LGBT: 21 years (kind of) in, 8 years out – By Kate Charrington

What is LGBT?

The acronym (LGBT) is used by and for those who consider themselves to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. As a gay woman, I have not always found things easy, but I have found that being open and out in the workplace makes for a much happier and healthier life.

LGBT in the School Days

My LGBT experience in the workplace has definitely been influenced by my earlier years. I spent my teens and early twenties in a state of ‘in’ and ‘out’ flux. At school I came out around 15/16yrs old and the reception to this was generally good. In fact, it was more the poor experience of another school friend that has stuck with me most. Negative comments and attitudes were made in and around the school environment and this exposed the fact that not everyone was ok with it.

University: A time to be independent and coming out

As I moved from school into university, I felt generally more confident in myself, but the change was quite difficult. In this new environment, I didn’t have the knowledge or experience of knowing those around me. This was when I realised that I was not as ‘out and proud’ as I thought. I worried about the reaction and my confidence diminished.

The importance of a role model

Writing this, I remember now that my own ability to come out at university was influenced by my flat-sharer. In the first week, she got up in the living room and told everyone in our new household that she was in a same-sex relationship. She didn’t do this to make the announcement and grab attention, she did it so that she wouldn’t have to hide who she was. Thanks to her, she gave me the initiative to be more open to new people. With that, she gave me the courage to say I was gay. She was my role model in that one instant.

You can become LGBT role models at work. Find out more about Stonewall’s Role Model Programme

Stereotype

When it came to those on my university course, I distinctly remember having to convince some fellow course goers that I was gay. Imagine that(!)… you say you’re gay and people don’t believe you because they have a certain image of what a ‘gay/lesbian woman’ looks like in their mind. Of course stereotypes remain, but by being out at university, I believe I helped to change peoples’ perception of what a lesbian woman ‘looks like’.

University: Going back In

Roll on 3rd year and I went to spend a year at a Canadian university. The environment changed again. I lived with someone who was vocally homophobic and as a result, I went ‘back in’. Even though there were other gay women living in the same halls of residence, I lacked confidence. I was in a different country and actually this was probably a time when I felt most alone. I pretended I had been in a straight relationship to avoid awkward questions or feeling uncomfortable. I hid who I really was and that is something I regret.

Coming back to the UK, I was home. I considered myself to be back in ‘safe’ surroundings and I was back out again. Roll on graduation and of course, the world of full-time work!

For some interesting research on LGBT at Universities, you can read the following research:

LGBT in Britain Universities Report

My workplace experience

I would love to say that I walked into estate agency super confident and sure of myself, but the fact is, I didn’t know what to do and whether I was ‘out’ or ‘in’. I went into a branch where people were of an ‘older’ generation and I was unsure how they would treat me if they knew I was gay. I had got comfortable with people of my own age and those around me being generally just fine with it. In my own mind, I had this belief that older people just wouldn’t understand and this made it hard to know what was best. This kind of age prejudice led me to inform my senior manager (who was in his late 20s/early 30s) that I was gay straight away, but I truly worried about the branch manager and their reaction.

I did reveal that I was gay and was fully ‘out’ in the end, but I waited until one of the ‘what are you doing at the weekend?’ questions was asked then I came out… again. And that was when I got the follow-up questions:

  • Have you always known you were gay?
  • Have you ever been in a relationship with a guy?
  • Do you want kids?

In 2013, I made a transfer into the world of surveying, where the age demographic of my colleagues was much higher. I was much happier in myself by this point and knew that hiding who I was only had a detrimental effect on my overall happiness. I made a pledge to myself to just be out. I didn’t ‘come out’, but being open about being gay has just been part of my personal life which I am happy to share.

What have I learned?

What I have come to realise, is that it is my own prejudices that have impacted on my experience of LGBT in the workplace. We all have prejudices and that is why initiatives like unconscious bias training and conversation surrounding diversity and inclusion is important. We must work together to destroy myths and erase stereotypes as well as to deliver a sustainable industry for the future that is open to everyone.

I was all too quick to think that just because someone is older they would have a certain view of me, but this could not have been further from the truth. After all, LGBT knows no boundaries or age limits.

I can honestly say that in terms of my own surveying experience and environment, my being gay has never factored into any part of my work. Of course as a gay woman I may offer a different perspective on things and relate to some customers/clients in a different way, but the truth is that the surveying industry has seemingly welcomed me with open arms.

Building Confidence

According to Stonewall:

A quarter (26 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bi workers are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation

Every day we make decisions in the workplace. Yet, not everybody has to decide on a daily basis whether they will ‘come out’ at work. Coming out at work is hard, and:

each time a new colleague asks ‘What are you doing this weekend? Any plans for your birthday? What does your partner do?’, you need to decide in that moment if you are willing to reveal that you are gay. And this can be a particularly hard decision to make in the workplace, especially when it’s your first time.

The above quote for me is truly reflective of just how hard it can be when the environment changes. If you change jobs or careers, coming out is a process you may have to do again and again.

As a member of the surveying industry, I see a positive focus on diversity an inclusion (D&I). If we look at the RICS IEQM, of course there is still a long way to go, but its a start to ensuring that D&I becomes as ingrained in the workplace and as BAU as aspects like health and safety at work.

LGBT affects everyone. Being out at work promotes the statement that being open about who you really are is the norm… because hey, it is! If we can build the confidence of our colleagues, we can pave our way to a better and more productive business.

If you are LGBT, you can always look to communities like Freehold, for guidance and support of LGBT professionals in real estate.

What advice would I give to someone hoping to enter the property (or indeed any) industry?

Everyone is different and my own experience has just been that -mine. Of course being ‘out’ is an individual process and it takes time for people to feel comfortable in themselves. If you are able to, being out in the workplace and forgoing your own prejudices makes inclusivity much better all round. Inclusivity promotes inclusivity and remember, progress starts with you.

Don’t judge others based on how you identify yourself. Give baby boomers and maturists credit! Age just has not factored in my experience. The people around you might be LGBT or have LGBT children. By being open about who you are, you get the best out of yourself and the best out of your company as well.

What’s the best career lesson you’ve learned?

I would love to tell you that my confidence has grown on its on, but the truth is, my own partner has been absolutely instrumental in my life. Her comfort with who she is has been inspiring and she makes a great impact on society (and me) by just being her, no facades.

Equally, my current work colleagues and my network are incredible because they have supported me by not making being gay a ‘thing’. In my workplace, being gay is not considered ‘who I am’. Myself and my character are not defined by it, nor have I been treated any differently because of it.

So, my best career lesson – be open, network and surround yourself with great people, internal and external to your company. Get involved in D&I and help pave the way for those following you into the industry.

National Inclusion Week

With this in mind and #NIW2018 (National Inclusion Week) just around the corner it would be great for people to get involved. I saw this video recently and wanted to share it; it serves as a reminder to me that everyone is different and not all experiences are the same. Younger people by nature will look to the rest of society to navigate their way through life. As a result, the workplace must demonstrate, particular through times of work experience, that being diverse is not only a fantastic thing for making a better working environment, but is also completely and utterly normal.

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