Alongside the global pandemic, which I’m personally battling by staying home and baking banana bread on repeat like a malfunctioning Stepford Wife, is an existential crisis affecting captains of industry and alpha egos – their cries of ‘who am I?!’ echo across empty cities.
Read more from our columnist Lotte Jeffs
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You see, there are no corner offices on Zoom. Unless you’re a grocery store shelf stacker or a medical professional, it’s nigh on impossible to get your sense of status from your job at the moment.
Working from home is a great leveler and the normal things some might rely on to assert power and influence – commanding rooms full of people, intimidatingly firm hand shakes, having the loudest voice in a meeting etc, are no longer viable options as we are all reduced to blurry squares on a computer screen, wearing a strange hybrid of sweat pants and shirts.
The good news is, as Out Leaders we are best placed to adjust to this new normal. The most adaptable, open and communicative among us are still able to inspire teams and encourage their productivity and creativity via soft power, which has never relied on performative in-person ‘broadcasting’ any way. Now is a time for empathy and authenticity and that’s something Out Leaders can do well.
A trans friend of mine who works for a PR agency in London told me that she was aghast by how quickly her agency abandoned its culture and commitment to its people in the face of the crisis. They made every member of the HR department redundant and cancelled all ‘non essential’ business initiatives, including work she had done for Trans Awareness Week.
This left staff who had kept their jobs feeling bereft of any sense of being part of something and wondering, my friend said, ‘who we are working for. Honestly I feel betrayed by my leadership team, it seems a lot of the nice work culture ethos that made me take this role in the first place was inauthentic – I don’t get the sense that they really cared about us at all’.
Sadly, a number of diversity programs and plans for PRIDE will have ended up in the scrap heap as businesses struggle to keep going. If you were working on something like this, it can be particularly demoralizing to be told essentially it doesn’t matter enough to try to make work albeit in a different way. This translates as, we believe ‘diversity’ is a ‘nice to have’ and not a business essential. But as anyone reading this will know, it is essential and relegating people’s hard work and commitment in this way will ultimately be bad for business.
The companies that survive and thrive in the aftermath of COVID-19 will be those who have pivoted and found new ways to keep diversity and inclusion front and center at this time. Taking care of your people matters as much as it ever did.
Working from home poses challenges for those of us not lucky enough to feel able to be out at work – from the young man having to remove the Lady Gaga poster from his bedroom wall for fear his team mates will make fun of him, to the woman telling her wife not to come into the living room during the working day in case her colleagues see her. WFH is not easy for those who have previously kept life and work very separate. The LGBTQ+ community need Out Leaders to back them now more than ever.
Some of us have come to rely on LGBTQ+ networks or informal groups in the workplace to feel safe and feel seen. These need to continue to exist in a new form. We have come so far in our mission for diversity and inclusion at work, our role as Out Leaders at this time is to make sure we don’t take steps backwards. Support our people, champion the same causes, heck – plan a virtual Pride month. Yes, it’s hard to do this if we’re responding to an ever-changing situation and trying to keep a business afloat, but it’s certainly not as impossible as trying to find enough recipes to make use of the sack of 300 potatoes I’ve accidentally stock-piled.
Stay safe everyone.