When I joined the world of work back in 1986, homophobic attitudes were widespread, and all that went with it: cruel jokes, hurtful banter, gossip and speculation about individuals’ sexual orientation.
I remember, for real, all the cruel speculation in the tabloid newspapers about Freddie Mercury when the press hounded him about his orientation, and then his dignified public statement about why he did not want to be open, so as to spare his friends and family, which he issued just 24 hours before he passed away from AIDS. The film Bohemian Rhapsody did not exaggerate the attitudes of those times.
Thankfully, attitudes in society are moving on, although having recently read about a lesbian couple being assaulted while travelling on a bus, it is clear society still has more to do. But I hope that attitudes, along with my own, will continue to move forward so that those who identify as LGBTQ+ have the same rights and experiences as others in society. A spontaneous, loving gesture such as holding your partner’s hand in public, for example, is something that two-thirds of people who identify as LGBTQ+ are afraid to do for fear of reprisal.
Are attitudes moving on fast enough in the construction industry? Many of its leaders are, like me, people who joined in the 1980s when attitudes were different and could drive poor behaviour. Now we have a multi-generational workforce of baby boomers, gen X, gen y and millennials whose attitudes and awareness have vastly improved. Are leaders keeping up?
It encourages me a lot to see inclusive attitudes are becoming more prevalent nowadays and particularly among younger colleagues, and younger members of my family where it simply would not occur to them to judge someone on their race, gender or sexual orientation. And they can also easily accept and empathise with people who are not comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth. But I feel that we need to acknowledge that for some (but by no means all) people in my generation learning new attitudes can take time and it can be difficult to drop old habits and old, almost subconscious, reflexes. It can also be hard for some people to have open conversations about issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender reassignment. To be honest, the language of diversity does not always come easily to us and we are genuinely fearful of making a mistake and causing offence by, say, asking a question in the wrong way. That is where training courses in unconscious bias and inclusive leadership can make such a difference and why I am really pleased that both are taking place in BAM. I think another thing senior people in the industry can do is to learn from colleagues and enable them teach us through discussion groups, networks etc. Open and honest conversations will help us learn to manage better.
I feel it is possible that some LGTBQ+ people may be still wary of coming to our industry. Have the attitudes changed and do leaders and managers really understand? I think the honest answer, still, is ‘no, not completely’. That is why Pride matters. Participating in Pride helps us to understand, helps to build open mindedness and to also send a signal that we do want to change and we are willing to listen and learn so that we can be more diverse and provide a truly inclusive environment, free of the fear of reprisal.
For us in BAM it is important to get this right for a number of reasons. We want a workforce that reflects the society we serve. We want people who work in BAM to feel valued for who they are; so that we all benefit from their full talent and creativity. And we want an open culture where we all learn from each other all of the time.