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Understanding LGBT+ history for inclusive project environments

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To mark LGBT+ (lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender) history month that takes place in February each year, a group of colleagues at Arup, London, decided to get together and put forward ideas, stories and debates to share with the team, throughout the month. We hoped to generate an open conversation that has a legacy and impact amongst project professionals beyond the month itself.

This is needed because many members of LGBT+ communities within Arup’s project delivery community feel they still need to hide their identities to clients or colleagues out of fear and anxiety on how they will be treated if they were to open up. We also believe that colleagues who are not from the LGBT+ communities, might find it uncomfortable to openly ask questions to LGBT+ communities. It’s important to get the conversation going to create better working environments, stakeholder engagement and future projects.

How did we do this?

At Arup, we have the Connect Out network – the firm’s LGBT+ network, which led to a range of different events throughout February. In our own group Programme and Project Management (PPM) we wanted to zoom in and do something intimate and small in scale where we could create strong connections. We wanted to humanise and personalise LGBT+ history month and LGBT+ communities.

To do so, we collected and compiled different pieces of history, archival materials, reading lists, and recommended films and books. This allowed people to explore at their own pace and understand LGBT+ history. However, we didn’t only want to narrate the history of the month, but rather reflect on personal journeys and stories – break the silence and void that still surrounds queer communities in the workplace.

As a result, we organised different events throughout the month discussing different themes such as stereotypes, assumptions, visibility, and attitudes towards LGBT+ communities across different parts of the world.

Throughout these grassroot events, we have heard stories from members of our team in an authentic, transparent and humane way. These stories, many of which triggered emotional responses from  presenters and those listening, have left a lasting impact on colleagues who are outside the LGBT+ community. Many colleagues expressed to us how profound and moving they found the conversations. By creating this genuine environment, we have been able to demonstrate differences, and celebrate the courage, bravery, resilience and strength of colleagues who have shared difficult, yet powerful and emotional testimonies.

What did we discover?

The events have been supported by different members of our group including the leadership team. This solidarity has been incredibly meaningful for our LGBT+ colleagues who have received private and public messages of support. This not only demonstrates how important allies are for the community, but how senior leaders, project teams and organisations as a whole can come together in kindness and inclusivity.

One of the main challenges we found throughout the month, is that some of colleagues who are not from the community, found it uncomfortable to talk about LGBT+ matters. When I asked about the reasons why, some stated that they preferred to be silent, through their concern and fears of causing harm or offending unintentionally. This is a similar comment I heard when I knew some people refusing to talk about issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s fully understandable not wanting to offend, and for me this reinforces that there is a huge need to spread awareness, and create open, honest and non-judgemental conversations to support each other and learn about our differences.

The future?

We hope that this is just a starting point for visibility, representation and the voices of LGBT+ communities, which inspires you and your team. From the feedback we have received from the wider group, we have witnessed an enormous and invaluable level of support, thanks and solidarity.

Thinking about diversity and inclusivity is not only limited to the groups and teams we are working with, but also the type of projects we are working on as professionals in the built environment. For example, with my collaborator Professor Pippa Catterall who is transgender, we are conducting a research project on Queering Public Space, to examine the different characteristics that shape and influence spaces of inclusion and togetherness from a queer perspective. This project will be finalised in April this year, and will include a film on the research.

How to make your organisation and project more LGBT+ friendly 

  1. Compile various resources about LGBT+ history so that information is readily available. Having articles, books, films and archival materials allows colleagues to explore the information whenever they want to.
  2. Organise different events throughout Pride month, LGBT+ month or just generally through the year with various themes and speakers in mind to educate and inspire.
  3. Foster a genuine and open environment. Welcome colleagues to open up about their experiences in LGBT+ communities and encourage a warm and safe environment where people don’t feel judged.
  4. Look beyond encouraging visibility and try to think about inclusivity in your projects too. As project professionals we are the forefront of change, can we influence new spaces or technology to be inclusive?
  5. Consider the support from within the project and construction industry for the LGBT+ community and how to collaborate to increase the levels of diversity in the sector.

LGBT+ history month is marked and celebrated by many, but we need to remember to move beyond one month and create spaces, dialogues, conversations and debates constantly. We need to actively create environments where all feel welcome, that all buried, unheard, and hidden stories are told, and retold again.

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  1. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 06 March 2021, 09:26 PM

    Hats off to Arup and thank you Ammar!