Creating safe spaces where people can be themselves, engage with others and express their thoughts and opinions is key to our work. This inclusive ethos runs through everything we do, including how we approach the experience of being a member of our diverse team.
Last year, a new LGBTQ+ hub was set up at Traverse. To mark Pride month, in this blog consultants Coco Tas and Morgan Fraser, alongside executive director Kerrie Gemmill, reflect upon the creation of the hub and share what its future holds.
An achievement I’m really proud of during my first year at Traverse, is setting up our own LGBTQ+ hub.
With support from Morgan Fraser, a colleague who had joined the company at the same time and felt equally inspired and ignited to create a visible platform for the many openly queer colleagues to come together, the hub was born.
The idea was to have an in-house group to discuss LGBTQ+ matters, to educate and inform colleagues on current issues (at a local and national level) and to share our own stories of joy and challenges within our personal LGBTQ+ journeys. We also strive to provide advice and guidance to both internal and external projects that impact the LGBTQ+ community.
Having received an enthusiastic green light from our executive directors, we ran our first meeting in August 2021, which a sixth of the company’s colleagues attended! Over the past 10 months, the LGBTQ+ hub has been running monthly, and it has been wonderful to make connections and build partnerships with colleagues who have come along.
We have had a diverse representation of colleagues from across the company’s different service and business development sectors, as well as colleagues from different levels of seniority in the company.
It has been a safe space where our vulnerability, diversity of perspectives and lived experiences are welcome, and where the Queerness of our identities are brought to the forefront and celebrated. By our fourth monthly meeting we had confirmed the name of the hub and had a LGBTQ+ champion representing us at executive director level – Dr Chih Hoong Sin.
We applied our in-house research and evaluation team skills to determine the focus of the hub, using a theory of change workshop led by our colleague Noel Martinez Miranda. The outcomes were:
- Make a genuine effort to decondition and unlearn harmful behaviours and practices
- Help clients to think about how to “get it right” on inclusion work
- Be ahead of the curve in our policies and behaviours
To put that into practice, the hub focuses on knowledge sharing, facilitating, and organising events, and providing support on bid screening and proposal writing.
Inspired by the LGBTQ+ hub and putting the “deconditioning and unlearning” focus into practice, Morgan Fraser, Paul Hirmis and I set up the Conversation Café this February.
During the last three Conversation Cafes our aim has been to centre the values of this space around the inclusive practice that Traverse prides itself on, working collectively towards holding a safe place which provides an opportunity for colleagues to engage with sometimes difficult, uncomfortable, or confrontational subjects.
This has enabled colleagues to engage and participate in radical self-reflection and deep learning around issues of systemic oppression and discrimination and the ways in which we knowingly and unknowingly participate in these systems.
When Coco asked me to take on ownership of the LGBTQ+ hub I immediately recognised the responsibility that came with the territory. Coco had worked tirelessly until that point to create an inspirational and unique space within the business that focussed on so many issues that routinely impact our community, and I knew that I had to do it justice.
To build upon the already amazing work that had been done, it seemed like the right time to come together as a team and develop a clear pathway for the LGBTQ+ hub to achieve its goals.
The main aim for us was to build upon Traverse’s existing vision for inclusion and to develop best practice that was in line with the LGBTQ+ hub’s overall approach. It was important that this encompasses both how employees show up to work with their personal identities, and how we inform the projects that we take on and the clients that we work with.
Ultimately, we came to the agreement that progress, at least for us, is achieved through action. We rejected the idea of tokenism and challenged ourselves to determine how the LGBTQ+ hub can have a real-life physical presence within both our organisation and the community.
We want to inspire a real difference and accept that this means constantly evaluating our plans as the world around us inevitably changes.
For now, though, our hopes are to achieve the following:
- We want to explore how the LGBTQ+ hub can inform our work with clients, to ensure that we can give input not only as lived experience experts, but also as a source of information for both the internal project team and clients.
- We want to attend external training events where we can gain more knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community.
- We want to run internal events, on knowledge sharing, best practice and want those event spaces to be an opportunity where we can be open and honest about our experiences (such as the Conversation Café).
- We want Traverse to be an example of exceptional integration of inclusionary practices in the workplace.
- We want to have a physical presence at Pride (or at least organise our own).
We know a lot of these future aims are ambitious, however we are incredibly lucky to work within an organisation that we know will fully support us in our future endeavours and help us turn the above aims from “we want” into “we will”, and eventually “we have”.
We have received continuous of support from our executive board, from the inception of the LGBTQ+ hub to now, with our ‘big bosses’ often coming along and contributing to important discussions. Our executive director, Kerrie has been a consistent presence in the hub meetings and an amazing ally to our community.
Reflections from Kerrie Gemmill
I was super excited when Morgan and Coco approached me to chew over the idea of setting up our first (ever) LGBTQ+ group. It was a no-brainer that this initiative should go ahead, and that we support the creation of a safe space through the LGBTQ+ hub and Conversation Cafés.
Both personally and as a company, we need to be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community, in our work with clients and as an employer. This means we all need to be willing and open to engage in sometimes new and difficult, but incredibly important, conversations - and not just during Pride Month, but every day.
I am immensely proud of how Morgan, Coco and Paul have been leading these conversations over the last 12 months and challenging us as leaders and as a company to be better, and not rely on or leave it to our LGBTQ+ colleagues to be the drivers of change. Pride is celebrating 50 years, and we are rejoicing in the first year of our journey.