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You never know who you might inspire by being yourself at work
As we near the end of Pride month, Michael Pike, Divisional Stock Manager here at JMG, explores how bringing your true self to work not only benefits you, but also inspires others to be themselves.
I’ve often found myself in a group situation – whether it’s downtime in a long meeting or chatting with colleagues while making the first tea of the day – wondering how I could include myself in the conversation. I’d actively think about how I would answer personal questions, should I be asked.
This was something I’d never struggle with outside of the workplace. I’m very open about my sexuality and embrace being part of the LGBT+ community, and I have many pairs of rainbow-soled Pride trainers which can easily attract the eye. But in the workplace, this type of situation made me nervous. I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies (apparently) and, while I’m an open person, I don’t speak about my own diversity easily without being prompted.
That’s why diversity and inclusion is something I want to support within JMG, because I know that if I thought I was as inclusive as the next person, when in reality I wasn’t really including myself that well, there will be many others with a similar mindset who can benefit from me telling my story.
The conversations around partners, children, and other normal questions a person asks when getting to know you, would be the ones that worried me. “Do they know I’m gay?”, would be the first thing I’d think to myself. Not that it matters (to me and hopefully not to them), but am I making it matter by thinking about that instead of just conversing naturally?
My experience in the workplace
I’ve been with JMG for so long, I’d just presume everyone knows I’m gay and that should make it easier, right? For me, it didn’t. I came out more than half my life ago, so I couldn’t tell you why I still put it at the forefront of my mid-thirties.
As I’ve progressed in my career, there’s likely to be an element of the room going quiet when I enter because I’m an unfamiliar Divisional Manager that’s visiting the site that day - not because I’d choose to have a boyfriend over a girlfriend. Nevertheless, my mind would always go to the latter.
I’ve had the odd negative experience around being gay in the workplace, but on the whole it’s been trouble-free and often I’d breathe a sigh of relief and internally tell myself off for letting it bother me. I’m lucky that any negative experiences I’ve had were many years ago before joining JMG and, while they might have felt bigger at the time, they were minor in reality with a bit more maturity behind me.
Be who you are
Now I would answer a question about my personal life without hesitation and with no fear of what the colleague might think. The likelihood is they won’t judge me or they already knew anyway and want to be nice by including me in the conversation.
Bringing your true self to work not only benefits you, but also has such a great impact on others by inspiring them to be themselves. That person quietly eating lunch who overhears your conversation, or the person down the other end of the corridor – perhaps even the person you’re talking to – you never know who you might have an impact on.
Looking back, I never would have said that I judged others. But by being quiet about who I am and making assumptions that colleagues might judge me, was I actually making a judgement on their behalf? In a roundabout way, I think I was.
Be who you are, don’t be afraid and you’ll get the acceptance that everyone deserves. That’s definitely a lesson I’ve learnt and one that I now bring to work with me every day.