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What it means to be proud at work in 2021

While you may have seen more colours than usual in your social feed over the last month during Pride*, it’s not always all rainbows and unicorns for LGBTQI+ people at work. Our level of acceptance and comfort varies from occupation to industry, geographic location and the size of the organisation.

A lot has been said about the value of bringing your whole self to work. Diversity Council Australia reports LGBTQI+ employees who are out to everyone at work are:

  • 50% more likely to innovate than workers who are not out to everyone
  • 35% more likely to work highly effectively in their team
  • 28% more likely to provide excellent customer/client service

For those of us who were able to and have concealed our identity in the workplace over the course of our careers, the results range from being constantly on edge, to simply longing to share what we did on the weekend.

As a teenager during school holidays and at various times as an adult, I tried my hand as an unskilled labourer on building sites and in factories when my Dad worked in manufacturing. Eating my lunch with the other tradies, I could smoke a cigarette, but I still had to listen to what my all-male coworkers did on holiday in Pattaya. A notch up from the banter that went around at high school, but in a rough industrial environment, it was definitely not ok to be gay.

Venturing into hospitality on a work experience placement, I found discrimination was rife in a restaurant kitchen. Chef’s hurled insults (and saucepans, regardless of your sexuality), so the wait staff kept their heads down anyway. I’ve since mastered the use of plating food with fork and spoon, a skill not required for my next job – flipping burgers at McDonald’s (not an ideal for a vegetarian).

I soon moved to front counter at Maccas, where OTT interactions with the public were actively encouraged as long as you met the service time KPIs, which better suited my outgoing personality at the time. Working for a large global organisation with policies and procedures for literally everything provided a safe environment and was surprisingly one of the most enjoyable jobs I had as an undergrad.

Straight out of university and into a recession equivalent to the GFC, I fell back on hospitality. Relocating from Melbourne to Sydney, working front of house in hotels in the 90s, I was no longer in the minority. The major drawback to working with gay colleagues was they knew what you really got up to on the weekend. In those pre smart phone days, my boyfriend at the time would pick me up from work. He’d casually sit and read the newspaper while he waited for me to finish up, even chat to my boss. So, that’s what acceptance feels like!

Before we had the alphabet acronym, student politics led me to joining the ‘gay and lesbian’ community group. Years of marching and fighting for equal rights got me interested in industrial relations (acknowledging trade unions in Australia have been instrumental in helping us achieve equality), which became human resources when I tired of shift work and moved into business administration. Back in Melbourne, working for an SME in the South Eastern suburbs, I could do payroll for 100 people, but I didn’t have the guts to bring my boyfriend to the work Christmas Party.

Moving to Sydney was liberating. Moving to London ten years later was an eye opener. On a working holiday, I landed a job in HR at Transport for London – a huge, diverse organisation with proud D&I objectives. One of my colleagues at TfL was awarded an MBE for Services to Equality.

A stint within one of TfL’s project recruitment teams led to working in volume and graduate recruitment on my return to Australia. Working with one of the country’s largest recruitment firms provided a pathway back into Marketing & Communications, putting to use all those unused qualifications that had been collecting dust in storage.

Since I commenced at Slade Group, I’ve had the confidence to bring my whole self to work. I have been actively involved with LGBTQIA+ (‘A’ is for ally) professional associations including the GLOBE network, and Out for Australia, which facilitates a mentoring program for students and recent graduates. I’ve seen friends and contacts start networks in their own industries, such as Queers in Property and Building Pride.

Growing up there weren’t many professional role models, like Penny Wong, Michael Kirby or Tim Cook. Corporate partnerships – much more than a float in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade – have been instrumental in driving change within their own organisations, business and the wider community. Companies we now partner with, such as SEEK, have been champions of Diversity & Inclusion, and it’s been gratifying to be part of a culture where I have seen others bring their whole selves to work.

