Professionalism is a crucial part of many industries, especially in City environments. The word makes me think of suits, pleasantries and handshakes. However, I do not think the formality implicit in being professional should mean not sharing of aspects of your identity.Entering a workplace as a newbie is often extremely difficult. You have to mould yourself to fit the culture that has usually been created over an extensive period of time. As you settle in, relationships with fellow colleagues begin to grow and you start to feel a little more relaxed. However, as relationships develop, personal questions also start to crop up. For example: “Sorry, who did you say you were going on holiday with?” For a proportion of people this is where alarm bells start ringing. You have to decide whether or not to disclose the fact that you’re going with your partner of the same sex or whether you say “family”. Although in a sense those two options are the same, the latter doesn’t quite feel like the truth. ‘Family’ covers everyone: your parents, siblings, cousins, dogs, fish…and of course your other half.
Not too long ago I read The Glass Closet by Lord John Browne (which I can highly recommend). It puts forward the argument that coming out is good for business and if employees feel they must hide their sexuality in the workplace, it can have a huge impact on their motivation and in many ways, their happiness. I would definitely agree that if you cannot share certain parts of yourself at work, you can’t be true to your identity and this can adversely impact on the way you work. If you can’t share things about yourself with fellow employees, it can become very difficult to build real relationships with them and let’s face it, there are only so many times you can discuss the weather and The Great British Bake Off.
I am not just talking about sexuality here. I’m talking about anything that you feel makes up a big part of your identity. For a large chunk of your lifetime, a majority of your week is spent at work. So you should at least be able to express who you are, which will also in turn create commercial benefits as employees feel more motivated, productive and trusting of their fellow colleagues.
One way in which to ensure employees feel able to express their identity is by havinginclusive networks in place. As I saw at Inclusive Networks first event in collaboration with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network at charity Action for Children, Celebrate LGBT, the benefits of having a visible network can be huge and make such a difference to people’s working lives.The event featured a panel of representatives from different networks including the EY Sikh Network, Celebrate LGBT, Ogilvy Pride and Pride in the Partnership (Pips) at the John Lewis Partnership.Furthermore, organisations should have policies in place that ensure tolerance and acceptance for everyone and strict repercussions for anyone that does not comply, as well as a culture that encourages individuals to be themselves.
The point I really want to emphasise is that at work you should be able to feel like yourself, so you can worry about other stuff like meeting your deadlines and preparing for an important presentation. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not to put up a picture of you with your significant other.
Be sure to check out Inclusive Networks’ site here and follow them on twitter at @incnetworks!