This is why human connection at work is so vital for queer people in the age of coronavirus
Jan Gooding, Stonewall UK chair, came out as lesbian in her workplace and never looked back.
As part of My Whole Self, MHFA England’s new campaign for workplace culture change, Jan Gooding writes for PinkNews to explain the importance of human connection at work in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is an interesting test to ask yourself why you do share certain things about yourself in the workplace, but not others.
Perhaps you feel that a certain topic or part of your life is ‘out of bounds’ or you don’t want to be known for just one part of your life or character.
Many people can relate to this feeling as they try and hide an aspect of their life at work – whether it be cultural or ethnic background, gender identity, sexuality, or health.
I was advised not to be open about being a lesbian when I joined one of my previous companies.
It was advice well-meant, but it was both unfair and detrimental to the company and to me.
After a year of hiding my sexuality, I received feedback that I had ‘lost my sparkle’ – which was true.
I came out as lesbian the next day and never looked back.
I don’t feel the need to talk about being a lesbian all the time, but if I want to mention my female partner at work I should feel able to do so.
I may choose not to share that I have depression, but it shouldn’t be because I am fearful of the reaction of others.
It is the responsibility of leaders in the workplace to create an environment where everyone can feel comfortable enough to share their whole self.
The mental health of a workplace is as important as the physical safety of people, it’s just less visible.
Now, as we face the current health crisis and more people are working from home than ever before, making genuine human connections and share our real authentic self is even more important.
Nurturing these connections, virtually or otherwise, will be key to supporting everyone’s mental health and wellbeing as we come together to tackle the impact of coronavirus.
If the employers make it possible for people to be open about their mental health, it stands to reason that people can receive more understanding and support and carry on contributing to the best of their ability.
When I became Chair of Stonewall it crystallised for me the importance of people in leadership positions setting an example. You can’t expect the people you work with to be open to you if you are not open with them.
Being yourself at work benefits the company, your colleagues and most importantly you.
It means that you can share your thoughts and ideas without fearing that others will judge you negatively or ignore the value of what you are saying.
Most of us want our work to be meaningful and our contribution to be valued. If we edit our thoughts and speech to ‘fit in’, instead of sharing the views we hold that are different, we are inhibiting what we have to offer.
When everyone feels they can bring their whole self to work the workplace will be a far more interesting and lively place, with healthy discussion and debate.
Being yourself and allowing others to be the same isn’t all about projecting and imposing yourself on others.
It’s also about listening and being curious about the truth that we are all different and have something to offer.
We should all learn more from each other and change things that don’t work for us. Feel more confident about making the places that we work professional, respectful, thoughtful and creative.
Represent the people who aren’t in the room who need us to speak sense and to the reality of their lives.
That’s why I’m supporting Mental Health First Aid England’s My Whole Self campaign – because when I started bringing my whole self to work I felt lighter. I felt accepted, valued, energetic and much happier.
I didn’t waste any more time editing myself and could get on with the job at hand.
As part of the My Whole Self campaign workplaces across the country are encouraging people to build deeper connections with colleagues at a time when millions of people move towards remote working.
Get involved, like Jan Gooding, and take a ‘My Whole Selfie’ and share your authentic self online using the hashtag #MyWholeSelf. Free resources are available here: mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self/