In celebration of International Women’s Day - 8th March 2021, as a proud LGBT woman I am here to share some of my experiences…
I come from a scientific background, working in the forensic service industry and I joined the civil service in 2019.
Starting my career outside the civil service, and as a lesbian woman – it began rather differently to most. In my first role, our business unit director was a woman, who was openly gay. At the same time, my immediate line manager was also a proud LGBT woman! In any workplace I think you’d agree that was a rarity, which I might never experience again.
It was so important and impactful for me to see this early on in my career. To be surrounded by relatable, female professional role models who later became mentors was a great chapter. I progressed quickly in my role and always felt supported at work. I successfully gained a promotion with management responsibility and in time, was involved in recruitment.
I then applied for a civil service role and I remember as I walked in to meet the panel for my current role, one of the interviewers was wearing a rainbow lanyard. It put me at ease straight away! So, my first impression of LGBT+ support within the civil service was positive.
Regardless of my positive start, I do echo the experiences of many LGBT+ people in recent virtual events who spoke of having to continually ‘come out’ at work. I wouldn’t say it is ever 100% easy (especially if you’re single) and there is a fear of hostility, or fear of changes in how people interact with you. My experiences throughout my career have been positive though, and I would say that helps me to feel comfortable at work. There are heteronormative assumptions made, and I have had assumptions made about my sexual orientation at work. This is a wider societal issue and is it changing. But however sad, I do still expect these assumptions at work and I tend to correct them straight away, but always in a friendly way.
In my current role, I champion and share LGBT+ resources to provide material for my immediate team to engage with. Last year for Pride month I also helped to launch an internal Pride email signature with options for allies, and LGBT members. These changes were all positively met when pitched to management, which is always lovely and reassuring! I think as a member of the LGBT+ community, it’s important to lead the way in this space and allow others the chance to be an ally.
In my experience, small efforts like an email signature are a simple solution to visibility and can go a long way towards helping others feel comfortable at work. For me, it invited friendly discussions and helped to identify other LGBT+ members. Generally, I have always found social settings or forums the easiest way to come out at work (whether it’s telling one, two or ten people).
I have had the privilege of working in diverse and open working environments. In my current role, I generally work with teams that are balanced by gender, age and previous experience. Since joining the civil service, I do see gender balance at executive officer / higher officer level and have not personally experienced any barriers to my own progression by being an LGBT woman. I have also recently been successful in obtaining a new post in another government department - and I look forward to ‘coming out’ all over again in my new role!
I recognise gender balance at lower levels and female representation is increasing across senior levels. However, women still only occupy 43% of roles at the most senior level in the civil service. For me, that is something that needs to be further addressed if I am to believe the highest levels of the career ladder are open to both men and women equally, in all branches of the Civil Service. In my previous industry, I was surrounded by female leaders so in that sense, there has been a contrast since joining the civil service.
There have been occasions in role within my current role in the civil service where I was acutely aware that I was one of few women in the room. However, I think it’s important to emphasise that I was in that meeting, with a seat at the table. I was afforded the same opportunity to contribute as others in the room and most crucially, I did contribute.
I am always mindful that years before me, a woman will have entered many rooms I am now invited to walk into - and paved a way forward. Even if it were the case that a woman had never spoken up in a meeting before I did, or never held a title before I did… I believe we should relish the opportunity to be the first. As that is effectively, shattering the glass ceiling (whether it’s double-glazed or not)! I try to see opportunities, not barriers.
For me, the goal now is to keep pushing on… gaining experience and setting new career aspirations.
Within my lifetime we have seen legislative changes aiming to extend the protection of LGBT people and promote equality, and these are important progressions. I’ve also grown up with the social movements, shifts and the growing culture of speaking out against discrimination that plays into my own stance. I do believe there’s a lot more work to be done to achieve gender equality within the civil service, and to educate people on fascinating LGBT+ history. Without the backstory, you cannot appreciate the level and forms of discrimination LGBT+ people face.
As a lesbian woman, I am very fortunate to continue to have a great support network - including supportive family, friends and colleagues. This support undoubtedly gives me confidence to be myself in all aspects of my life. Groups like the civil service LGBT+ network are so important, and the range of events is very positive to see!