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Jackie Burns

As Director of People and Culture for the Americas at Hays, I always want to ensure that as a business, we are supporting fairness and equality in every way possible, especially in the way we treat our employees.

Recently, I decided to speak to some of our team; including VP of Hays Toronto Louisa Benedicto, Property Team Lead Mazen Fegali and Division Director Rachel Finan. These employees shared their experiences of LGBTQ attitudes in the workplace, and what it means to them to be working in an inclusive environment.

Being proud of who you are

For many of our employees, having an LGBTQ inclusive workplace means being able to proudly share elements of their personal lives in the same way as everybody else, without fear of judgement or isolation.

Louisa Benedicto explains that: “My team are super supportive and loving of my relationship with my wife. Most of them came to our wedding!” Louisa elaborates further, and says: “I’ve lived in other countries where it isn’t as easy to express that side of your life in a professional environment, although the people that work at Hays are pretty much the same all across the world.”

This acceptance encourages Louisa to be open about life events, from dual weddings in England and Canada, to buying a home, and the arrival of their first child. “It’s important to be able to talk freely at work about things like this. I’m grateful for such an open and diverse work environment where I can be myself.” Louisa says.

For Mazen Fegali having an LGBTQ inclusive workplace means being able to feel confident at work, after a lifetime of obstacles to being his true self. “I had to work on, accept and love myself. Hays matched that confidence with an environment that is inclusive, supportive, and welcoming,” he says. “What we care about is how you treat the business, your colleagues, candidates, and clients.

Standing up for your beliefs

Secondly, an LGBTQ inclusive workforce means everybody being an ally, i.e. – championing the equal inclusion of LGBTQ people far and wide within the business.

Rachel Finan identifies as an ally, which she says is about taking action to back up your belief. “Love is love, whomever it is between and I am privileged to know many couples of all gender identities who love unabashedly, I believe in equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBTQ social justice, and I challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia wherever I see prejudice. I am willing to act to end oppression – that is what being an ally is to me.”

She adds that constant learning is an important part of being an ally and works actively to equip herself with the knowledge to speak up against oppression and help people to reprogram their belief system to end prejudice.

Mazen adds that: “If I hear a comment that I feel may be offensive, I make sure to address it and educate. On these occasions, I don’t think about myself, but more about someone who is fighting their own battles.”

Challenging assumptions

Another key part of being an LGBTQ inclusive workplace, is challenging heteronormative expectations, that is, people assuming other people are straight or in a heterosexual relationship.

Louisa shares her own experiences, and explains: “I find I often bring it up early in the conversation – “my wife…” so that it doesn’t become embarrassing later on when the wrong assumption is made. No one has ever batted an eye lid when I’ve brought this up. The main thing I find myself correcting people on is when they then assume I identify as a lesbian, and I don’t. I identify as bi-sexual. Some people have asked me what this means and I’m really happy to talk it through with them.”

Creating a supportive atmosphere

All of the above can make for a more inclusive working environment, but what else can people do to support their LGBTQ colleagues and friends?

For Mazen it comes down to two core values: “Respect and acceptance are key. We are all the same. We all worry, have our goals, our challenges, our insecurities. Be mindful of what you say, especially for someone who is in the closet, one word can make or destroy someone’s life.”

Rachel says that someone’s preferred gender pronouns and their preferred partner doesn’t feature in her assessment of them as a person in her life and would encourage you to actively do the same. She doesn’t think about someone’s relationship preferences, to her they are great friends or colleagues regardless.

Finally, Louisa and Mazen both encourage people to ask questions when they don’t understand something. Language can change quickly, so if there is a word or phrase that is new to you, feel comfortable asking questions. For example, many people have been asking Louisa about her pregnancy and the correct terminology, and she’s happy to explain that “what’s your donor like?” is a better phrasing than “who’s the father?”

“Don’t ever be shy to ask what something means so that you can use those words freely and with confidence,” Louisa says. “As long as the person isn’t super shy talking about personal matters, use your LGBTQ colleagues to help you better understand and use the right terminology.”

The result: a more engaged and authentic work environment

When everyone is able to be themselves at work it gives them the ability to focus on other things that matter to them, helping drive success for their team and the company. “Being myself made me a much stronger leader,” Mazen says. “I am a stronger partner in this business. I am better equipped to help all our people to succeed.”

The stories speak for themselves. An environment which is LGBTQ inclusive is beneficial to wellbeing, productivity and having an authentic company culture. Yes, there is still progress to be made, but I’m proud to be able to share the stories of our employees, and see that as a business, we are taking great strides in the right direction.

You can view some more of our Diversity and Inclusion blogs below: 

Jackie Burns
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