Every year, during the month of June, Pride Month is celebrated across the world. Pride is about communities coming together in celebration, unity and solidarity.
To mark this year's Pride Month, we caught up with members of our LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender +) staff network to find out how they will be celebrating Pride and to highlight their important work as one of our committed networks promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.
Sayuri Kusumoto (network chair), David Wikramaratna (network events coordinator), Sylke Scheiner, Jill Duffy and Andrew Nye (network co-sponsors) each play a key role in the running of our LGBT+ network.
What is the LGBT+ staff network all about?
Sayuri: This network was founded in 2017 as part of Cambridge Assessment’s diversity and inclusion initiative. It is open to anyone in the organisation – you do not need to identify as LGBT+ to be part of this group. Any employee, no matter where they are in the world, can join the network, attend meetings, and participate.
The network aims to: empower people to be their authentic selves; nurture an environment in which all voices can be heard; build an active community, committed to breaking down boundaries and being inclusive to all; lead and influence organisation-wide behaviour and policies, through knowledge sharing and being a go-to community for expertise and advice.
What activities and projects can employees take part in to support these aims?
Sayuri: Oh, all sorts! We’re always looking for ideas for things we can do, and people to carry them out. But even just coming to the drop ins and meetings is a massive support. We have good, serious discussions on how to create a more inclusive workplace. We also have fun! We have good, serious discussions on how to create a more inclusive workplace. We also have fun!
David: As a general rule, we run monthly network meetings which might have a speaker or be focussed on a particular topic. We’ve also spent time collectively giving feedback on LGBT+ inclusion as products are updated and new ones introduced, which is a great way to potentially impact learners around the world. We also hold a number of smaller catch up events that are intended to promote social bonds within the group.
In the past 12 months we’ve been trying to hold more joint events with other LGBT+ staff networks within organisations across Cambridge – hopefully going forward we can continue building links with the huge number of other LGBT+ networks in Cambridge who are working towards similar goals.
What made you want to become involved with the network?
Sayuri: I remember my first day, walking towards the canteen at lunchtime and seeing a very visible poster up for an LGBT+ Staff Network meeting, and thinking, “Oh, okay. I can be out here”. I had suspected I could anyway, but seeing the poster took a load off my mind. And so, I went to the meeting, and have been an active member since!
Sylke: I became involved with the LGBT+ Network for two main reasons: one – the Chair of the Network at the time asked me whether I’d like to be one of the sponsors, and two – I had been involved in helping a colleague who was transitioning at the time with the support they needed. So, I felt flattered to be asked (who wouldn’t?), and I also felt some change was needed and I felt happy to support making that change happen.
David: I’ve always been really lucky that I haven’t perceived myself to experience homophobia at work. But surveys run across the country show that on average only half of LGBT+ people are out at work – anything I can do to help create an environment where that other half of the community feel comfortable to come out at work if they choose is time well spent in my view!
Jill: I wanted to get involved in the LGBT+ network so that we could look not only how we promote inclusivity and diversity within Cambridge Assessment, but also within our assessments and qualifications so that we are meeting the needs of all our learners.
How do you work to raise awareness around issues that are affecting the LGBT+ community, both inside and outside the organisation?
David: Our network meetings provide a forum to discuss issues within the organisation, as well as how we might respond to broader issues facing the LGBT+ community in the wider world. We also have speakers in to talk to the network – recently we had a useful presentation from our travel team about travelling for work as an LGBT+ person, as well as a celebration and discussion led by network member Lucy Rycroft-Smith who has recently published a book “The Equal Classroom: Life-Changing Thinking About Gender”, which was really fascinating and thought provoking.
In addition, we have a Yammer page where members can discuss issues in a more informal environment, which has prompted some good discussion.
Sylke: As a co-sponsor of the LGBT+ network alongside Andrew Nye and Jill Duffy, I can learn and have already learned a lot. I can show my support for the Network and for LGBT+ people, and by extension to all the other staff networks as well, and at times I can actually do things myself or support colleagues in making change happen. Overall, I hope that it will make Cambridge Assessment a much more diverse place to work where everybody feels at home, safe and appreciated.
LGBT+ Pride Month is being celebrated this June; do you have any plans?
Sayuri: We’re collaborating with colleagues at Cambridge University Press to run a fundraiser quiz for the Kite Trust (Cambridgeshire’s leading organisation working with LGBT+ young people). Cambridge Assessment was also lined up to sponsor Cambridge Pride this year, but of course that was cancelled, as were other Pride marches around the world due to the coronavirus. However, Pride Month is happening online globally, while at the same time recognising and respecting that there are other important fights for equality happening right now.
David: As the events coordinator for the group, lockdown has presented an interesting challenge for keeping people engaged. Pride Month is happening online globally, while at the same time recognising and respecting that there are other important fights for equality happening right now
We’ve been having regular catch ups on Microsoft Teams so that we can stay in contact with colleagues and provide support. In true 2020 style, our main Pride event this year will be an online quiz for colleagues!
What has the Network been able to achieve since it began?
Andrew: At Cambridge Assessment, we know how important it is that all our people can live and work freely and peacefully as their true, authentic selves. I am hugely proud of the work that the organisation has done, and continues to do, with its staff networks. In the LGBT+ network we have made great progress over the last four years in raising the visibility of LGBT+ people and issues in Cambridge Assessment. As we kick-off #PrideMonth, I'm so pleased to be able to come together as a community to both celebrate and raise awareness of LGBT+ rights, and show solidarity with under-represented communities around the globe.
Sylke: I remember when my colleague who was transitioning was just going through the phase of starting to present as a woman and was really worried and nervous about using public transport for commuting to work at the beginning, so she asked whether she could have a car parking space at the office for two weeks as an exceptional arrangement. At the time, our town centre office had limited parking spaces for staff and ‘the rules’ had not considered these particular circumstances. In the end with some support, we managed to get these rules changed.
Even now it seems such a small thing to arrange, and to understand how important that can be when you put yourselves into the other person’s shoes. To me it showed how important it is to understand all the concerns LGBT+ people have and to find out what things look like at work from their perspectives, and as a consequence then implement the changes we need to ensure that they feel as valued and respected as everybody else.
David: I’ve been really pleased to see our group making links with our neighbours across the road at Cambridge University Press and fellow LGBT+ within the wider University. Even during lockdown, our staff network has set up a randomised coffee event across all three organisations that is allowing us to make links and share experiences despite the distance between us all!
Sayuri: We’ve recently consulted with colleagues across the organisation around the wording of optional pronouns in our newly updated email signatures – something we encourage everyone who feels comfortable, and safe enough, to do. It’s especially important for allies to participate in this as well. It can’t just be LGBT+ colleagues.
What are your top tips for establishing a successful LGBT+ group within an organisation?
David: I think my main tip would be trying to build buy-in from potential network members – I think sometimes people don’t see where being LGBT+ fits in to their own professional lives, and maybe don’t engage with the group because they don’t perceive being LGBT+ as impacting on their work. But by getting involved in a LGBT+ network you can demonstrate that your workplace is a safe place to be out, and that could inspire others to come out too, as well as providing support to those who might be struggling.