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The story of AWE Pride

In support of LGBT History month, by Amélie

First and foremost I'm a Chartered Engineer, who has worked mainly in the areas of systems, safety and reliability. I've worked for AWE for just over nine years and through that time I've been William, Will and Billy.

About 18 months ago I started questioning my gender identity, and now I identify as transgender, and am also now known as Amélie. Though I’m now open about this, I have not transitioned and its still early days for me to work out what that means for me, but here’s the story about how I helped set up AWE Pride.

About six months ago I emailed our newly appointed diversity, equality and inclusion manager, Sarah, with a view to starting an AWE LGBT+ network, having realised how uncomfortable I felt at the idea of being 'out' or even talking about such issues in the workplace.

I later found out I was not alone in feeling this way.

I decided I didn't want to wait around for change to happen, so decided to become that focus for change. This is no mean feat given the expectation is that it takes seven years to change a culture within an organisation, and this was not a formal ‘project,’ which is the way things usually get done here. Equally trying to do this with a community who is often guarded about their identity added to the complexity of this.

Sarah and I started meeting monthly and other individuals in the LGBT+ community identified themselves to us and joined us.

Our meetings quickly went from two people, to three, and then 7!

At that meeting, a date was set for the launch, two months in advance, and soon we had our own identify - AWE Pride. The story we presented at the launch started many years before. A former member of staff, Angela Clayton, took on a part time law degree, and went on to help write the Gender Recognition Act 2004, for which she received an MBE. This is a hard act for us to follow – writing acts of parliament is slightly different from setting up a network, and it is with great sadness that having passed away, she will not be part of this exciting activity. She is remembered by many colleagues with great fondness and respect.

With the publicity we gained from the official launch our numbers then increased. We jumped to 40 members of our open group, which includes our allies, and we’re still steadily increasing membership. Four months later this has continued to climb to 60 members, which is a very strong number when compared to other networks in comparable companies.

In my experiences in the work place, there have been several times I've had to constructively challenge behaviours. I do not believe the intent of these people was malicious, but through a lack of understanding. It was clear however, that there is a need for education and in some case change. A large proportion of our workforce is due to retire in the next 10 years and we are recruiting a younger workforce to replace them. The younger someone is, the more likely it is that they identify as a member of the LGBT+ community.

It is imperative we provide a working environment that is affirming and attractive to all those who identify with the diversity and inclusion groups, gender, generational, disability and neurodiversity and BAME, not just the LGBT+ community.

Those of us who identify as LGBT+, cannot change others, unless we are honest about who we are. More powerful are our allies who stand up next to us. I've certainly found out who my true friends are, and have gained many more than I have lost, and I’ve certainly discovered that my workplace is a safe space to be yourself, even though my initial perception was wrong.

The importance of our allies is that they present a stronger voice than we do as members of the community. This in particular was why I feel strongly that I had to present as Amélie at the launch – I could not ask other people to stand up on my behalf without being honest about who I am. This was perhaps a bigger step than I realised at the time, and I certainly didn’t gauge the emotional impact of doing this at the time. I like to think I jumped out of the closet and shouted ‘Boo!’, but I certainly wasn’t staying there long enough to find Narnia!

As a network looking to make changes we have been proactive in looking for areas where we can provide tangible benefit to AWE and we have an ever growing 'to do' list. Several areas we are progressing with good effect are providing 'design for inclusiveness' (alongside the disability and neurodiversity network) of new build facilities particularly regarding the gendered spaces (toilets, changing rooms, etc), and we’re just starting a pilot for a buddying programme, (in some companies this is known as ‘reverse mentoring’) to exchange of knowledge between senior managers and staff members, so improvements can be made across the company to better improve the workplace for all. We're also working with personnel security on the first of what we hope will be a series of fact sheets, so staff and line managers understand who needs to know what. I have been overwhelmed with the support we have received from the executive and I can now boast that I’m the chair of a group that represents all levels of the company under me – from an apprentice, all the way to Haydn Clulow, Director Site, who has chosen to take a very active role in the network.

As with all big things, there is no one person who makes things happen, it is a team and I have been incredibly fortunate to have enthusiastic individuals to work with. In some ways I could say we've been lucky, whether it be the timing or the experience other individuals brought to the table. But, I know that it has been hard work from a good team, each bringing their best they can that has made this happen, and will continue to help set AWE up to become and present herself as an attractive, diverse employer to the potential workforce.

I remain really enthusiastic as I see what further changes we can make going forwards, and I look forward to working with the wonderful members of the community and allies who have stood up to support AWE Pride so far! I am also acutely aware that our achievements would not be possible in other companies, and particularly not in the short time we’ve been established. In seeing the opportunity I’ve been able to grasp it and have matched the appetite for change. We have had amazing support across the company to achieve this, which has left me looking about for the next opportunity I can take!

 

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