Coming out is an ongoing process that never really stops. Each time you change jobs, are introduced to a new colleague, a new client, a new supplier… deciding how much of yourself you will share is part of building that relationship. Being proud at work has meant being supported through tough times, from the marriage equality debate to relationship break-ups and COVID-19 (frighteningly evocative of the HIV/AIDS pandemic for many of my generation). I’ve been able have the watercooler chat about what I did on the weekend and once even managed to drag a partner along to the Christmas party.


*June is officially Pride month in the USA, in recognition of the Stonewall Riots, a landmark event in the history of LGBTQI+ rights that took place on 28 June 1969. In Australia we celebrate Pride at different times of the year in various cities and regions (generally when the weather is better suited to outdoor festivals and parades). Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (now held annually in March) originally took place as protest march in commemoration of Stonewall on 24 June 1978. Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival traditionally takes place during in the summer months January-February (disrupted by Covid this year) along with Tas Pride in February. Brisbane’s Pride Festival will be in September this year, along with NT’s Top End Pride. Adelaide Pride, WA Pride Fest and Spring OUT in the ACT all take place in November. Along with Pride events in many regional centres, it’s fair to say there’s something to celebrate throughout the year.

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WFH!? How to beat the bogeys on working from home…

For those of us who haven’t been regularly working from home (WFH) until now, the prospect can be a bit daunting. Whilst the nature of my job means I’m fortunate to be able to work effectively in a digital environment, I also like a bit of separation between my living room and the office. I’ve found WFH perfect for intense periods of concentration – planning, creating, writing pitches, proposals and reports. Collaborating on projects, getting feedback on drafts and quick decision-making? It’s often a lot easier in person.

As we move towards WFH in the longer term, I thought I’d share a few tips from my personal experience on how to beat some of the bogeys you encounter when working from home.

  1. Prepare first – Decide which tasks you will be working on and take home any hard copy files you cannot access electronically or material that is easier to work from in print. Test your internet connection and remote access via the company’s Citrix or VPN.
  2. Map out a schedule – Your WFH schedule may not be the same as your office hours. Give yourself a start and finish time, allowing for breaks. This helps manage the temptation to procrastinate or work until you drop.
  3. Present yourself – If you’re not face-timing customers or colleagues, it might be tempting to spend all day in your pyjamas. You will feel more motivated and it’s easier to slot into work zone, if you get up out of bed, have a shower and get dressed – business casual or not.
  4. Go to work in your home office – Whether it’s the kitchen table, a separate room or a study nook, clear a space, follow the WFS OHS protocols and go there to work. Leave it too, when you’re taking a break.
  5. Let others know you’re at work – Partners, flatmates, kids and pets… we love them, but they can be pests at times! Forewarn your household and try to work around their schedules to minimise the impact on each other as far as you can.
  6. Remove other distractions – Pausing your personal social media and other apps while you’re working is good professional practice whether WFH or in the office.
  7. Multitasking is a myth – It’s ok to put on a load of washing, but don’t get distracted by deep cleaning the house. A few chores while taking a break can help return your focus on work.
  8. Reward yourself – Go for a walk at lunchtime, get a proper coffee or food from a café. There are lots of activities you can fit into 30 minutes to an hour when your close to home.
  9. Check-in – Maintain your usual contact with colleagues via phone, email and other messaging or collaborating apps, and check-in with your team leader or manager on your progress through or at the end of day.

What works for you when you’re working from home?

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Outdated office routines: How to manage the top 5 workplace traditions we love to hate!

While the world @work has evolved significantly over the last 30 or so years, some of the quirks of the office remain pervasive. Here is my take on some of the Most Hated Office Traditions as surveyed by CV Library and reported by HRD Editor Australia. You can read the full list here.

Survey says…

9-5 working hours (53%)

I once worked in hospitality and despite the unsociable hours, early mornings, late nights and ever-changing shifts that included weekend work, it was never boring or predictable. Many organisations now offer flexibility, with core hours that allow employees to manage their own start and finish times whilst working the same number of hours over a week.   

