07 Jun Why our LGBTQ+ affinity group is so important
This month, we launched our LGBTQ+ affinity group, a space to socialise, share and support, and promote a safe workplace that accepts and values members of LGBTQ+ communities. We interviewed Tom Marshall, a member of the new affinity group, to get his take on why this is such an important move.
Why did you join the LGBTQ+ affinity group?
Being a gay man doesn’t affect the way I do my job or how I hold a conversation. Our community deserves universal inclusivity and acceptance in the workplace. As a society, we are moving forward, but we won’t achieve everything in my lifetime. We have a lot further to go, putting groups like this in place is part of that change.
As an affinity group member, I want to help others reach a place of acceptance within themselves, and I want to promote acceptance amongst my colleagues and within our wider organisation.
I’ve never experienced homophobia here at Ricoh, but even so, we need to make sure people across the board are respectful of identities and that we’re giving support to those who need it. I experienced homophobia directly at school and in previous jobs – it still happens and often people are still dealing with the impact of it.
We also need to create an environment where people can ask questions, make mistakes and learn from them and where all voices are valued. This is the only way we can build LGBTQ+ allyship.
What does an LGBTQ+ ally look like to you?
Someone who is approachable, friendly, understanding, and willing to stand up for you and defend. Allies call out bad behaviour even if you aren’t there. They understand, that even when it isn’t directed to the individual, it has an impact on the workplace culture. Just because I’m not in the room, it shouldn’t be that homophobic slurs are used.
I have some great allies in my immediate team and my management, we can chat about everything. I didn’t approach them openly about my sexuality – I felt like I didn’t need to – they never imposed any specific way of being in our team. I always felt like I could be myself. I have some brilliant personal allies too.
A big thing for me is that sexual orientation and gender identity are just aspects of who people are. I can’t speak for everyone, but we all have multiple facets to our identities. It’s about getting to know your colleagues as individuals and respecting their whole selves.
No one should feel like they need to ‘come out’ to their colleagues, we don’t ask heterosexual people to announce their orientation. For some it’s important, but it wasn’t for me. It’s about building an environment where it is inherently accepted, where we don’t make assumptions and if an individual is struggling they can access the support they need to help them figure out how they want to show up.
What are your ambitions with the affinity group?
The whole point of the group is that if there is anyone struggling, they can go on to the directory and reach out to us for support. If anyone wants to talk to me, we can make it happen either in person or over video call. Or they can come to the group and take part, but we understand that not everyone will want to join.
It’s also about making the right first impression. I have often questioned whether the people I meet at new jobs will be homophobic. Our new group is a way of making it clear to new starters at Ricoh that it’s not tolerated here and we’re actively seeking ways to make our work environment more inclusive.
My personal goal is to nurture and support younger people. They might not have fully come out to themselves yet, not want other people to know and experience loneliness and isolation. Lots of young gay men experience mental health issues because of this. If there was a bullying case or a coming-out issue, or if they just want to talk about how they feel, they can message us, off the record.
Even if I can help one or two people, I will feel like this has been worthwhile.
How will you celebrate PRIDE?
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been to a PRIDE parade. I’m not a big fan of massive crowds. It’s not that I don’t go because I don’t care. PRIDE is important because we’ve fought so long for the right to have it and it is still very much needed for the gay community. There is a lot to do in other LGBTQ+ communities too. I’ll celebrate by doing the work for our community in ways that I can, our affinity group is part of that.
With many thanks to Tom Marshall for taking part in the interview. If you work for Ricoh and would like to learn more about the LGBTQ+ affinity group, please contact Catherine.firstname.lastname@example.org and we can share the details.