Inclusion and the Rainbow Network

There was a time when, for certain groups of people, the workplace could seem like a dark, hostile environment where only a certain demographic could thrive and climb the corporate ladder. Women were expected, if they worked at all, to fill administrative and secretarial roles, and if they did find themselves doing the same job as their male counterparts, they were paid less. There was a huge disparity in the ethnic diversity in the workplace, and many companies weren’t aware of the simple adjustments they could make to accommodate differently abled workers.

Another group to face bigotry was the LGBT community. For many years, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people were forced to hide their true selves at work, and from society as a whole. Homosexuality was considered an indecent, degenerative practice that could see people imprisoned or worse.

One of the most famous cases is that of genius mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing, who when it was discovered that he had a male lover was faced with the choice of losing his position at Manchester University and being sent to prison, or chemical castration. He chose the latter, and the intense hormone treatment, paired with the relentless persecution by the authorities eventually led to his suicide in 1954.

Today, in the UK at least, the LGBT community doesn’t have to worry about imprisonment. But that’s not to say discrimination and prejudice don’t exist. The TUC announced in a report last year that one in three LGBT people they’d surveyed in the UK had experienced homophobic bullying at work.

Beating bullying at work

So what can companies do to tackle this problem?

I spoke with Nathan Jeavons and Ryan Shaw, who coordinate the Rainbow Network. The Rainbow Network is one of our many employee led networks focussing on inclusion for our LGBT colleagues and customers.

‘The Rainbow Network is a support group for all of our LGBT colleagues and our allies,’ Ryan told me, ‘anyone can join, and we get involved with loads of events including the Pride parades across the country. Our ultimate aim is to provide our people with the tools they need to ensure we’re an inclusive bank, and that we can assist our LGBT customers with their specific needs.’

Ross McEwan, the CEO at the time of writing this article recently explained why inclusion is crucial for a business in a financial sense, as well as an ethical one, ‘Becoming an inclusive bank is not an optional extra for us. We will only achieve our ambition to be number one for customer service, trust and advocacy if we understand the needs of all of our people and our customers. Quite simply, if we're a more inclusive place to work, great people will want to work here and more customers will want to bank with us – so it's a business imperative.’

Nathan Jeavons (left), Ryan Shaw (right)

Nathan Jeavons (left), Ryan Shaw (right)

Inclusion is a business imperative

Nathan explained, ‘One of the ways the Rainbow Network is serving our customers is by highlighting the changing, specific needs of LGBT customers. A good example, for me, is our recent work in implementing the possibility for people who are transitioning to change their pronoun, and to include the gender neutral pronoun, Mx, in certain areas of the business. We’re aiming to have this rolled out across all of our brands in the future, but previously, and with many other companies, it was really difficult for people to do that, as there was no mechanism in place. But thanks to the work of the amazing people in the Rainbow Network, that’s been implemented for our customers.’

One of the major concerns of the Rainbow Network is visibility, and Nathan explained how they’re spreading the word, ‘We’ve got eighteen Pride events this year and we’re going to a lot of places we haven’t been before. It’s so important to be present at these events to let to world know that we’re here, and what we’re trying to achieve. I especially want to be present in some of the smaller places to show our support. We’re trying to show that we’re an inclusive bank, and we can’t do that if we only turn up to major cities like Manchester and London!’

Be your authentic self at work

I asked Ryan what it means to him having the Rainbow Network, ‘It’s allowed me to be my authentic self at work… I sound like I’m on Queer Eye, don’t I? But it’s the truth. I honestly feel like I’m allowed to be who I’m meant to be without any fear. How can you bring your whole self to work and be there mentally if you’re not comfortable sharing who you are as a person?’

We’re immensely proud of all of our inclusion networks and all the fantastic work they do to create a better bank.

Find out more about the Ulster Bank inclusion networks here.