A headshot of a young man with dark hair smiling at the camera. He is Derek Hughes from BMS.
Derek Hughes. Image: City Headshots Dublin

How can companies support their LGBTQ employees? Ask them

29 Jun 2020

Bristol Myers Squibb’s Derek Hughes spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about his work leading the company’s Pride Alliance and how other companies can create inclusive workplaces.

Derek Hughes is a QA laboratory operations specialist at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS). He also leads the company’s Pride Alliance, a global people and business resource group that aims to create an environment that allows staff to bring their authentic selves to work each day.

‘When you bring your authentic self to work, you have more time and energy to shine at the job you’re doing’

What is your role at BMS and what does it involve?

I work as a QA laboratory operations specialist in the quality assurance laboratory operations group. This is the department that works with the quality control lab supporting their activities, and the group provides a quality oversight.

I work on a range of different activities including instrument qualification, change controls, technical transfers, laboratory investigations. My role involves reviewing and approving technical documents to ensure regulatory compliance, ensure best practices.

What does your work leading the Pride Alliance at BMS involve?

Leading the Pride Alliance resource group is a great part of my job. Myself and a team meet regularly to discuss events and initiatives we would like to bring to BMS Ireland. In addition to walking in the Dublin city Pride parade, we also brought in a speaker from TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) to speak to us about issues facing transgender people in Ireland.

This was a great opportunity for us to educate ourselves and we updated our signage on our single-occupancy bathrooms to be more inclusive and to call out their use is for all genders. For someone ‘covering’ at work or not feeling they can use the bathroom of their gender, we reminded everyone these bathrooms exist onsite and are for use by anyone.

We actively create a visibility around the sites, encouraging people to show their allyship using branded items. When you come into our office spaces, you will see pride flags up at desks, and in meetings people will have stickers declaring themselves as allies. These initiatives actively reduce a need for someone to cover in the work environment, allowing people to feel comfortable in speaking about their partners or their lives without the fear of being outed. They know already they are speaking with an ally – allowing each person to spend their energy discussing ideas and innovations.

Why are initiatives such as the Pride Alliance important for companies?

Initiatives like Pride Alliance are hugely important and beneficial for companies. I think they act in a twofold way. For members of the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace, they act as a beacon of inclusion. They help support and raise the visibility for LGBTQ+ people. I have had a number of people who have told me BMS is the first company they felt they could come out professionally and be an engineer, a scientist, a specialist and also be themselves.

The feedback was that because the Pride Alliance resource group is visible and not just accepted but embraced, they felt safe enough to come out. This is in no way solely based on the work of the resource group, this level of acceptance comes right from the top of our leaders. The level of support, encouragement and engagement the senior leaders provide is what makes this group so effective and worthwhile.

The second reason these resource groups are a huge benefit to companies is because they provide education and support for people who are either silent allies or don’t know so much about LGBTQ+ issues – but also that LGBTQ+ talent will consider a company like Bristol Myers Squibb for their career and as a place of work.

The resource group tries to represent everyone as much as possible, and a group of parents of LGBTQ+ people within BMS have come together to form a support group called FLOAT (family and loved ones advisory team). The group is to be there for colleagues who, like themselves, have someone in their life that falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.

Is STEM a positive field in terms of LGBTQ acceptance?

I think STEM is getting stronger and stronger in terms of LGBTQ+ talent and community. I know a lot of work has been completed in Bristol Myers Squibb by both the Pride Alliance and diversity and inclusion teams to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community feels accepted, visible and that representation of LGBTQ+ people across the industry is increased.

Younger people coming in expect to see this, and this is the main difference from when I started my career. Younger generations grew up where LGBTQ+ people have always been part of the community, they see successful people who are LGBTQ+ and have never known when people did not feel comfortable to be ‘out’ or had to hide if they were LGBTQ+.

I think we have still work to do, but the speed in which LGBTQ+ people in Bristol Myers Squibb are brought to the forefront, whose stories are told, who are represented at all levels of the organisation means we’re definitely on the right track. I think over the next 10 years we will see the levels of diversity, inclusion and engagement soar.

Has there been any one person in your career to date that has inspired you in leading the Pride Alliance?

I think the senior leaders in BMS Ireland help and inspire me when leading Pride Alliance, most especially the sponsor. They have been very active in the resource group, very supportive throughout all stages of setting it up. The senior leaders have made time to ensure they are in attendance for any speakers we invite onsite. They have allowed me to present our diversity and inclusion initiatives at various town hall meetings, and I have had the chance to present the ongoing Pride Alliance initiatives to various senior leaders throughout the organisation.

This is the type of behaviour that fosters an inclusive environment. These senior leaders are inspiring because they not only talk about the principles of inclusion but they practise them. Each person is respected, supported and listened to throughout all levels of BMS Ireland, and I find it inspiring. If I am finding it challenging or need to run ideas by anyone to move an initiative forward, these are the people I would turn to.

What advice would you give to other companies that don’t know how best to show support for their LGBTQ employees?

My advice would be to ask them. When we started the Pride Alliance chapter in Ireland, we started our journey by educating ourselves. We brought speakers in to talk, educate and generate discussion. We had speakers talk to us about how to be a better ally to our colleagues and ask ourselves is there more we could do.

One of our goals is to create an environment where people feel that it is safe to come out and be their authentic selves. I can wholly and confidently say that the environment created at BMS Ireland supports this. If someone covers at work, that is OK as they may not be ready to come out, but we have an environment and culture set up that when they are ready, they will be treated fairly, equally and with respect and supported.

Are there any common mistakes you’d tell companies to be aware of and avoid?

I would say don’t start on the journey without partnership and collaboration from your LGBTQ+ community. They need to be a part of your process and plan to truly understand what supports they need, and you should consider.

What advice would you give to members of the LGBTQ community starting out in their career?

When you bring your authentic self to work, you have more time and energy to shine at the job you’re doing.

Know that there are plenty of LGBTQ+ people and allies around you and refer to them for career advice and ask about their journeys.

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