Why LGBTQIA workplace networks are important

By Raj Pandya, Deputy Chief Pharmacist Black Country Healthcare

I’m the former LGBTQIA+ network lead in my workplace. But why do networks matter, and what do they do?

Networks create change

LGBTQIA+ networks create change within an organisation. They can mitigate traumatic experiences such as microaggressions, give people a safe space and give them a voice. They can expose blind spots, break down barriers and ensure people are recognised and validated as themselves.

Networks have a huge role in implementing and influencing policy at local level too. Our network is supported by a community development worker who links our network with others, so our voice is magnified.

The challenge of diversity

Sometimes we think battles have been won, but we need to remind ourselves that the challenge that diversity brings is ever-present.

We recently had a new electronic patient record system installed. The record offered a gender choice of male, female or ‘other’, with no room given for recording pronouns. Our LGBTQIA+ network has a Board sponsor raised the issue at that level, and the problem was resolved. Changing the options on the record meant we could then roll out awareness training for staff on issues around sex and gender, so they could have better conversations with patients and recognise each individual for who they are.

We’ve also ensured that staff pronoun badges are available, along with rainbow lanyards, and have obtained funding to deliver training on transgender health for our organisation. Once you feel recognised, you feel validated and respected, something that doesn’t always happen for LGBTQIA+ people. For example, the LGBT Foundation’s Hidden Figures report tells us 64% of people responding to their survey said they preferred to go to a LGBTQIA+ organisation for mental health support. We need to ask ourselves why.

Networks themselves of course aren’t perfect and can lack gender and sexual diversity. The majority of our network members are gay men, followed by lesbians, and we have a few bisexual and transgender members. There are a lot of allies in the network, which is great, but we recognise the importance of a protected element of safe space too. We’ve found what works well is having our meeting follow an agenda for the first half, after which people who don’t identify as LGBTQIA+ leave, so we can give direct support to each other as needed.

EDI data matters

All employers should collect equality and diversity data so people from specific communities are seen and heard. Data on diversity enables organisations to identify existing biases, gaps or issues and work towards improving them. This in turn enables employees to feel safe, recognised and included. Research from York University demonstrates you are much more likely to disclose your sexual orientation if you’re a member of an LGBTQIA+ network.

Organisations need to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are at the heart of everything they do. Output is enhanced by 20-30% when there is diversity on boards, as creative thinking and lived experiences improve diversity of thought, which fosters innovation, creativity and empathy – huge benefits to any organisation.

EDI also needs to be at the heart of the undergraduate curriculum in pharmacy, so we can create an inclusive workforce where people feel confident enough to be themselves, reducing systemic barriers in the profession.

Being visible

Visible leadership in an organisation really matters. I wish I’d seen more people I could relate to when I was a young gay man. It would have made me more confident to bring my true self to work, rather than avoid conversations about relationships.

Being yourself creates trust which brings a team together and creates greater understanding and compassion. Your lived experience expands the horizons of others, creates better patient care and inspires the next generation of leaders.

I’m hugely proud of the progress we’ve made but there’s still a long way to go. So if you have the chance to join a network my advice would be jump right in. If there isn’t one where you work, why not start one?