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Pride 2020: Guest Blog from our LGBT+ Staff Network Chair
Authored by Jay Marie, Chairperson of the Cambridge University Press LGBT+ Network
Five years ago, I nervously emailed everyone in my team to let them in on a secret I had been keeping from them – I was a trans woman and had decided that if I was going to continue being a productive and positive presence at Cambridge University Press, I needed to start living authentically.
Amidst all the changes that came with my transition, I wanted colleagues to see how much trans people could bring to our business when we empower ourselves to be ourselves. I had no idea back then that my ‘coming out’ would lead to one of the most rewarding experiences of my career when, in 2018, I co-founded the Press’s LGBT+ Staff Network.
Whether raising flags, raising awareness or just raising spirits, our LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Network has been very successful in bringing LGBT+ colleagues and allies together.
To introduce our LGBT+ Network for Pride month, here are five key experiences from my time as its chairperson that I’d like to share:
1. “If you build it, they will come.”
I always hated organising events - I was always afraid that nobody would show up. When I stopped dwelling on this fear, I realised that the way to overcome it was actually very simple. What would my colleagues – whether LGBT+ or not – show up for?
Cake. Lots of cake.
Our network’s soft launch was a bake sale to raise money for The Kite Trust, a local charity that works to empower LGBT+ youth to live their best lives – at the end of the day we raised over £400!
Since then, we have held more lunch-and-learns, as well as summer barbecues, quiz nights and a Christmas party. All of these events have given colleagues fantastic opportunities to make new connections that they may not have made otherwise.
2. Be loud, be proud
In a global business, effective communication is your best friend. After our network launched, a non-binary colleague and I shared our stories of being transgender in an internal blog post to an exceptionally positive reception. We regularly promote events in the company newsletter to members and allies alike. Our network also has a very lively Yammer group where LGBT+ colleagues and allies can announce events, share articles and news, or just chat.
This year, our network’s logo is also being used as the Press’ avatar on social media to celebrate pride – we all agree that it looks phenomenal!
Some Press colleagues at a Pride celebration in the UK in 2019
3. Creating our network’s new normal
Leading a staff network during the pandemic has presented its own challenges. In addition to the cancellation of network and community events such as Pride, a major concern facing LGBT+ colleagues is the possibility of having to work in households that may be unsupportive of their sexuality or gender identity. For some, a staff network may be one of their few safe spaces.
To ensure that we all keep in touch, our network organises regular virtual coffees and lunches where we can check in with each other, voice any concerns that we have, and be entertained by members’ cats.
We have also rallied together to kick-start a new initiative focused on supporting LGBT+ colleagues who want to come out at work. We transformed the launch into an online discussion panel. This was scheduled at a time that allowed colleagues in international offices to join the call, bringing even more eyes to our network than we would’ve had prior to lockdown
4. Creating our company’s new normal
In June 2019, our network successfully encouraged the Press to fly the Pride flag at its Cambridge office for the first time in its history, to mark LGBT+ Pride month. That November, we raised the Trans Pride flag in Cambridge for Trans Awareness Week – again, for the first time in the Press’s history. This was a tremendous achievement and truly special to me and my fellow trans colleagues. This year, we raised the Pride flag for LGBT+ History Month and, speaking candidly, it took me a few days to realise it was up! It was as vibrant as it was back in the summer, but it felt normal. And that felt good.
As our network has grown, I’ve noticed how much more comfortable colleagues are when talking with me about my experiences and perspectives as a trans woman. They also express more interest in what the network is doing and what issues our community faces, both in and out of work.
Talking about being LGBT+ should no longer feel taboo or awkward in the workplace. Showing support for our community through visible signs of solidarity, such as raising the Pride flag, goes a long way towards normalising the presence of LGBT+ lives and can help colleagues feel more comfortable being open in expressing their authentic selves.
The Trans Pride flag flying outside the Press's Cambridge office in 2019
5. Standing together
The LGBT+ Network is just one of many staff networks at the Press. We also have a network representing disabled and neurodiverse colleagues, as well as gender and ethnicity balance networks and a network focused on mental health.
The networks work together often, organising annual ‘Diversity Days’ to showcase our activities and invite diverse voices from outside our business to share their experiences. We collaborate on workshops to help colleagues challenge assumptions and recognise unconscious bias. We feel that understanding intersectionality is a vital component of a positive working environment and of a positive society, and the networks stand in solidarity with one another on a variety of issues. It makes no sense for staff networks to silo themselves and stand alone, when we are capable of so much more when we stand united.
The LGBT+ Network has made a lasting impact on our working culture and has helped give a voice to LGBT+ colleagues that we previously didn’t have. As we continue to work towards our goal of establishing the Press as a leader in LGBT+ equality, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Pride Month.
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