Long meetings (34.6%)

When you work on projects, meetings can be useful for sharing ideas, setting strategy, technical problem solving and quick decision-making. However, they can also be disruptive to workflow, unproductive and eat into the time available for the tasks required for delivery. Schedule meetings on the same day(s) where possible and allocate blocks of time in your schedule for focused work on specific projects. 

Professional dress codes (30.6%)

I’m split on corporate attire. As a guy, I find it’s like wearing a school uniform: An easy decision process when getting ready for work, but it can be pretty uninspiring wearing suits every day. On the other hand, the call centre workers in our building take relaxed to the extreme. You never know what they’ll be wearing when you see them in the lift, but you certainly know where they work! Our workplace has casual Fridays once per month, some professional services firms do them weekly, while other businesses have redefined the dress code altogether. For men, this could mean chinos, polo shirts or jeans and a smart jacket.

Having to work in the office every day (29.7%)

If you’re regular reader of this blog you’ll know we’ve written plenty about flexible work – currently the top response on a candidate’s wish list. If you have the option to work from home or another office, use it as I do to focus on those steps in a project where you need to work without distraction, then come back to the office during the collaborative phases.

Set lunch hours (17.8%)

While many workers don’t take lunch breaks (you should) or eat properly (ditto) during the day, others are constrained by set hours that don’t suit them. If the operational needs of the business don’t allow you to set your own schedule, try mixing it up by arranging swaps with colleagues. Personally I’m not a big coffee drinker (only one per day), but I don’t mind doing a tea round (7.7%). It’s an opportunity to take a short break, walk away from my desk and get some fresh air.

I will be taking this question to my colleagues Family Feud style at our next team meeting, survey responses to be provided on notice.

What aspects of your workplace work well for you? Which ones do you love to hate?

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How 100 smart women discovered six unexpected benefits from an unlikely escape.

Ella Stephenson grew up playing netball, but had always loved footy. So in 2016 when the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) announced they were launching a women’s competition, she was keen to get involved. “My older brothers had played footy with Monash Blues and I was studying at Monash University,” Stephenson says. “A friend from Uni was already involved, and she got me down to the club.”

After performing well in the grading games, Monash Blues Football Club (MBFC) were placed in the second tier of the women’s competition. Although they didn’t win many games in 2017, strong interest in the team generated registrations from 100 female University-based players, which has seen the club expand to two women’s teams in 2018. The Women’s Firsts team had a great season this year, which saw them finish in the preliminary finals last weekend.

As Captain of the Firsts, Ella has firsthand experience of the benefits that joining a football club like the Monash Blues offers, both on and off the field. It’s universally acknowledged that playing a team sport like football is so much more than running around an oval and kicking a ball.

Here are the top six reasons to join a football team or any other sporting team:

  1. Health and exercise – committing to train two times a week and play on the weekend means you’ve ticked off your weekly exercise schedule.
  2. Teamwork – nothing prepares you for working collaboratively like playing a team sport.
  3. Networks and mentors – when you’re a student you’ll meet all kinds of people and probably make new friends, but a network of likeminded people who you can connect with and who can mentor you as your enter your professional life is an unexpected benefit.
  4. Support – Ella says that over the last two years MBFC has helped the players overcome some tough physical and mental challenges, such as injuries and the loss of parents.
  5. Lasting friendships – we’re tested a lot through life, so the friendships established from playing together at a club are often an unexpected bonus.
  6. Stress Release – there’s nothing like running off steam, living totally in the moment and falling into bed exhausted after a tough game to make you feel on top of the world.

MBFC has a fantastic alumni network, with many current players and past players assisting younger players in entering the workforce. Whether it be through industry connections, helping with resumes and cover letters or applying for jobs, there are so many people willing to help. Ella says that’s one of the reasons that makes the Monash Blues such a great club. “I was in the final year of my course last year and had some great support from club personnel in helping me find a job,” she recalls. “I only knew one girl and a couple of the boys involved at the club before I joined and have since met lots of new people and made lasting friendships. I think sport also offers students a great opportunity to develop their teamwork, leadership and public speaking skills.”

