Saturday, 17 March 2012

LGBT Careers Un-conference: Part one - Why do LGBT people need specific careers advice?

Last week, I attended careers development ‘un-conference’. Initiated by our own organisations LGBT Network, the first question is probably ‘Why do lesbian women, gay men, bisexual or transgendered people need their own careers development workshop? Here are some stories and views from our within our own organisation.

“We don’t want short-haired lesbians in dungarees running the organisation.” [Heard from a manager. It inspired the creation of our own network back in 2005]

"When I came out, I went from a star-rated performer to failing my annual review. My manager stopped sending me to meet customers. I was seen as an embarrassment to the organisation and to my team."

“I applied for a job as a team leader. I was told that as I didn’t understand what it was like to have a family, I wouldn't be suitable in the role as I’d be managing people with very different lives to mine.”

“As far as my colleagues are concerned, I’m lesbian. I would never tell anyone I was bisexual. I couldn’t cope with the constant questions. I was previously in relationship with a man. Colleagues thought it was OK to be homophobic in front of me because I was ‘one of them’.”

“There is a prejudice against bisexuals. Bisexuals are flaky. We can’t make our minds up. We’re viewed as being dishonest – We’re gay really, we’re just not admitting it. Why would you promote someone who can’t make a decision to a management role?”

I’ll start off by saying that I think I work for a great organisation that has worked hard to address some of the issues above. The people are passionate and enthusiastic about their jobs. I had arrived from a working background where I had been sacked in one job for being gay (It was 1997. It was still legal) and had to leave another job, due to homophobic bullying. (2003) This is the first job I've had where I've been confident enough to be me at work, right from the start. When I queried the policy around taking Paternity Leave to look after my newly adopted son, my line manager replied ‘I can’t give you time off. We’re inclusive but we’re not that inclusive’. I was shocked. It was 2007. She had simply assumed that the organisation would discriminate. A quick phone call to colleagues in the network to discuss, and we were able meet with Human Resources to change the policy wording to make it much clearer that the policy did not discriminate on grounds of either gender or sexuality. It quickly became a non-issue, and another success for the LGBT network.

 We’re listed in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and have consistently improved our position over the past five years. In a climate where many companies won’t have a gay person at the top, our Chief Executive is openly gay. Our transgender lead has won an award externally and recognition for his work raising awareness, and improving support within the workplace for people who are transitioning. We have a supportive and friendly network that has fostered an organisation willing to improve its policies, create a working environment that is open, honest and is happy to be challenged. Our network is championed by senior managers. Whilst no-one believes that there is a ‘pink ceiling’ in this organisation, like many workplaces, there are small pockets where inequality still exists. Not everyone feels safe enough to be ‘out’ in the workplace. Consider the following.

Colin isn’t out at work. He attempts to minimise his difference and tries to remove characteristics that he thinks his colleagues won’t like. It inhibits his personality. A simple ‘how was your weekend’ on Monday morning requires a carefully constructed answer. Energy spent on projecting a ‘fake persona’ that only exists at work hinders his ability to think quickly, and makes working life stressful. When Colin is praised for his work, who is really being praised? The real Colin, or the holographic projection of Colin?

Not being authentic at work has a detrimental impact on confidence and performance. This paradigm was echoed by several people in the workshop who spoke of their sudden progression up the career ladder once they had actually ‘come out’ at work. Being able to be themselves improved their career.

We discussed how much of ‘ourselves’ we bring to work. How close together was the ‘home you’ and the ‘work you’? The idea of the ‘good gay person’, who didn't talk about it too much, didn't look ‘gay’ and didn't challenge people. Many of us volunteered for the network, helping to organise conferences, Pride events, lunchtime ‘brown bag’ sessions, wrote news articles, sat on committees which advised policies including childcare and supplier contracts. Would we be happy to talk about how we picked up these skills as evidence of CPD within a job application or at an interview? As an organisation, we work internationally. Are there issues about sending gay members of staff to homophobic places like Uganda? We also considered how the organisation might benefit from our diversity and what being gay might bring to our leadership – both positive and negative character traits.

Within this safe space, we invited gay speakers and friends of the network, coaches, mentors and role models to talk about their own careers and provide guidance and advice. The careers advice was clearly applicable to anyone looking to develop their skills and confidence – As this entry risks being unwieldy, I’ll reflect in a separate post.

The workshop actually left me feeling really confident about being in an environment where LGBT people are clearly supported to be themselves and develop their careers. And if your own workplace doesn’t have an LGBT Network, I can highly recommend setting one up. What I still don’t feel confident about is being supported as a working mother. But perhaps that’s a post for another day…


* This post is not sponsored by Stonewall, honest. I don’t agree politically with everything they do or stand for, but I do think they've done a lot to change the working environment for LGB people in the workplace, and I think it’s best to work with them, rather than against them. Peace.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Library Day in the Life - Round 8 - Part One - Going on a Bear Hunt.

This blog post is part of the Library Day in the Life project.

I'm a pesky part-timer. So my 'day in the life' started on Tuesday. Tuesday is the new Monday.

My journey to work starts from the school playground. It's either a mad-dash rush for the bus, only to be left standing there as it sails by, fully loaded...or a scoot to work on this. I am either the coolest mum in the playground, or the most embarrassing. I've yet to meet another scooting librarian. Come on, where are you? Show yourselves!

