I was talking with a colleague today to – as they put it – be a common sense and reality check. The situation they wanted to check in about was one that any one of my various hats was applicable to but as part of the context for their decision making process they made a confidential disclosure about their personal life that they didn’t want to share with their staff.
As they said, it’s their private life, and even if they were minded to disclose it, this wasn’t a context in which they would want to disclose the information.
Being trusted with this disclosure was humbling. It immediately also reminded me of why I both respect these personal boundaries and am also glad that I live the way I do. Admittedly, it has meant that I’m now a very visible EDI advocate, but that has in its own way opened more doors than it has inhibited.
I am a very visible and talkative person in my workplace, and the confidence to be that person has in part coming from recognising, acknowledging, and embracing the evolution of who I am. It’s taken a huge weight off my shoulders. It also allows me to be visible on behalf of others who do not feel safe or comfortable to do the same.
There’s a responsibility there that I feel keenly.
I know my place of work wouldn’t begrudge me taking more recovery time but I don’t feel its needed and I’d rather not tap that good will unless or until I need it. With that in mind I dove back to it and soon caught up on what was going on. I then only needed to suggest a couple of course directions and affirmations to the team. That was when the consultations started.
I’ve got a reasonably high profile at the moment. I run the biggest group of libraries, and have fostered and encouraged engagements with local groups to build up our offers and develop innovative ways of working in addition to the core library services. I’m also vocal and proactive on equality and diversity issues and initiatives.
As a result I’ve started to be the ‘go to’ person for opinions and signposting on related queries, and have just been asked if I mind deputising in as EDI service representative for the libraries. If it helps people and opens doors and opportunities for fairer services then I’m there. If nothing else it’s something that’s close to my heart.
As we head into Pride Month, I’ve been musing on conversations about representation – particularly in the context of Equalities and Diversity at work. This has played a prominent role in recent interviews in our restructure and in conversations arising from them.
It is very often the little things that have the most unexpected effects. I was reminded of this when someone remarked this week that they were wearing a bisexual pride pin on their lanyard because they had been inspired by my wearing one.
They had found it a relief to be able to make this statement, and hoped that in turn they would be able to help someone else be able to accept and be their proper selves too.
I was profoundly moved by this. Its one thing to have previously noted the addition of the pin to their daily appearance; another to have someone say in a public forum why, and their hope for further supporting others in a similar way.
I’m proud to work in a diverse community, and be part of ensuring that my workforce reflects that too. Representation matters. Being visible matters. Showing people they’re not alone matters.
I may have mentioned previously that I have a number of badges on my work lanyard. Some are representations of fandoms, or of work initiatives, while others are for LGBTQIA+ representation, or are purely decorative. They serve a multitude of functions – not least of which is being visible, which may seem a strange option, but does serve a function when people are struggling to describe who served them last time. “The man with the badges” works just as well, especially with the amount of swapping of staff we have to do at the moment between sites.
From time to time, a member of the public tries to interpret some of the badges that are less common in appearance, which can lead to some interesting conversations – some of them useful, some of them an exercise in confirming or denying nothing depending on the tone of the questioner.
What has been heartening recently however, is seeing the slow spread of LGBTQIA+ badges on a number of other staff members’ lanyards – either as quiet declaration or as allies – and finding the very reassurance I’ve hoped to project to others coming from seeing them in front of me.
It just reinforces how important representation in the workplace is.
There’s a meme doing the rounds with a picture of Thor from Endgame in it, and the caption: “to all the larger guys over the moon about seeing Thor in the movie: now you know how important representation in the media is and how good it feels.”
I was chatting about it with Lady M this morning and she chuckled and asked if I’d seen a recent picture of her and some colleagues in a meeting at work on her social media. In it there’s one man and several women, and she’d taken the picture to capture a rare moment in her workplace where there were more women managers than men.
Apparently during this lively and productive meeting, the guy had said he felt a bit scared being outnumbered, and Lady M told him: “now you know how we feel all the time.”
As he appeared to mull this, she invited him to contemplate how many women were managers in their department. And then to look out across the cubicles and see how many non-white faces he could see.
This apparently gave rise to some degree of introspection and understanding as to why Lady M felt it so important to capture the moment in a photo to share with others.
Representation is important. It gives people someone successful to identify with, to give them hope or inspiration. We all have people who inspire us, and sometimes we’re even an inspiration to other people without ever knowing it.
Lady M always gets embarrassed and a bit coy when people reveal that they admire what she does and how she does it – but the glow when it happens, and the renewed sense of purpose and achievement is a wonder to behold.
So if she inspires you, or provides a role model or representation for you, tell her. Hells, tell anyone that does that for you because it may be exactly what they need to hear in a moment of doubt.
I heard an interesting question today – about why people talk about their sexuality or non-traditional relationship models when they are in monogamous and ostensibly heterosexual relationships. Was it their speaking up a way of saying “I’m available?”
From personal experience: no. Not even slightly. It’s about being seen, and heard, and perhaps a sign of encouragement and support for people who are themselves struggling with the fear that they are the only people who feel the way they do.
Representation is important. Not everyone is in a safe place socially or geographically to be open about who they are or how they love – so it’s even more important that we can be as visible as practicable to fly a rallying flag for people.
So that’s why I am open about being bisexual, polyamorous, and a Dom – I rarely shout about it, but if it gives confidence or support to someone to hear someone being able to say it, then it does some good.