The players juggle study commitments with training twice per week, games on Saturday, as well as casual or in some cases, full-time work. During the six week mid-semester break, a number of students from regional Victoria return home, which can severely impact the team. Over this period many players drive great distances to support the club and ensure they don’t miss a game.

Coach Ian Mills agrees: “Sport is an outstanding release from the pressures of study and work. The old saying ‘Healthy body, healthy mind’ holds true as far as I’m concerned. There are times after a long day at work when it’s hard to drag yourself off to training, but I always leave reinvigorated by the girls, as they are so keen to learn and improve.”

These young women have found a way to escape, exercise, learn the value of teamwork and develop a network to support each other through university, the workforce and beyond.

 

Slade Group and the Interchange Bench are proud sponsors of the Monash Blues, a football club that fields men’s and women’s teams of current and past students. If your organisation is looking for graduates or can support university students with work placements, please get in touch with us.

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A race that will change your life

The Spartan Sprint is a 7km course that has 20 obstacles, which is a challenge for first timers and returning racers alike. The Spartan Slayers, a team comprising Diana Tanvis-Loi and Angelika Langer-Zindel from Slade Group Shared Services and Bill Sakellaris from TRANSEARCH International Australia, recently competed in the Spartan Australia Melbourne race. We spoke to the ‘Slayers after they had had time to recover and reflect on what they achieved by participating in the event.

How did you get involved in the Spartan Race?

Diana: Angelika and I were talking to Bill about our interest in Tough Mudder when Bill mentioned the Spartan Race. He had raced before and thought it would be good to do it again with us as Rookies.

Bill: Having completed two of these events previously, I was keen to participate again. The Spartan Race is mentally and physically challenging. It requires planning, preparation, training and teamwork.

What training or other preparation did you do prior to the event?

Angelika: I did more rock-climbing and tried to choose more strength base classes at gym, but I underestimated the running part, so I think I could have done better.

Bill: I trained twice a week in the gym with a weekly bike ride. The gym works on upper body strength, which is critical in the Spartan Race, and the cycling helped with my endurance.  

Diana: I hadn’t planned to customise my regular training for the Spartan Race, but it coincided with my new regime at F45, which I started in January. I’ve also been training for the 15+km course with Run for the Kids (Melbourne, 18 March). This combination definitely helped me prep for the race and I was able to do more than I normally would have been able to.

What did you find most challenging about the race?

Bill: The monkey rings, rope climb, horizontal wall scale and protruding wall were the most challenging for me. The monkey rings were particularly tough! I managed to complete ¾ of the wall, successfully climbed the rope and conquered Olympus – the protruding wall.

Diana: I have really weak arm strength so there were some obstacles that I struggled to complete. I did my best with the help of my amazing teammates. However, it was definitely a challenge for me and I found it a bit frustrating that I wasn’t able to complete every one.

Angelika: The running tired me out and did not leave me enough strength for some of the obstacles. The bucket nearly killed me, but I finished it! Next time I will follow the training instructions to be better prepared.

What surprised you about your abilities? Were you better/worse at something than you thought you would be?

Angelika: I struggled with balance and being a Yogi, wasn’t expecting that! Just because something looks easy, does not mean it really is easy!

Diana: I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was surprised most by how much strength and energy I had… I was expecting to be smashed. One obstacle that I thought would be a walk in the park for me was all about balance (think Cirque Du Soleil) and I just kept tipping over. It’s good that my dream wasn’t to be a circus performer!

Bill: Having completed the Sprint before, I knew that I could handle most of the challenges. The monkey ropes were the main issue for me in previous races and proved to be so again. This will my area of focus for the next attempt. Once I conquer this obstacle, the rest will be easy!

What did you enjoy most about the event? Would you do it again?

Diana: We completed the Sprint (rather than the Elite race), so there was less competitive pressure, which made it enjoyable. I would definitely do it again. The challenges I faced will help me target areas for improvement. I was wearing my most worn-out runners because of the mud (I threw them away after the race) but I could feel the impact that my shoes had on my performance. I won’t be making that mistake next year!

