Why making ‘Friends’ matters

By Roisin Rowley-Smith

Communications officer

roisin no bystanders crop

While some were out spending on all things hearts and flowers this Valentine’s day, I was busy sharing the love at work. And no, I don’t have an office romance to report, but I am passionate about making Riverside an LGBT-friendly environment, so that everyone can be themselves at work.

This February my communications colleagues and I focussed on a campaign to recruit more Friends of Spectrum, our straight allies network dedicated to supporting LGBT equality at work. Friends are closely aligned to Spectrum, our well-established LGBT staff group.

As a Stonewall Top 100 employer we have, for the last three years, enjoyed a coveted place in this prestigious list. But there’s always more to do. According to Stonewall, allies have a real impact on creating inclusive workplaces. Visible allies who stand up and challenge ‘banter’ or any inappropriate homophobic remarks, can make all the difference to colleagues who may be feeling anxious about coming out at work.

Workplace cultures are created by everyone. We all turn up to do a job of work but we are not automatons. It’s true that we might bring a slightly different persona to work than the one we show to friends or family. But leaving a massive part of us at home, our sexual orientation or gender identity, because of fear of discrimination, bullying or intimidation, is not only incredibly stressful, but can impact on our ability to do our jobs.

Inclusive workplaces don’t just make sense from a humane perspective. They also make good business sense. Diverse teams are more creative, dynamic, flexible, confident, communicative and productive.

allies have a real impact on creating inclusive workplaces   

So making more Friends of Spectrum was my February mission. And I’m pleased to report that my colleagues have been fantastic. Many have signed up to our mission statement, provided a written reason for their support, along with a photo to share on our intranet and on our social media platform. Friends are also posting their photos sporting their new rainbow Spectrum badges on social media, showing visible support for LGBT colleagues.

As part of the campaign we asked colleagues to share their stories of support for LGBT friends and family, who may have struggled at times throughout their lives. I’ve been moved by some accounts and I’m sure others have too. Personal stories can often provide positive motivation and a shared sense of belonging, in what can sometimes feel like a very cruel world.

Now we are in March, spring is in sight and I am continuing my quest to recruit many more allies in collaboration with Spectrum. The icing on the cake for me, was to collect the North West Ally of the Year award from Stonewall at their Manchester event last week. And while it’s great to have the recognition from Stonewall, it’s even better to receive it from colleagues, keen to make Riverside a safe place for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people to work.