported, and to feel like everyone’s got their moment in the sun.
It’s also an opportunity to honour older community members — to remember traumas and tragedies that have happened in the past. It's important because it reminds us that for all the progress we've made, we can still take steps backwards, and we have to resist that.
What does Pride mean to you?
Even in the job I do, which I feel very privileged to be able to do with regards to DEI and promoting this in businesses like Robert Half, I'm not immune to the emotion that can creep up when I think about Pride.
Pride is about having that moment where being part of the LGBTQ+ community is celebrated. For me, being part of Pride, having Pride exist, it feels like an inversion of the status quo — instead of things being against you, instead of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, the world is with you. And that means a lot.
Top three things every professional can do to be a better ally in the workplace?
Educate yourself, first and foremost. There's no excuse to not educate yourself on the lived experiences of people who are different to you. The content is so accessible and varied — listen to a podcast, watch a video, watch a sitcom, watch a documentary; if you want the title of ally, education is key.
Next, I'd advise you to listen first and speak second. Listen to and amplify the voices of people in marginalised communities. Listen actively and don't take more space from people who may have had precious little in the past, from those who may not have always enjoyed the freedoms you do.
Finally, show up. Take part and be willing to put yourself out. Ask yourself how you can get involved in Pride — there will be events in communities across the UK, and it's crucial to show solidarity. If you don't feel able or comfortable getting involved physically, you could donate to a charity or pay for content created by LGBTQ+ creators.
What films or shows can people watch to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community?
Inclusive content is so important – for some LGBTQ+ people, it can be there only window into a world that represents them. If you’re looking to binge, there’s no better place to start than RuPaul’s Drag Race! It’s a microcosm and shows the evolution of thought around what it is to be LGBTQ+ in the modern world with regards to issues like the importance of trans and non-binary inclusion.
There's also a great documentary on Netflix called Disclosure, which gives a frame of reference for trans and non-binary lived experiences, which is really good. If you want a bit of a heart-rending representation of the HIV/AIDS crisis, you can't do much better than It’s a Sin by Russell T Davies.
If you're looking for something short and pithy, there's a great podcast called The Log Books, which chronicles the history of Switchboard, an organisation that has existed for decades, supporting LGBTQ+ people since 1974. There’s also a podcast called Homo Sapiens, which talks about LGBTQ+ issues in an accessible way. Oh, and Schitt's Creek! I can’t advocate for it enough as a series — beautifully written and observed. It's heart-warming.