Since the establishment of Leonardo’s Pride network group in early 2019, it has made steady progress with events and education activities, providing increased awareness and implementing various support measures.
Having taken up their Pride roles as Covid-19 lockdown came into effect, Rachel Holbrook and Olivia Gribler have been working with Chair, Sam Bone, to consider how the group can continue to provide value to all Leonardo employees, particularly through remote channels as the pandemic continues.
“When I joined the company, I wasn’t very aware of the networks and the support available on site. So for me, it’s really important to amplify what the network does and what’s done more broadly across the company,” says Olivia. “We want to reinforce the message that the LGBT community is part of the wider Leonardo community and part of the future of the company. Personally, I really want to bring more people – not just LGBT community people, but allies too – into the fore, to make sure it’s not a taboo subject and that it is regarded as a safe space for everyone to be part of the conversation.”
Olivia admits that upon joining Leonardo’s graduate programme, she felt “really anxious” about telling people about her sexuality. “I found I was heavily censoring myself to avoid difficult conversations or situations. But once I reached out to the Pride network and realised there was a community and it was being talked about in the open, I felt a real sense of relief that I was able to be honest and be myself.
“This has made me a lot more relaxed at work and enabled me to form key connections and friendships at work that I wouldn’t have been able to access if the network didn’t exist,” adds Olivia.
Being a “force for change” was the reason that Olivia decided to put herself forward as Vice Chair, rather than purely being a member of the Pride network group.
“I’m really glad I made that decision. One of my first activities is ensuring there is information about all three network groups – Pride, Equalise and Carers – in the induction pack for all new hires, and incorporating details into the graduate and apprenticeship induction programme, so that everyone joining the company will have an awareness before they even arrive, which is ideal,” explains Olivia.
“The important thing about any network is that people are comfortable having difficult conversations, and that you don’t have to tiptoe around it. I’d always prefer someone to be upfront and honest with me regarding questions they have about my relationship, as long as it’s positive or neutral.”
Smart support during lockdown
While the past two and half months has inevitably meant a stop to all face-to-face communications, both feel that there have been some positive developments in terms of how people are relating to each other.
“If people do need some support and someone to talk to, we can signpost them to some really good third party organisations – charities and groups such as Stonewall – that offer support and advice, if people aren’t comfortable using internal measures. They can offer another outlet to people who may be struggling,” explains Rachel.
“Interestingly, during lockdown, remote working has opened up an element of people’s lives that we might not have seen otherwise,” she adds. “For example, our Learning & Development team has a WhatsApp group, and as a result of a photo and follow-up comment that someone posted about healthy eating, the whole group got an insight into that person’s private life, which is unlikely to have happened under ‘normal’ circumstances. What the home working scenario offers us is the opportunity to show our lives to our colleagues in a very different way, which is actually more positive.”
“Everyone is struggling, as it’s such a drastic change of circumstances,” adds Olivia. “Although I’m not aware of any Leonardo colleagues having LGBT-related issues as a result of lockdown, I know there are lots of people in the LGBT community who are struggling, perhaps being in a household or with family where they’re not particularly LGBT friendly. This can be exacerbated without the wider support network that they would usually have access to, such as friends and housemates who help normalise you and keep you balanced.”
Like Rachael, Olivia has seen “people’s lives in a different way” while working from home. “Having a WhatsApp group, where you can use emojis to informalise how you communicate, has made people more relaxed and changed the way they speak to each other in a work context. For example, ordinarily I wouldn’t have broadcast news of my engagement. But because I’m on video conference all the time, and people can see me and my house, it feels like things are bit more informal, casual and friendly.”
Celebrating Pride digitally
With Pride Day on 27 June, there are plans to replace the usual street parties and parades with a digital version of Global Pride on the same day.
In advance of this, Leonardo’s Pride network is finalising its own plans.
“We’re planning a guest speaker and quiz, and opening up the forum in terms of having people learning more about the network through webex. It’ll give everyone the opportunities to ask questions, and virtually meet allies and LGBTQ+ employees,” says Rachel.
While Olivia recognises that the “essence of Pride is the colourful parades and festival atmosphere,” she is confident that Pride’s other core messages can be celebrated without the people around you. “These values are about being comfortable and taking ownership of who you are, and saying right now, I can wear what I want and be who I am. It gives people the license or permission to really push the boundaries of individual expression to the extreme of what they’d usually do.”