Diversity, inclusion, and ERGs

Does the place you work have an Employee Resource Group (ERG) that represents you?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, in light of Pride month and the rightly increased attention for the BLM movement. Even with lockdown, during which my org’s LGBTQ+ ERG ramped up the frequency of community calls to help address possible isolation in a community that can experience that more strongly.

As a baby queer, I remember discovering that my university had an LGB society (no T in the tail end of the 90s, I’m afraid) and having for the first time an extraordinary sense of belonging and of finding my identity – because growing up bi in rural England in the 90s meant you didn’t have a label, just a series of social pressures to ‘pick a side’.

And then, when I started work, that sense of belonging went away for a while, because I am queer and a woman who has largely worked in tech companies.

I’ve been the person taking a deep breath and correcting hetero normative assumptions in a cis male-centric workspace and copping overly sexualised flack for coming out.

I’ve been the woman who didn’t speak out about absolutely every instance of inappropriate workplace behaviour – from passing sexist comments to actual groping – because nobody has the energy to fight every battle, and when you’re at the start of your career and your management team don’t step in to challenge that behaviour, you can’t help but weigh the power dynamics and feel you’d be risking your job.

That’s not okay.

So now, in my 40s, harassment happens less – age and better companies! – but I have challenged and will step in when I see or experience unacceptable behaviour, because I know what it’s like to battle with it all.the.time and I will help my siblings where I can. And I hope to be supported in that.

I appreciate it, now, when I see a company brimming with opportunities for minority groups to connect – and to be taken seriously by the leadership team. It’s just not enough any more to have a bland statement about equal opportunities on your website – I want to see how you show your commitment to diversity and inclusion in your leadership team and your company values.

Every company, just like every person, is a work in progress – we could all always be doing better. But I never felt I could truly unfurl my professional wings when I was so curtailed by my gender or my sexuality, and I don’t want others to feel the same way, whatever their identity or ethnicity. It’s important for us and our work that we can bring our whole selves to work, and so when I consider career moves, I now look out for organisations that really seem to have wanting to do better, be better, and enable diversity and belonging for ALL staff as part of their DNA. Not just for my own benefit, but also because organisations that care about inclusion and surfacing all kinds of voices will be better, more innovative, places to work for everyone. And who doesn’t want that?