Elisabeth Knowles (she/her) is Principal Communications and global co-lead of Jasper, BHP’s LGBT+ ally network in Australia. This is her story.
To me, inclusion and diversity means cultivating a culture where there is no one predominant or 'normal' type of person. A culture where no segment of society needs to be taught how to welcome, accept or tolerate someone who is different to them, and one that is built of diverse people whose needs are considered with respect and a spirit of enthusiasm. We shouldn't forget that getting to know people who are different from you is actually fun.
I am a woman in a male-dominated industry and I am a lesbian. I haven’t always felt immediately accepted in workplaces and often feel like I have to come out over and over again because I am proud of who I am, and I want to call out disrespectful behaviour. I want to be a visible role model at BHP because lesbian, queer, bi, trans, gender diverse and asexual women often hide a huge part of themselves in the workplace, just to fit in. That’s pretty exhausting.
When it comes to career progression, discrimination is not always overt. Sometimes micro-aggressions play a huge role in not progressing in your career (because they keep you timid), or maybe people pass you over for a promotion or opportunity in favour of someone who is a cookie-cutter version of themselves. Teams who are made up of the same type of people with the same lifestyles often have a good time together, but people who are not like them may feel left out and withdraw within themselves, yearning to be included but not brave enough to join in. That’s been me in the past, for sure.
Everyone has unique experiences and a soft spot, even people who fit in with what is erroneously perceived as the norm – for example, a white heterosexual male - may be blessed with a profoundly deaf child; a Christian may be questioning their sexuality; a straight person may have the good fortune to have a transgender child. Even the most resilient person may face a mental health issue. These are all human experiences. They make us stronger and more interesting. I approach people who don’t understand this by finding commonality and trying to help them understand that what’s good for one segment of society is good for everyone. Parental leave and flexible working, for example, benefits men, women, transgender and gender diverse people.
I most want to achieve equity. Yes, some people will need more resources and tools to give them a level playing field in their career. There is nothing wrong with that. I want to see every LGBT+ person, every ethnic group, every person with disability, have access to opportunities and be free from discrimination, bullying and harassment. Ultimately, I want everyone to feel safe and supported at BHP.
So, stop assuming you have nothing in common with people who don’t look or act just like you. Start conversations and keep them going. Welcome people into your world at every opportunity. Celebrate difference in your teams (by acknowledging cultural or LGBT+ days of significance). Continue to learn. Go along to LGBT+ community events and seek out and participate in inclusion and diversity training. You’ll expand your networks and feel more included yourself!