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Out there - Why inclusivity is good for planning

Yohanna Weber and Kadine James, committee members with the LGBT+ professional network Planning Out, discuss the case for diversity in the planning workplace.

It is worth reflecting on – and celebrating – the extent to which LGBT issues have gained visibility and recognition in the professional world in the last 20 years, write Yohanna Weber (left) and Kadine James (below). More large corporations than ever have internal LGBT networks, diversity champions, participate in events like Gay Pride and seek Stonewall rankings.  You might say that the principle of being LGBT in the workplace is gaining acceptance on a macro business level.

However, Stonewall research still indicates some fairly startling attitudes in the workplace - a quarter (26 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bi workers are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation, and nearly half (42 per cent) of trans people are not living permanently in their preferred gender role and stated they are prevented from doing so because they fear it might threaten their employment status.

"Opportunities for personal networking and professional development of LGBT people can be much more effective and accessible when conducted in an environment that has already broken down the barrier of sexual orientation or identification"

Clearly, then, on a micro level there is work to be done, and we believe that there is a need for a 'second wave' of LGBT rights, the next battleground if you like, which is not just acceptance of the existence of LGBT people in the workplace, but the creation of an ongoing culture of openness and tolerance that embraces these differences and sees the value that can bring to productivity and profitability.

We also believe that opportunities for personal networking and professional development of LGBT people can be much more effective and accessible when conducted in an environment that has already broken down the barrier of sexual orientation or identification.

Implicit of course is the extension of this to other diversity areas such as women in the workplace and BMEA in the workplace. Kadine James (left), diversity champion at 3D solutions firm Hobs Studio and Planning Out committeee member, says: "There is still much work to be done within the workplace, around working towards a wider agenda which incorporates policies that champion equality and acceptance along with recognising the importance of being able to be true to yourself when you come to work.  It's not about asking for special treatment for being LGBT, or female, or a different race; it's to do with promoting a culture of acceptance that unites our various causes and celebrates difference."

Organisations like OUTstanding are of course already doing an amazing job of tackling these attitudes in the larger corporate world, but the planning industry is much more niche, with many small employers, or medium-sized businesses which have simply grown quickly and without the policies and strategy in place internally to develop their culture of diversity alongside their business growth.

Therefore it is almost impossible to measure the extent to which younger or newer members to the profession feel that it is a welcoming and accepting environment for them to be out in. There is a hidden cost to this which not only affects the bottom line of a business but its culture, staff retention and job satisfaction.

Normalising difference

Planning Out was set up specifically by Simon Brooksbank and Rob Krzyszowski to seek to 'normalise' being LGBT in planning workplaces and the wider industry, and to provide genuine professional and social networking opportunities to connect with fellow LGBT members and straight allies in and around the planning profession.

In the longer term, we aim to encourage more LGBT+ people to consider planning and its related fields as an attractive career choice due to its enhanced reputation for inclusivity and acceptance. This will widen the pool of talent from which future planners will emerge.

We think that the incredible response to what we are doing with Planning Out shows that there is a real need and appetite for this 'second wave', and that planning as an industry is doing its part to normalise being LGBT at work, no matter what you do. We now have over 200 members, and have had three events so far, each with on average 60/70 professionals in attendance. We were honoured to have a parliamentary reception in January with Helen Hayes MP (a town planner) as our guest speaker, alongside Stephen Wilkinson, the president of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

"The bottom line is that people perform better when they can be themselves"

Later this year we are excited to have a City Hall event planned with James Murray, London's deputy mayor for housing and residential development, as well as Amy Lamé (comedian and London 'night czar')  as our guest speakers on protecting LGBT venues.

We are also signed up to the Diversity Speaker Pledge to ensure that our panels are balanced with men and women represented. This is reflective in our committee and membership which has a healthy balance and men and women from across planning-related industries.

Kadine says it simply makes business sense to have diversity in the workplace: "The bottom line is that people perform better when they can be themselves.  At Planning Out we believe that by working towards environments that enable people to bring their whole selves to work, including their sexual orientation, you are in turn promoting best practice and creating much healthier environments for people to be more creative, inventive and ultimately more productive at work.

Being LGBT isn't about who we sleep with - it's about how we create families, who we socialise with, how we present ourselves and connect with the people around us and importantly who we choose to love. Being LGBT is at the core of our identity, we can shine more brightly when we can be who we are in every aspect of our lives.

Yohanna Weber is a partner in planning at law firm Fieldfisher LLP. Kadine James is business development manager and diversity champion at Hobs Studios. Both sit on the committee of Planning Out.


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