As I work for an organisation who's very goal is to protect the environment, getting to work in an environmentally sustainable way is practically obligatory. My office is rather unique. It has won an internationally recognised award which classifies it as one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the UK. You can catch a glimpse of it on Flickr.

Despite it's quite impressive impact and environmental credentials, the first question most people ask when they visit my office is 'What do you mean, no-one has their own desk?' It's a hotel-desk environment. Which means that no-one 'owns' a desk, and everyone packs the contents of their desk into a locker at the end of the day. Our 'clear desk' policy means that the first thing I do in the morning is go on a desk-hunt. It's like going on a bear hunt, but I'm less likely to end up under a duvet at the end of it.

It's an open plan office over four floors. When Google released it's Les Paul Google Doodle I went slowly nuts as 1200 people discovered the joy of strumming throughout the day. I have several rules for finding a desk.
  • Don't sit next to the photocopiers. It is warmer, but far too much noise.
  • Avoid the 'break out area'. Coffee chatter, cake chatter and general traffic are all distracting
  • Never sit next to colleagues who whistle, hum, randomly talk to themselves or raise their voice on the phone.
  • Steer clear of window desks. Windows randomly open. This may be a 'good thing' for automatic temperature control in the building. But I hate breeze.

This can lead to a limited choice of desk, especially if like me, you arrive later in the morning. I try and sit myself where I'm likely to be most helpful. For days I'm 'on duty' this means sitting near other team members, and close to our 'team storage' area. Other days, it means sitting where I can network and share information with colleagues in different teams.

My day today is a little different. I'm working as a mentor / buddy for someone who is here on work experience from a local disability organisation as part of a 'back to work' scheme. It's been over 10 years since he's worked. He's never worked in either an office or a library. The first thing I do when I get to the office is greet him and make sure we can find a desk close to each other to provide support.

We spend a bit of time reviewing what happened last week, and looking at what will happen today. He's doing some work to help us tidy up some catalogue records, reviewing the contents of what is left of our physical library and collecting data. Last week, was his first week. He chose to work with pen and paper. This week, I convinced him to use Word to create a table. I spend a short time assessing his level of skill in using Word and give him the level of support he needs. I attempt to create a balance. I don't want to overwhelm him, I do want to encourage him and give him some confidence. Once he's set up and happily tapping away at the keyboard, I give him some space and retreat to my own desk.

The library is an electronic library.Technically, there is no physical collection. My job, essentially is to get people the information they need in the right format, at the right time, at the right price. We subscribe to a range of electronic resources. We rely heavily on the British Library. We digitise our own publications, evidence and research. We provide information skills training via online conferencing facilities.

Like most people, my day starts with a scan of my Outlook which dictates what needs to be done. I'm not on duty today, so I only need to respond to my own email.  It can be digested like this.

  • Delete all items filtered in the 'current awareness folder' apart from Karen Blakeman's blog alert on Google. I read and forward to my colleagues. Please read this. Please look at Duck Duck Go. Please talk about it in our information skills sessions. Pretty please.
  • Speak to contract manager with regards to the supply of a set of books that is unavailable from our contracted bookseller. They are however willing to buy it from another bookseller on our behalf and sell it back to us for an additional sum. Watch contract manager put his head in his hands. Smile politely, tell him it's going to be OK. Promise to leave him alone for the rest of the day.
  • Start collating feedback from a course I presented last week. Whilst on the phone and preparing to present via conferencing facilities, a colleague in an office many, many miles away had failed to mute his phone and was heard to say 'Can you do this search course for me, so I don't have to learn this stuff'. In my feedback I read 'Cheekily sent a work placement student in my place. I'm sure she found it useful'. Cue Librarian Rage! Why bother signing up? I'm grateful for other feedback that is much more encouraging.
  • Contact an online information resource because a username and password for an electronic journal still isn't working.
  • Set up an account for a colleague who needs access to business information. Provide training and guidance via phone / online conferencing facilities on how to navigate the database and do a simple search for a company or a director. Send him a guide and make a note in my calendar to check up on him in a week and see if he needs more support.
  • Attempt to prepare my computer for the leap to Windows 7 and the bright new world of IE8. After spending the last 7 years working with IE6, I am very much looking forward to the web working again. A quick check tells me I can be smug. All my bookmarks are saved on Diigo. My records management is almost perfect and nothing is saved on my hard drive.
  • Talk to one of our researchers about changes in our policy to supply 'Early Preview' papers from the British Library.

It's a short day today. I finish at 1.30. But before I go, I need to talk to the placement student about his work that day, how he felt and whether he wants to come back. He does. Phew! There is still what feels like a huge list of things to do this week. It looks like this.

  1. Complete an evaluation of an electronic resource. Contract is coming up for renewal. I've collated customer feedback, and statistics. I need to pull it together into a persuasive argument to encourage budget holders to part with the cash for another year.
  2. Update the workbooks for our 'Information Skills' training sessions. Make sure that other team members are confident enough to present the material for the first time next week.
  3. Prepare for a forthcoming internal conference.
  4. Attend a review meeting to evaluate my own performance and discuss future career options

Aim of the week - Get rid of this list of things to do. Replace it with another. I'm mostly confident I will at least add to this list, if not replace it.