The Work Issue (& Why It Matters For LGBTQ People of Colour)
This month is the work issue. Or better explained as the work issue that no-one talks about enough - the experiences of LGBTQ people of colour in the workplace. And here at colourfull, we want to understand what's really happening.
A Personal Experience
I’d been promoted to a Head of HR role at the BBC, which also involved a move to a new department. I was excited and proud, but also had that dreaded feeling of needing to prove my worth all over again with a higher level of scrutiny.
One of my first tasks was to join a meeting on a sensitive HR issue. This was also going to be the first time I met a number of senior folks. As one of them entered the room (yes, he was white, straight and blatantly privileged), he asked me if I was the notetaker. I can instantly recall the heat of embarrassment sweeping across my face; in that moment, my courage only extended to clarifying I worked in HR (which frankly, could still have meant I was the notetaker).
When the Chair of the meeting arrived, we were asked to do proper introductions. I made a point of stating my position and saw the individual look down at their notes when I did. Even after the meeting, there was no attempt by him to address the misunderstanding or apologise; he probably just saw it as a harmless mistake.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been an isolated experience. At other times in my career, I’ve found out I’ve been paid less than my (white) peers for no obvious reason, and when I raised it the matter was swiftly rectified, akin to ‘brushing it under the carpet’. I’ve been told to ‘turn on the charm’ with an openly gay, senior leader in order to get them to agree to something. Different facets of my identity have been both a help and a hindrance.
Thing is, I’m a determined fucker and was raised by my parents to work twice as hard to be just as good (captured brilliantly by Slay in Your Lane). I have had some wonderful managers and experiences that have led to my career progression. But I’ve also been told that I’m ‘too assertive’, to ‘find ways to connect with the team’ and that ‘I’d need to ‘man’ up’ in a particular organisation to succeed. Without context, these may just seem like words, but I assure you my ethnicity and/or sexuality played a part in these situations.
It's All About The Data
What I also know is that data tells me the struggle for LGBTQ people of colour in the workplace is very real. The way queerness is expected to show up at work to make it more palatable is white, corporate and homonormative. It’s something that distinctly puts LGBT people of colour at a disadvantage.
Separate studies indicate that discrimination is at play if you’re LGBT or BAME in the workplace. The figures are shocking, 54% of gay men feel they’ve been discriminated against at work whilst 65% of BAME people feel the same.
There is also some research on the specific issues that affect LGBT people of colour (mainly in the US) and unsurprisingly highlights how they are more likely to experience discrimination during the recruitment process than their white LGBT counterparts and are more likely to be unemployed in comparison to their heterosexual BAME counterparts.
But there isn’t enough data on this subject in general, let alone the UK. Stonewall is one of the few organisations that looks at this intersection (see their Workplace Conference Agenda 2019) but often appears to be focused on sharing experiences rather than gathering data.
Why Do I Care?
I care about this subject because work is woven into the fabric of society. At its best, work can provide economic opportunities and freedom for the most marginalised and at risk in our community. Given my professional background, it’s an area where I can (hopefully) contribute to more positive change.
I also care because the world around us is changing; more people identify as LGBTQ than ever before and the UK’s BAME population is only set to grow. It stands to reason, we’ll have more LGBTQ people of colour. How can we make the future of work brighter for them and ensure they have access to the same opportunities and development as others? My career helped me find independence and gave me the comfort blanket I needed when I came out, knowing that I could fend for myself if the worst was to happen.
So, What Next?
colourfull is excited to be teaming up with with award winning journalist Salma Haidrani to investigate this issue and carry out the vital research needed to create meaningful change.
If you’re an LGBTQ person of colour and willing to share your current/recent experiences of work, please click on the link below to complete our survey – we promise it’ll take no more than 10 minutes of your time.