June 29, 2021 • 4 min read
LGBTIQ+ mentoring: why it's important in the workplace
Being out in the workplace is not an option for everyone. And it can be a daunting step to take for others.
According to Forbes, network groups are vital for inclusion and support. This is because having a wide variety of voices around a table brings different solutions and perspectives. We support our LGBTIQ+ people through our Pride@Worley network. But that’s not always enough to help people be their true selves at work.
“When I first started working, I would have benefited massively from having someone to guide me on how and when to come out at work. Or how to manage those conversations with stakeholders if they arise,” says Carlos Interiano, Internal Audit Director in our Houston office. “Those things, as a young person, are difficult. And some people leave the organization instead of working around it or managing it.”
So, can mentoring from allies and LGBTIQ+ role models be the missing link to make sure more of our people feel comfortable to bring their whole selves to work?
I come back to that saying again and again. And more so when I think about Pride@Worley. We want everyone to be happy, fulfilled, and bringing their whole selves to work. We want them to be out and proud and enjoying themselves rather than feeling like they’re living to grind through each day.
Foster’s mentoring experience has been rewarding not only for his career progression, but also for how he’s grown as a person during that time.
“If you have ideas, it’s great to have somebody to be able to talk them through with or if you need reassurance. You might not necessarily be looking for an answer, but it’s helpful to be able to talk and share your thoughts. Both on a work and personal level,” he explains. “For me, it should be a relationship that’s built on trust, respect, and open and honest communication.”
Formal mentoring is not the only option
Formal mentoring is often the most common type of mentoring in the workplace. It provides a structured approach that’s underwritten by objectives, usually work focused with measured results or a contract.
“From personal experience, this type of relationship is often company driven, and usually only lasts for a defined period of time,” says Foster. “I’ve not always found formal mentoring beneficial. However, it’s important you find what works best for you.
“For me, informal mentoring works best because the relationship is not controlled or forced. I might meet my informal mentors every two weeks, every month, or sometimes it’s just a coffee once a year. I share what’s happening in my life and get feedback on how things might change.
“I’ve made decisions in the past that I wouldn’t have been brave enough to make if I hadn’t spoken to mentors. And without them, I don’t think I would have ended up being in the role I’m in today. They helped me navigate things like coming out at work and having conversations with my manager about accepting a role in a different country that included moving with my partner.”
Turning mentoring on its head
While mentors are typically more experienced, providing guidance and advice to the next generation, reversing the teaching direction can have positive impacts on both a one-to-one level and business wide.
In 1999, General Electric brought the concept of reverse mentoring to life when it paired senior and junior employees to teach the former about the internet and technology. This benefited the organization by improving business efficiency.
“Our industry should be doing a lot more mentoring. It can help promote an inclusive workplace by bridging the gap between diverse populations, such as the LGBTIQ+ community,” says Foster.
“Pairing leaders with employees from different backgrounds develops empathic perspectives and reduces unconscious biases. However, for it to work, both parties need to be comfortable to share and have a willingness to understand the other’s perspective. It’s about empathizing with how the other person thinks, feels or sees.”
Building a diverse and inclusive workforce for the future
While Foster’s experience in the workplace was positively impacted through mentoring, there’s still work to do to make sure people who are part of minority groups, such as the LGBTIQ+ community, feel supported in their careers.
“Mentoring programs could be the missing link in educating people on what it’s like to be part of a minority. They also allow everyone to thrive in their roles, and this gets us one step closer to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce of the future,” explains Foster.
“Mentoring builds relationships that don’t take age, ethnicity or gender into consideration. But most importantly, it creates a culture that allows all our people to bring their whole selves to work, every day.”