#BeBoldForChange: be a positive role model

RachelRachel Collier-Wilson, University Library

"I am a woman and a lesbian – both important, interlinked aspects of my identity.

"In April 2015 I attended the Stonewall Workplace conference in London to represent the University of Sheffield’s LGBT Network. This conference was a very powerful inspiration to me. The key messages were to ‘be you’ and encourage others to be themselves, as this will promote a more productive attitude in the workplace. An employer that is inclusive and successfully engages with workforce is 20 per cent more successful. Since this conference I have endeavoured to be a positive lesbian role model and representative of the LGBT staff.

"The University values people who identify as LGBT, but there are still subtle areas of discrimination. I want to continue to drive the University to be inclusive, to continue to value diversity to keep equality and diversity on the agenda. I was asked to deliver a short speech on what it meant to have LGBT allies at Open@TUoS Launch Event Allies supporting LGBT equality initiative in January 2016. Speaking about my personal story in public for the first time was challenging and emotional. I’ve been open about being lesbian for nearly 25 years now, and it’s getting easier.

"I am the Vice chair of our University LGBT staff network. As a result, I volunteered to speak as the Stonewall Workplace Conference in Leeds in September 2016. I have also been involved with the LGBT* Studies undergraduate course on several occasions.

"Since I became Vice Chair of the LGBT Staff network more women appear to have been encouraged to get involved. Previously, the network meetings often felt male-dominated and other women would attend once but not return. This has changed recently; women sometimes outnumber the men. I have done things like sending out some of the network correspondence, so it clearly comes from a woman. I’ve also met new female members before events to walk into the venue with them, which has made a positive difference.

"I don’t fit into a certain look but I’m comfortable with who I am. Even so, I still feel on edge coming out to new members of staff. I find it hard to relax until I’ve talked about how I identify and can be myself. I just talk about my family as anyone might, as the course of the conversation progresses. I’m careful with the pronouns I use and never make assumptions about others but I always strive to be genuine.

"Occasionally I feel some bonding with male colleagues; I may sometimes even be seen as an equal. However, I still face the gender barrier. For example, I’ve contributed something key to a discussion in a meeting but a male colleague attributed the suggestion to another male colleague (twice). Call me paranoid, but I felt invisible. Maybe the glass ceiling is double-glazed for lesbians!

"Here are some examples of things that have been issues I’ve recently been thinking about: how come we often see only images of white men in documentation? Why do people feel OK to ask me "who’s the father of your child?" or "how did you get pregnant, then?” I’d really like more gender-neutral toilets so I don’t get odd or disapproving looks in the women’s loo and so transgender people are less likely to feel stigmatised. How can I, as a manager, make it more comfortable for others to speak about issues such as mental health or family stresses? I would encourage others to share their ideas about inclusivity and to make an effort to put inclusivity on their agenda.

"If I help only one person to feel comfortable within the University environment, by being a positive, lesbian role model, then it’s worth it."