Celebrating 50 Years of Switchboard: A Conversation on Queer Workspaces

Workplace wellness
Estimated read time: 3 mins
Published: 26/06/2024

Switchboard is celebrating 50 years of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. With London Pride happening this weekend, we thought it was the perfect time to sit down with a few members of the Switchboard team, Henry (Volunteer and Training Manager), Bob (Fundraising Manager) and Allison (Communications Manager).

We wanted to understand what the world of work means to them as employees at a queer charity, how they’ve seen workplaces evolve, and what they believe more needs to be done to achieve true equality for queer people at work. 

How has the world of work evolved for the queer community over the last 50 years?

Henry: We can see from our logbook entries that the queer community has historically faced significant discrimination in the workplace—people being sacked for their sexuality, and LGBTQIA+ employees not feeling confident being their authentic selves. While there have been changes to our freedoms and protections, there’s still work to be done. Queer people need to be able to be their true selves, with allies and role models in positions of authority. Working for Switchboard is incredibly humbling and energising, especially seeing the dedication of our volunteers.

Bob: Since 1974, Switchboard has recorded anonymous notes on every conversation, now housed in the Bishopsgate archives. These notes reveal thousands of stories of people terrified of coming out at work, particularly during periods such as Section 28. Many lost their jobs or faced career limitations. While legal protections have improved, fears still linger. However, it’s fantastic to see many people now out and thriving at work, driving incredible change through internal networks and organisations.

Allison: People’s comfort levels being out at work still vary by industry. Many still don’t feel able to be their authentic selves in certain fields. Working at Switchboard, a bit of a queer utopia, is special. Celebrating 50 years of Switchboard has been powerful, considering the millions of lives touched by our volunteers. Being part of ensuring this legacy continues is a real privilege.

What essential resources and support should companies provide to ensure the well-being and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ employees?

Henry: We need to think about allyship and awareness training for all employees, and equity programs to promote LGBTQIA+ people into senior roles.

Bob: Organisations can make a huge impact on well-being. Active Pride networks, well-resourced and with senior leadership sponsorship, are crucial. Regular feedback sessions and a culture of active listening are also essential.

Allison: Displaying pronouns, using inclusive language, and ensuring policies consider LGBTQIA+ circumstances (like medical leave for trans employees and adoption leave) are important steps.

What advice would Switchboard offer to workplaces seeking to enhance their LGBTQIA+ inclusion efforts and cultivate a more diverse workforce?

Henry: Be honest about where you’re starting from, your mission, and motivations. Centre the experiences of LGBTQIA+ employees, invest in allyship, and training initiatives.

Bob: We’ve delivered workshops on creating a strong culture of allyship and active listening. It’s important  to feel supported in the workplace. Organisations should actively seek ways to improve and listen to their employees’ needs.

Allison: Get Switchboard in to deliver a talk or training session. Actively listen to and seek feedback from your LGBTQIA+ employees.

How important is LGBTQIA+ representation in leadership roles for fostering workplace inclusivity?

Henry: It’s crucial—we need to see people like us to know opportunities are open to us. Working under Stephanie (Switchboard’s CEO) is inspiring.

Bob: Representation at all levels is critical for fostering an open and inclusive culture. In a previous job, a senior leader openly talking about his husband created  a welcoming environment for me.

Allison: If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. LGBTQIA+ leaders help shape inclusive cultures and can understand  how to make workplaces safer and more inclusive.

How can employees actively contribute to fostering a culture of inclusivity and support for their LGBTQIA+ colleagues?

Henry: Be aware of privilege and intersectionality. Call out discrimination, amplify queer voices, and avoid using allyship for self-promotion.

Bob: Every colleague has a role in making the workplace safe and happy. Sometimes it’s about listening and learning, other times it’s about challenging inappropriate behaviour.

Allison: Create a culture that isn’t hetero/cis-normative. Don’t assume everyone is straight or cis until they come out.

What future trends in LGBTQIA+ acceptance, support, and representation do you hope to see in the workplace?

Henry: More senior LGBTQIA+ leaders, a reduction in workplace discrimination, and improvements for trans and non-binary colleagues.

Bob: We hope to see even more collaboration between groups, with colleagues feeling able to be themselves and work together on supportive changes.

Why is it important for Switchboard to collaborate with organisations like Work.Life? How has this collaboration impacted your mission?

Bob: Collaborating with Work.Life helps us reach more people who might need our services. Work.Life’s support has allowed us to better support our volunteers and ensure our funds go directly towards our mission.

Allison: Work.Life’s approach to partnering with Switchboard is fantastic. They utilise their resources to make a big impact, like providing advertising space for Pride and physical space for our volunteers. Switchboard’s collaboration with organisations like Work.Life is vital in creating more inclusive workspaces and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. As we celebrate 50 years, we look forward to continued progress and partnerships that drive positive change.

Check out Switchboard and get involved with this years Pride celebrations at Work.Life.

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