Imagine it, your boss comes into your office asking “So do you have a girlfriend you’d like to bring to the Christmas dinner?” and you just freeze, INTERNALLY SCREAMING. This was me. To describe as what was happening all through my body as perspiration is a complete understatement. I had not felt this sensation since I came out to my parents (which turned out okay), making me realise how trivial the idea of ‘coming out’ to my colleagues was.
To understand the reason why I was so reluctant to come out in work I’ll have to give you some background info. I work in the construction industry as a Structural Engineer, pretty much second in command in the office at the age of 23. This is regularly mistaken due to my baby face when people ask “are you on work experience” to which I reply with no, I’m fully qualified and will be single handedly working on your project (with a slight twitch in my eye).
The majority of people I work with are; cis gendered, straight, white, older men. This is probably why I probably pre-empt homophobia which generally wouldn’t occur (although in a survey mentioned in the next paragraph it was found that 28% of LGBTQ+ individuals within the construction industry have had an offensive or inappropriate comment made about their gender or sexuality towards them in the past year). Now, I can say that I’m definitely not the masc guy that no one will even suspect to be gay (if work saw my Instagram page I think they would be horrified). However, I still try to keep it professional in work as people tend to underestimate me as explained above, which unfortunately means I can’t throw glitter as I walk into every meeting. The people outside my company who I work with on a daily, are generally really nice don’t get me wrong, I could easily have a chat with them if I saw them outside of work, yet when I am with my boyfriend and I see them in public from afar, I try to avoid them (why?). I tend to take the “if they don’t ask, don’t tell” approach with these individuals as I feel that my sexuality should have no impact on the work that I produce. Does this mean I’m ignorant or hesitant to push boundaries within this male dominated industry.
Lets look at the construction industry, it is a known fact that this industry has a high suicide rate and mainly consists of cis males. Is this due to the masculine attitude, where workers feel that they can’t turn to anyone with their problems as they may be seen as weak? Many charities such as Mates in Mind are looking to tackle issues like these by providing large organisations with information on support for mental health. Kier is one of the large organisations that have been trying to include LGBTQ+ workers in the construction industry. They have started to address these issues by initiatives such as creating the #BuildingEquality committee, marching in Pride parades and changing all the Kier flags on their sites to the rainbow flag through Pride Month. The aim for the committee is to reduce the stress and anxiety levels of LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace within the construction industry. Kier also states on their website regarding #BuildingEquality that a survey conducted by Construction News showed over half (56%) of LGBTQ+ individuals are uncomfortable about being open about their sexuality or gender within this industry. It’s large companies like these which provide awareness towards the major issues within the industry and implementing schemes to tackle them which will stimulate other businesses to take the same perspective.
After doing some research for this post, I am now glad that I replied to my boss with “I will ask my boyfriend and see if he is available”. Working in a small company, I was less likely to come across the initiatives within the construction industry to try and include LGBTQ+ individuals to be open about their sexuality or gender. Therefore, I am pleased that I have done the research and will be more than happy to implement initiatives like these into my office.
Peace, Love and Pinot…