To mark the end of Pride month, RSK Human Resources Director Zoe Brunswick was recently joined by Davey Coulter, RSK Regional Business Development Director (Europe), for a special podcast episode for Pride. The recording sees Davey share his story as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, from growing up in Northern Ireland to his experiences in the workplace.
Davey begins by explaining that he was born in 1973 in Northern Ireland, six years after the passing of the 1967 act that decriminalised homosexuality, but only in England and Wales. Attitudes to sexuality in Northern Ireland were still deeply conservative and homophobia in his early life was rife. Davey admits being bullied at school; he assumed that he was the only one having the feelings he was experiencing and had no role models to look up to. “So the only option I had was to masquerade behind a lie,” he said.
Although by the beginning of Davey’s working career attitudes were improving, he still didn’t immediately feel comfortable in talking about his sexuality: “I didn’t feel it necessary to discuss my personal life or bring my personal life into work, but I suppose looking back, to a certain extent that was also a masquerade and I probably didn’t feel comfortable bringing my true self to work. I think nowadays it’s becoming clear that when employees and colleagues can bring their authentic selves to work, they are a lot more productive, they’re certainly more happy and they’re a lot more engaged. And research has recently shown that coming out increases job satisfaction and staff retention is a lot better. And again, when coming out, we gain the emotional support from our co-workers, whereas staying in the closet has costs, both for the individual and for the company.”
However, in a Stonewall survey completed in 2018, nearly a third of LGBTQ+ employees said that they wouldn’t share their sexuality with colleagues for fear of discrimination.
Davey says he’s not surprised by this statistic. “I do believe that the journey of inclusion and diversity is changing for the better. I think we’ve made really great steps but I think we still have quite a journey to travel.”
One way in which employers and colleagues can support their LGBTQ+ co-workers is through open communication, Davey continues. Setting up employee networks, for example, can go a long way towards inclusivity and ensuring individuals don’t feel isolated. “I think that sends a clear message to staff that you are important, and that more importantly, you have a voice and are being heard,” says Davey. Training programmes and supporting charity events, for example those around LGBTQ+ youth, are further ways we can demonstrate our commitments to a progressive workplace without discrimination.
“Another thing that’s probably worth mentioning is what I call model, inclusive language,” Davey comments. “What I mean by that is to learn and use the preferred pronouns for employees. And to use ‘spouse’ or ‘partner’ rather than the gendered ‘husband’ or ‘wife’, especially if you don’t know the gender of the person. Referring to partner also works for non-married couples so is more inclusive.”
In addition to HR teams having a large role to play in setting an example through inclusive language, leadership teams are integral to a progressive workplace, Davey and Zoe agree. Educating leaders to ensure that they feel comfortable engaging with their teams in an open and honest way, asking those questions and making sure the team is inclusive.
Asked what advice he would give someone struggling with their feelings relating to sexuality, Davey replies, “Don’t be afraid. Certainly not in the days that we’re living in. Ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s evidence of self-awareness and having the courage and strength to actually say ‘I’m sort of struggling here, you know, can you help me?’.”
If you need help or advice, please reach out to a friend, family member, colleague or professional source.
Stonewall has help and advice resources covering everything from rights and discrimination to coming out. It is predominantly UK-focused but does have some commentary around international support.
The LGBT Foundation has a helpline providing telephone and email support.