For many of us, our sexuality (i.e. who we fancy) is an integral and important part of who we are. But sometimes, it can be hard to let other people know about this part of us.
If you’re a particularly private person this might be the way you like it.
But if you’re more open, or identify as LGBTQ+, you still might find it hard to assert this part of your identity at work, for fear of being judged or isolated.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to be themselves. So we spoke to Mark McWhirter, the O2 Pride Lead and the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Pride’, to learn about the initiatives O2 have got going on for Pride events during summer, and how you can talk about your sexuality at work if you’re struggling.
Pride at O2
Mark told us that he’s super involved (and basically running) the LGBTQ+ network at O2. “I think of myself as a bit of a do-er and I’m deffo the creative guy in the Proud at O2 employee network. Speak to me if you wanna know the right colour to use on a banner! Throughout the year it’s pretty quiet then during May, June, July and August, the activity peaks.”
Perhaps the biggest thing that Mark has done is take O2 to Pride for the first time back in 2015. This year he’s taking the Proud at O2 Network into the spotlight. Look out for the #ProudatO2 bus at an event near you.
“Our employees and their families get on the bus, we give out sweets, flags, merchandise and ensure we spread the message out about the LGBTQ network at O2″ Mark explained. “This atmosphere definitely makes it easier to talk about your sexuality at work.”
“It’s all through summer, with one bus journey every week from 7th July to 25 August. Employees can come out to wherever their local event is, or use the bus to travel from one stop to another.”
“People go to Manchester from London for example as it’s the gay capital of the North. The bus brings people together across our offices, stores, and network.”
Bringing your whole self to work
If you don’t want to talk about your sexuality at work, that’s totally fine. But Mark advocates being able to “bring your whole self” to the job, emphasising that he thinks that it’s “absolutely important.”
“I think once you get to that point where you fully accept yourself and you can get the message across where you’re telling others who you really are…it can make you a better person at work” he said.
Mark went on to say: “We don’t want people to leave their boyfriend or girlfriend at the door when they come to work or have to use different pronouns – don’t feel like you have to hide that.”
“But we recognise that it’s different strokes for different folks and if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine too.”
How O2′s Pride network helped Mark come out
Mark told us that the Pride network at O2 was “an opportunity for me to come out” explaining that when he joined O2 as an apprentice in 2013, he was uncertain about telling his colleagues about his sexuality.
“The network formed six weeks after I joined” he said. “Then I got more involved and started going to events and blogging about being gay on the internet. In the summer of 2014 I was asked to look after engagement and come up with a plan for O2 to attend Pride for the first time the following summer.”
He said that when he finally got around to telling his line manager at O2, they were really supportive.
“You’re never going to have a problem at O2 as it’s a company that’s big and modern” he said.
“And different skill-sets and personalities and preferences… that’s what we look for! We won’t hire someone just because they are gay or whatever, but having diverse talent it important.”
How to talk about your sexuality at work
Mark told us about the importance of getting hold of a mentor at work. “Find someone in your support network who has done it before and take baby steps – don’t just go in one day with a massive feather boa and make a massive announcement”.
“Find that one person who has done it before you and use them as a sounding board. I had a guy called John who had been in the business for 30 years. When (at 19) I had a new manager who had found out I was gay before I told him, I panicked and John told me it was ok, that I didn’t need to worry.”
“Have a person who can be there for you, there’s plenty of people who have been through it before.”
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