Angelika: I loved trying all the obstacles. It was really fun and I was very happy as first timer to have the option not to do the penalty burpees. Lucky me!

Bill: The event was challenging both physically and mentally, so just to be able to complete it was very rewarding. I successfully completed 90% of the obstacles, so my aim next year will be to complete all of them within a shorter time frame. Beyond that, our teamwork and the Slayers comradery made it fun. To get the most out of these events, I recommend the following:

  1. Be well prepared: train leading up to the event, know what to wear, what to eat before the race, plan for the event logistics
  2. Have a team plan: stick together, help each other through all the obstacles
  3. Change your roles: motivate yourself and the group leading up to and before the event, lead from the front at times, support from the back at times, coach your team through some of the more challenging obstacles
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A milestone year for Indigenous education

Slade Group is proud to support the Cathy Freeman Foundation in their 10 year anniversary celebrations this year. Last week we hosted an art show to mark ten years of making a difference to Indigenous students, which coincides with our own 50 year anniversary celebrations. Kath Markov provides some insights on the Foundation’s achievements.

This year the Cathy Freeman Foundation will celebrate 10 years of providing educational opportunities and support to children and families of Palm Island in north Queensland.

“I never imagined that we would have the privilege to work with the beautiful and talented children of Palm Island for 10 years! I am grateful to the Palm Island community who have embraced the Foundation and its programs and I look forward to celebrating this incredible milestone,” said Cathy Freeman, Co-founder and Director of the Cathy Freeman Foundation.

The long term partnership between the Cathy Freeman Foundation and the Palm Island community is undoubtedly one of the Foundation’s greatest successes. Ruth Gorringe, Palm Island local and Community Liaison Officer for the Foundation, says “The Cathy Freeman Foundation is special because people from all over Australia donate and they want to see Indigenous education succeed. People in our community know the Foundation is here for our children’s education. We’re here for the long run and for as long as the community want us here.” Ruth has been a part of the Cathy Freeman Foundation team since 2014 and is currently studying a Bachelor of Education.

Celebrating Year 12 Achievement

More Indigenous children are completing Year 12 than ever before and whilst there is still a long way to go in closing the education gap, the Foundation is proud to celebrate and share in the achievements of students from our community partners.

Last year for the first time in Palm Island history 100% of all senior students graduated from Year 12 with a QCE. “We strongly believe that it takes a whole community to educate a child and this year we celebrated the unprecedented outcomes from working together. We recognise the significant support these students received from the Cathy Freeman Foundation on their journey towards completing Year 12,” said David O’Shea, Deputy Principal, Bwgcolman Community School (2016).

All students who graduate from Year 12 receive a personal letter from Cathy Freeman. “We want their education to go beyond school so it is very empowering for the students to receive a letter from Cathy upon completion of school. I feel really proud and emotional knowing the struggles some of them had throughout school including peer pressure and all of the other things that go with it, but they stuck it out.” said Ruth Gorringe.

If you would like to purchase artworks from the recent Slade Group – Cathy Freeman Foundation Art Show, including Wayne Quilliam’s photographs and unique paintings by Tiwi Designs, click here to view the catalogue or contact us for further information. Click here to find out more about the Foundation or to make a donation.

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Our active lunch break

When a shiny new gym opened at the New York end of Collins Street (that’s near Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station), Angelika Langer-Zindel was one of the first members to join-up. It took another six months for her to recruit a work gym buddy, Diana Tanvis Loi. While there are a few fitness junkies amongst us in the workplace, these two colleagues who both work in our Shared Services team (Accounts Receivable and Payroll respectively), are often seen heading off to exercise together at lunchtimes. I asked what motivates them beyond the Healthy Me, Healthy You program we instigated at Slade Group last year.

Why do you choose to work out in-between work?

Angelika: At my local gym I was missing all the fitness classes – there were only one or two classes I could do. If I was late home from work, I missed them altogether. So it’s much more convenient for me to go at lunchtime.

