The importance of LGBT+ networks in construction
According to Stonewall, around 35% of LGBTQ+ employees still feel they need to hide their gender identity or sexual orientation at work for fear of discrimination. That is why LGBTQ+ networks are so vital, both within individual companies and as collective organisations.
What is an LGBTQ+ network?
An LGBTQ+ network is a group formed by employees of a company that provides mutual support to LGBTQ+ members of staff.
What are the benefits of LGBTQ+ networks for individuals and industry as a whole?
LGBTQ+ networks support employees who may find their working environment challenging. Perhaps they do not feel able to express their gender identity at work or need further confidence in which to do so. LGBTQ+ networks are ‘safe spaces’ where staff can express any concerns they have about their working environment, scrutinise the inclusive values of their company and raise awareness of issues around diversity and equality in the organisation. LGBTQ+ networks can be set up by employees or employers.
Examples of LGBTQ+ networks
Founded in 1975, the LGBT Foundation is a national charity that provides services and activities to LGBTQ+ people in need. The Foundation celebrates and empowers LGBTQ+ individuals and diverse communities to realise their full potential, offering hope and support to people on their individual journeys.
Architecture LGBT+ was founded to provide a safe space for architects and construction professionals. Run by volunteers, the national network organises a range of seminars, LGBTQ networking events, panel discussions, parties and pop-up Pride events.
The vision of the Building Equality network is a fully inclusive construction industry free of prejudice and welcoming to all LGBTQ+ colleagues. Over 60 branches across the UK take part in joint initiatives that raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, support and encourage inclusion and diversity within the industry.
‘Interengineering’ is a professional network that connects, informs and empowers LGBTQ+ people working in engineering in the UK. Members meet regularly to share views, experiences and concerns. Networking events take place across the country.
Discussions with Sir Robert McAlpine's LGBT+ Affinity Network and Network Rail's Archway Network
We spoke to Paula McMahon, Co-Chair of the Gender Equality Network at Sir Robert McAlpine, a CITB registered employer and Lilly Connors, communications lead for Archway (Network Rail's LGBTQ+ network), about the importance of LGBTQ+ networks in the construction industry.
Why do you think LGBTQ+ networks are so important in the construction industry?
Paula: Networks for any underrepresented people allow people to know they are not alone; we all need to know we are part of a community.
Lilly: From a railway perspective, historically this industry has been male dominated space. But it’s also an extremely evolving and changing industry, and it needs employees and support systems that reflect this. LGBTQ+ networks can help to change thinking and give a voice to people who may have previously felt isolated. Logistically the industry is made up of so many parts and colleagues in so many locations, and these people need an LGBTQ+ network. So that they know they are not alone, and they know they are a part of something bigger.
In what ways do LGBTQ+ networks contribute to the wider LGBTQ+ community as a whole?
Paula: LGBTQ+ networks contribute in many ways; they give underrepresented people a forum and make them more visible. Visibility matters as if we only ever sit in our silos we will think the whole world looks, acts and talks like us.
Lilly: LGBTQ+ networks have a massive contribution on the wider LGBTQ+ community. Whether this is through marching in pride parades and giving that visibility of the industry as an inclusive work place, or raising money for local charities through their fundraises. They can also have an impact just by existing. Standing up and saying we are a network of LGBTQ+ colleagues in this industry and we have so much to offer.
What ways do LGBTQ+ networks help promote diversity and inclusion in construction?
Paula: There are very many people who have skills which we need. LGBTQ+ networks open up the possibility to a greater pool of people who are our next construction professionals.
What challenges do LGBTQ+ networks face, and how can they be overcome?
Paula: The lack of allies which are key to the success of true inclusion. Every network should be an affinity network welcoming those who do not define themselves at LGBTQ+.
Lilly: One of the biggest challenges LGBTQ+ networks face is that their leadership teams are made up of volunteers who go above and beyond their day job, and sometimes it is hard to find the time to make a real difference. One way this can be overcome is to have a large leadership team with various roles that allow the network to function, i.e communications lead, policy lead etc. These roles can be doubled up so that the strain of the workload is spread. However, it is key for the company itself to acknowledge that these are volunteer roles and support this wherever they can.
How do you see LGBTQ+ networks evolving in the future?
Paula: Welcoming everyone.
How can individuals who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community support and ally with LGBTQ+ networks?
Paula: Get involved! Find your local network and get in touch.
Lilly: Learn. That is the best thing allies can do. We should always be educating ourselves and seeking opportunities to be educated. This will help allies understand what people in the LGBTQ+ community and networks need, and how they can use their voice to help.
In your opinion, what is the most significant achievement of your network thus far?
Paula: At SRM we have an LGBT+ Affinity Network which recently ran a campaign to name our Rainbow Dumper. The response on internal and external media channels was phenomenal. We eventually selected ‘Dolly – Wheels of Pride’
Lilly: In my opinion, Archway’s (Network Rail’s LGBT+ Employee Network) most significant achievement has been its most recent campaign in which we asked real colleagues what it means to be lesbian, gay, bi, and trans as part of a wider campaign to explore the LGBTQ+ acronym. This was a beautifully personal and informative campaign we hope will educate our colleagues and empower our LGBTQ+ community.
What message would you like to share with those who may be considering joining an LGBTQ+ network?
Paula: Go for it!
Lilly: Absolutely do it. Whether you’re in the LGBTQ+ community, an ally, or you have no idea where you fit, join your LGBTQ+ network. You will be educated, inspired, and lifted up by your colleagues. It is a space for everyone.
Tips for creating an LGBTQ+ employee network
Get buy-in from your company
Try to ensure senior members of your organisation and your HR department are engaged with your plans to start an LGBTQ+ network. Having their support and backing will make a big difference. They can put policies in place to allow members to attend meetings, help provide funding and raise awareness of the network within the company.
You need people to join the network! Ask colleagues who you know are out whether they would like to get involved and promote the network internally. There are also likely to be people who have not yet had the confidence to come out at work, but who would appreciate getting on-board with an LGBTQ+ network.
Start a network committee
Share the load and create a committee of people to run the network. Whether you have formal positions like Chair, Secretary or Treasurer is up to you, but a collective will help to keep the network democratic and reflect the diverse values you are aspiring to.
Establish clear goals
Have a clear understanding of what the aims of your network are. Write a mission statement or set some targets of what you want to achieve each year.
Promote your network
Make sure your organisation knows your network exists. Send round a company wide email, start a channel on your Teams or Slack platform, put up some posters around the building, and ask your company’s social media team to promote the LGBTQ+ network.
Inspired by what you’ve read? Discover more about diversity and inclusion in the construction industry!
At Go Construct we have plenty of information about what is happening to improve diversity and inclusion in construction, and the real-life stories of people who work in the industry.