Pride Month may be over but the conversation around LGBTQ+ inclusion shouldn’t have to end.

This June, I’ve been actively engaged in promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity throughout my organisation and the wider industry. Most notably, I chaired a webinar on behalf of the Diverse Heat Network, which involved a panel discussion featuring Meike Imberg, Rachael Gilbert (Building Equality) and Lewis McKenzie (Pride in Energy).

By organising this event, our goal was to provide a platform to spread awareness and discuss the experiences and challenges of LGBTQ+ professionals in our sector. By sharing these insights, we wanted to facilitate the conversation around how we can all become better allies to LGBTQ+ colleagues in our industry and ultimately create more welcoming work environments for everyone.

Why LGBTQ+ Inclusion is Still Relevant

Many would agree that LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance have come a long way in recent decades. While significant progress has been made, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face numerous challenges globally — socially, legally, and in many other aspects of life.

With incoming regulation around heat networks, there are several ambitious goals on the horizon, which we must meet. However, achieving these targets requires a diverse and productive workforce, which is reflective of the communities we strive to help. Ask yourself – do I feel represented by senior management in my organisation or industry leaders?

Pride in Energy conduct an annual survey to gauge LGBTQ+ inclusivity across the energy sector in the UK. Lewis McKenzie from Pride in Energy has given us some exclusive insights about the 2024 survey, due to be released in the next couple of weeks. Lewis revealed that 30% of LGBTQ+ individuals in the energy sector are not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. Reluctance to come out often stems from fears of discrimination, career progression risks, and the need to conform to heteronormative expectations. Additionally, there are complexities around intersectionality, where individuals might face unique challenges based on cultural or religious backgrounds, further complicating their ability to be open at work.

30% of LGBTQ+ individuals in the energy sector are not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work.

This lack of openness can lead to a notable decrease in productivity. The stress of not being able to be oneself, such as constantly worrying about slipping up on pronouns or maintaining a façade, takes a significant toll on an individual. This is particularly challenging for those who have been in an organisation/the industry for a long time and are newly navigating their identity within a potentially unsupportive environment.

Moreover, the importance of creating a safe and welcoming environment to attract the next generation of engineers cannot be overstated. With the notable skills shortage in the heat network sector, it is essential we provide an inclusive space that encourages young LGBTQ+ individuals to join and thrive. Since the heat network industry is fairly new but rapidly growing in the UK, it is important we get this right today, to set the foundation for a more diverse and innovative future workforce. As an industry, we have the opportunity to become role models for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, to demonstrate that great things can come from embracing diversity at an early stage.

The Diverse Heat Network are making active steps in this direction, by facilitating these conversations, distributing resources and hosting events to ignite change in our industry. Constructive initiatives like these lay the groundwork for a more inclusive industry, fostering a culture where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute their best whilst at work.

Common Experiences of LGBTQ+ Employees

Despite progress, many LGBTQ+ employees in our sector still face challenges at work. It is important to recognise the varying degrees of privilege within the community, as experiences can differ vastly. For instance, discrimination is more prevalent in male-dominated and heteronormative environments such as field operations and construction compared to more administrative or consultancy-based settings.

Lewis also indicated that over 50% of respondents (more than 250 people) of the Pride in Energy survey had witnessed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the past five years, ranging from derogatory comments and transphobic remarks to management discrimination. Also, the energy, utilities, and engineering industries have lagged behind other sectors in terms of the Stonewall Equality Index, highlighting the need for more proactive efforts.

Over 50% of respondents (more than 250 people) of the Pride in Energy survey had witnessed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the past five years, ranging from derogatory comments and transphobic remarks to management discrimination.

Asking unsolicited and inappropriate questions about personal lives or sharing irrelevant information about others’ identity without their consent, are unfortunately common behaviours. These situations create uncomfortable and often hostile work environments for LGBTQ+ colleagues, which can have detrimental effects on their mental health and wellbeing.

For individuals who present as trans, the workplace can present unique challenges, such as being perceived and treated in ways that do not align with their gender identity. The current political climate can also exacerbate these issues, making it even more difficult to foster a supportive environment for these colleagues.

Therefore, we all need to recognise that there is a considerable way to go in supporting LGBTQ+ individuals within our industry. Without the right attention and action, we risk creating unfriendly and potentially unsafe work environments.

What Can We Do as Allies?

LGBTQ+ inclusion is not just a HR responsibility; we all have a role to play in creating a supportive and accepting workplace. It’s also vital to recognise that being an ally involves ongoing learning and support, not just during Pride Month but throughout the year. To be effective allies, both individuals and organisations need to take concrete actions that go beyond mere lip service.

On an individual level, having conversations about LGBTQ+ issues in our private or work lives can help take the conversation further. Whether you’re at a higher decision-making level or just starting out, asking the right questions and seeking to understand the experiences of LGBTQ+ colleagues can make a significant impact. Those with decision-making power can do more by implementing inclusive policies, offering ED&I training, and ensuring that supply chain partners and contractors are also committed to supporting LGBTQ+ employees. Measures like these help create a clear framework for support and signal to all employees that there are resources and avenues available for assistance.

Active listening and not getting offended by mistakes is also crucial. Everyone is on a learning journey, and making mistakes with terminology or pronouns is a part of that process. What matters is the willingness to accept, learn, and move forward. Resources such as those on the Building Equality website offer valuable guidance and tools for those looking to educate themselves and others on best practices for LGBTQ+ inclusivity within the workplace.

Empathy is a key driver of allyship and comprises three elements: thinking, feeling, and acting. It involves understanding and learning about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, emotionally putting yourself in their shoes, and then using your privilege to stand up and fight for change on their behalf.
Intention is key — while making an effort is important, it’s equally important to avoid performative allyship that centres on the ally’s self-interest rather than the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, it is crucial to offer support in a way that respects each individual’s needs and comfort levels. It’s essential to be sensitive to each person’s journey and experiences, as they can vary widely.

Today, there can be lots of pressure and the expectation to be more of an activist than an ally. Know that it’s okay to take a step back and acknowledge you can’t do everything. Starting with small, meaningful actions in private and work life rather than bold gestures on social media can be much more impactful and sustainable. Supporting the community in any way you can, at whatever level is comfortable for you, still makes a difference.

Conclusion

Promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity requires ongoing effort and commitment from everyone. By understanding the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals and taking meaningful actions, we can all build a more inclusive and supportive future for the heat network industry.

This webinar was a step in the right direction, and we encourage everyone to continue the conversation, utilise available resources, and practice these examples of allyship. For further insights and resources, please watch the full webinar on the Diverse Heat Network website, check out LGBTQ+ industry groups such as Pride in Energy or Building Equality, or reach out to our guest speakers, Meike Imberg, Rachael Gilbert and Lewis McKenzie.