Proud to mark Pride
By Henry Pipe
27 June 2019
This Pride Month—marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York—it feels like the number of consultants in the construction industry publicly showing their support for LGBT+ communities has reached a critical mass.
It’s easy, amongst the proliferation of rainbow logos and flags on my Twitter feed and in shops and banks in the high street, to lose sight of how much society’s attitudes have changed since I joined Max Fordham in 2002.
For the first year I worked here, it was still perfectly legal for a company to fire someone or refuse employment because they were gay. When companies made a commitment to equality, it was usually to an absence of overt discrimination: tolerance but not acceptance. People who don’t fit the norm are welcome, but only if they try to be like everyone else. Blend in, and don’t make a fuss.
The idea of creating an open culture where people were encouraged to be themselves was still a long way off.
The progress can’t blind us to how much our industry still needs to do on a range of issues. Construction is grappling hard with diversity and inclusion, but moving beyond gender—or more specifically, women in engineering—remains a challenge. BAME communities in particular are still massively under-represented in consultancy.
It does sometimes feel like LGBT+ issues are seen as a bit of a taboo. I’ve given talks on diversity and on unconscious bias, and I’ve been struck by how often participants actively raise gender and race as issues to be engaged with, closely followed by religion, nationality, disability and age. Then there’s the awkward silence.
Maybe it’s that attitudes haven’t moved on as much as I’d like. Or maybe people just don’t know how to engage.
As recently as 2015 an industry survey found that “85% of straight engineers working in consultancy said they would be comfortable with gay colleagues”. Astonishingly, the fact that only 15% of employees in my sector appeared not to be comfortable working alongside someone like me was lauded as a positive statistic. So it could still be attitudes. I’ve always been out at work, but statistics like that, along with my own personal experiences, do leave me much more guarded in the workplace.
But this year things feel different, and I’m hopeful. At Max Fordham, we’ve added to the rainbow proliferation with a Pride Month email footer and social media icons. People have noticed and the response has been universally positive. We had a huge amount of support for a bake sale in all our offices for an LGBT+ homeless charity (akt); and we devoted one of our regular weekly lunchtime presentations to LGBT+ issues. And people came, and they engaged.
Whatever the cause of our industry’s inclusivity problems, more constructive engagement is a solution.
I very rarely raise LGBT+ topics at work: probably because I don’t want to discover if that 15% still exists. But these conversations need to happen, and Pride Month has been a brilliant catalyst.
I’m a strong believer in the power of the little conversations: the things that are said waiting for the kettle to boil, or the quick chat while waiting for a meeting to start. And the email footers, the bake sale and the presentation have all triggered these conversations. For the first time, I've been aware of people having spontaneous, positive conversations about LGBT+ inclusion. And, however trivial they seem, these conversations have created a sense of inclusion that I’ve not felt in this industry before.
So if you’re reading this and wondering whether your organisation can do more on LGBT+ inclusion: suggest to colleagues that you think of ways your firm could mark pride month next year, and see where the conversation goes.