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Supporting LGBTIQ+ inclusion in Australia

In last week’s lead-up to the 42nd Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, my LinkedIn feed was full of organisations showing their support for LGBTIQ+ inclusion in Australia. That visible show of support is so important for so many reasons – not the least being so LGBTIQ+ young people feel confident in their workplace choices of the future.
Gemma Hallett, Chair of Minus18

"Enormous progress has been made in fostering inclusion in the workplace, but much more still needs to be done."

Gemma Hallett
Chair of Minus18

One organisation working hard to promote social inclusion and connection for LGBTIQ+ youth is Minus18. Over the past year – through a combination of personal experiences and professional connections – I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the inspirational work Minus18 does, and strengthen my focus as an ally.

Minus18’s Chair is Gemma Hallett, an employment lawyer at Hall & Wilcox. I talked with her recently about their work and the important support corporate partners can provide. Gemma reminds us just how important it is that organisations maintain their focus on an inclusive workplace culture.

Gemma Hallett, Chair of Minus18, says enormous progress has been made in fostering inclusion in the workplace, but much more still needs to be done.

You’ve served as Chair of the Board of Minus18 since September 2018. Tell us more about what the organisation does.

Minus18 is Australia’s leading organisation for LGBTIQ+ young people. Our vision is an Australia free from homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and interphobia.

We strive toward that vision every day by running events for young people that promote social inclusion and connection – like our annual Queer Formal in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide which brings together hundreds of young people from all walks of life.

We also realise that LGBTIQ+ young people won’t reach their full potential without the support of the broader community. We drive community education and campaigns that amplify the voices of young LGBTIQ+ people across the country. Our corporate partners support LGBTIQ+ youth by hosting training workshops, buying merchandise and donating to us through workplace giving.

In your day job, you’re a young lawyer with a strong interest in diversity and inclusion. What led you to law?

I’ve always been drawn to issues of fairness and justice. Standing up for what I think is right, even when it’s unpopular or difficult, has been a strong theme in my life and profession. Being a lawyer gives me the skillset to think critically about these concepts, and challenge my own biases and assumptions every day.

In my current practice as an employment lawyer at Hall & Wilcox, I have worked on both the employer and employee side of discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment and unfair dismissal matters. There’s always two sides to every story, and I love helping clients develop a strategic way forward through hard times.

Working in commercial law also exposes me to the ongoing debates in the corporate world about diversity and inclusion. Being able to wear my lawyer hat and my LGBTIQ+ advocate hat is a real benefit in these debates, as I can bring new perspectives to well-worn issues.

You’ve championed events such as Wear It Purple and other ways to improve LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the workplace. Are we making progress?

Enormous progress has been made in fostering inclusion in the workplace, thanks to our community’s leaders who have fought hard for decades to be respected at work.

However, there is much to be done. The Diversity Council of Australia has found that LGBTIQ+ workers are almost 50% more likely to have experienced harassment or discrimination than non-LGBTIQ+ workers. The biggest challenges are faced by transgender and gender diverse workers, who face regular misgendering and overt discrimination in the workplace and at work social events. Experiencing ‘erasure’ is also a common issue, particularly for bisexual employees with an opposite-sex partner, as colleagues assume they must be straight.

The biggest challenges are faced by transgender and gender diverse workers.

 It comes as no surprise, then, that only about one-third of LGBTIQ+ people are ‘out’ to everyone at work (although we need to respect that not everyone wants to be ‘out’) – and those who conceal their identity are almost half as likely to be satisfied with their job.

 What are some helpful ways to drive change?

Fascinatingly, the research shows that having a LGBTIQ+ employee resource group or outwardly supporting LGBTIQ+ causes has a much smaller impact on employee inclusion compared with simply focusing on building an inclusive internal culture. LGBTIQ+ workers are also significantly more likely to be ‘out’ at work if there are visible LGBTIQ+ leaders.

Lastly, straight allies can step up their support of our community by learning more about the issues affecting their LGBTIQ+ colleagues, and calling out inappropriate behaviour.

About Dr Katie Spearritt

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