This week I celebrated 30 years of being an out gay man. In 1987 growing up gay in the suburbs it was relatively brave thing to do; the age of consent for gay men was 21 and there was no protection in law for me at work.
So for years I maintained a multiple identity at the company I worked for. Not an easy thing to do for a party boy like me. This was particularly frustrating as in my last role for ICL, I was in a small office of older men who talked about football constantly. I knew nothing about football – and that made me stand out.
I left ICL in 1998 after 14 years, and made a promise to myself I was going to be authentic in my next workplace. After a brief stint writing for a gay lifestyle magazine (whilst I studied to finish off my finals for my accountancy exams) my next job was for Reed Elsevier – a major Anglo/Dutch publishing company.
Here I was an out gay man. This was made a little easier by the fact that in publishing there was more than just me – however there was a clique, and a pecking order and I was part of neither. I actually hung out with my straight colleagues in preference but my drive to remain authentic was both a blessing and a curse. In 1999 there was no protection for LGBT people in the workplace, you could simply be sacked for being gay.
I worked for someone – a female – who in order to assert her status would shout, bully and command as if she were going to war every day with me. It wore me down so much that it ended up making me ill. I had a mental health crisis when she started bringing in elements of my personal life into her rants. ‘You think more about your boyfriend than work’ she would say. Well at least she was right about one thing – despite the fact I worked nearly every weekend.
After an ill-conceived letter of complaint by me to HR I found myself in a situation of being offered a brown envelope containing a cheque with far more noughts after it than I was due, or having to apply for a colleague’s job. Something he had been doing for the same amount of time as me. I took the envelope.
Now fast forward to modern times, and I can look back at these moments wondering if I could have benefited from having support to deal with these situations? With changes in the law protecting me, the rise of staff networks in most forward thinking organisations what else is left?
The simple answer is coaching and mentoring for protected minorities at work. As someone who has been lucky enough to have done both of these, I wish I had access to this much earlier in my career. Mentoring got me out of Finance and into Communications, however coaching got me into a role I feel I was put on this earth to do, a bold statement but true.
TfL along with a number of other companies – both public and private embarked on a coaching programme with SceneChange who run an innovative peer-to-peer coaching programme. This is a hugely cost effective way of getting people with the same backgrounds together to talk through situations, ideas and problems to advance their careers.
The programme requires a nine-month commitment and starts with a one-day workshop that upskills you and then matches you to another person on the programme.
I took part in the first event with TfL, and to my amazement when I walked through the door for the workshop were two people who I had worked with at Reed Elsevier running it! Time suddenly stopped, and never was I so glad to see a couple of friendly faces.
For nine-months, I worked with my coaching partner to talk through some issues I was having at work, in particular my fear of public speaking. An opportunity had presented itself after becoming vice chairman of our LGBT network and I wanted to make some changes to the way the network operated. These were at odds with the existing chair who suddenly stood down, leaving me in charge. I couldn’t be chair without being able to speak in public could I?
So my journey began with my coaching partner Richard as we worked through how I could turn fear into an opportunity, as I helped him with his career aspirations. After nine-months, and following an election process I was confirmed as chair and Richard had moved roles.
I learnt so much along the way but the most important thing I learned was that I had these skills within me all the time, it just took another gay person to help me prise them out. I’ve since had one-to-one coaching with gay coach, as a direct result of participating in this programme, through that I found myself a more confident and authoritative speaker and actively seek out opportunities to do so.
Of my cohort three of us went on to become network chairs, and we’re still in touch – some five or six years later. Add to this the real benefits that this brings to your organisation – a group of people able to be themselves, then this is a win-win all round.
On 12 October 2017 the next LGBT coaching programme for Coaching Squared will be taking place at the Ministry of Justice. Places are £995 for a full nine month programme with all the tools and support your LGBT staff need. They also offer discounts for multiple participants if you mention my name.
But don’t take my word for it – see what others have to say here.
Get in touch with SceneChange or speak to me for further information.