Diana: Same as Angelika, I used to go to 6am classes at my local gym, but it’s just too hard and I started missing my trains to work.

Why go to the gym together?

Diana: At this gym, they have a rock climbing wall facility and it is definitely more fun to climb with a buddy and also safer, as we make sure that each other’s harnesses are secure.

How do you manage to change into your gym gear, then get back into work clothes, as well as fit in a 45 minute class within your lunch hour?

Angelika: There is no time for showers, so we don’t do classes that are too high intensity. A spin class is a definite no. I have short hair, so I don’t have any problems. If you have a complicated haircut, it just doesn’t work!

Diana: Definitely no body combat for me, or I’d sweat. Athleisure is a new trend in fashion – you can wear a hybrid tank top to work out and put a blazer over it to dress it back up for the office. We also have nice change rooms with free towels and showers in our building, but I generally use the facilities at the gym.

Do you miss doing other things at lunchtime? When do you actually eat your lunch?

Angelika: Not really. Doing a lunchtime class is good break; sitting all day is definitely not healthy.

Diana: Most of us only walk a few steps from our desk each day.

Angelika: It means eating at your desk, which is not the best habit, but you have to compromise. I always eat after exercising – if I eat too much before, I feel sick, so it’s good for weight management.

I see a lot people carrying gym bags on their commute. Is fitness amongst corporate types becoming more popular?

Angelika:  I think so. A lot of the classes where we go are fully booked, so it seems that others are sharing the same habits as us.

Diana:  I think more and more deskbound professionals are finding it really unhealthy to be sitting up to 8-10 hours a day. Employers are also becoming more aware of this and allowing flexible work arrangements.

What are some of the less obvious benefits to including exercise in your work schedule?

Diana: I spend a lot less money on shopping since I started going to the gym!

Angelika: That’s right, when you work in the city, you go shopping at lunchtime.

Diana: It’s also a great way to release your pent-up frustration. I don’t think about work at all while I’m exercising and by the time I’m finished I’ve forgotten whatever I was worried about.

Both: We are still recruiting if anyone is interested to join our lunchtime habits!

 

Have you been taking active lunch breaks? What are some of the healthy practices you have incorporated into your work schedule?

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Why corporates should take leadership on social issues

One of the top international accounting firms hosts a networking event to facilitate a graduate mentoring program that supports aspiring LGBTI business professionals. The world’s strongest global law firm brand facilitates a panel discussion on how to progress marriage equality in Australia. A big four bank runs a major advertising campaign to address the gender salary gap and advocates equal pay for women. A major telco (along with another two major banks) introduces a hijab in company colours as part of their corporate uniform.

Why should the likes of EY, Baker & McKenzie, ANZ and Optus care about social issues? Plenty has been written about why a social conscience makes good business sense. You only have to look at the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Diversity and Inclusion policies of any these leading organisations to see they’ve taken a strong proactive stance. EY, for example, says, “Our focus on diversity and inclusiveness is integral to how we serve our clients, develop our people and play a leadership role in our communities. When we act on our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, we maximise the power of our differences to achieve better business results, for ourselves and for our clients.”

It’s not just clever marketing. While there’s some risk for brands associating with politically sensitive subjects, the risk is far greater for organisations who shy away from taking the initiative on important issues. It is proven that organisations who show leadership on social issues:

  • Improve their public perception and increase their public profile
  • Attract, engage and retain the best employees
  • Appeal to a wider customer base and enjoy better relationships with customers

Professionals in private employment make up a significant proportion of the workforce. Our products and services have the potential to reach customers across the entire population. While arguably our views are represented at various levels of government by those representatives we’ve elected, I firmly believe there is an onus in the corporate sector to lead conversations that will shape the kind of world we’d like to work in, and live in.

What evidence have you seen of the commercial and social benefits of your organisation’s approach to corporate social responsibility? How has your organisation demonstrated leadership on a social issue or positively represented your Point of View?

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