To celebrate Pride Month, we’re shining a light on some of our LGBTQIA+ community at WiseTech. Charlotte West, WiseTech’s new Sustainability Specialist, has spent a decade working in sustainable business, helping companies deliver social and environmental impact.
Passionate about making a difference in the world and as someone who came out later in life, we spoke with Charlotte about what Pride Month means to her, the importance of Allyship and what companies can do to create an inclusive culture.
Can you tell us about your career journey so far and how you came to join WiseTech?
I've been at WiseTech for a few months now in the ESG team. The team reports into Andrew Cartledge our CFO but will be collaborating with teams right across the business, building on existing initiatives and passion to strengthen our environment, social and governance (ESG) performance as we continue to grow as a company.
Social justice is a theme running through my career and matters to me personally. I've done a masters in sustainable development, and I’m quite passionate about making a difference in the world.
I believe that what's good for the planet is good for us and that in turn is good for business.
Pride Month is celebrated every June, can you share what this means to you?
Pride Month is a time that marks the Stonewall uprising in New York in 1969 where gay, lesbian and trans people finally stood up to years of discrimination and police brutality in and around the Stonewall Inn which was an LGBT venue.
Pride is about reflecting on the rights that we’ve won but also reflecting on the discrimination and challenges that many people still face in other parts of the world. Apart from the celebrations and parades, for many gay people, Pride is an opportunity to come together and think about what more can be done.
I only came out a few years ago but I often attended London Pride before I was out to show my support for LGBTQ people. Now it’s a time for me to read books, watch films, listen to music and think about what a brilliant, vibrant community we have, but also, what we can do to help others and more marginalised groups within the LGBT community.
Can you share a bit about your own coming out story and what your experience was like?
I'd had a boyfriend since I was at university, and I only came out in my early thirties which felt quite late to me at the time. I was happy in my life and I had a great community around me, but I always suspected there was something amiss.
There were a few big events in my life at the time. My dad passed away, I took a year out to go travelling, and those events propelled me to think about my life and make a change. I separated from my long-term partner which was really difficult for both of us, but in the long run was the right decision.
I feel so much more at ease with myself now without this big thing in the back of my mind. It was a slow process over a number of years, and it wasn't something I was even conscious about really. I wasn't thinking, “oh, I'm gay and I've got this massive secret”, it was more that I always suspected it was there, but I never really acknowledged it.
But there's no right or wrong way to come out. Everyone's coming out story is different, and people should take however long they need to feel accepting of themselves. I suppose my only regret would be that I didn't listen to my gut enough, and I wish I'd been bolder a little earlier.
How has seeing and interacting with others in the LGBTQIA+ community helped you with your own journey?
In the last 5-10 years there have been more and more high-profile gay women in all walks of life and that helped me to come out. That's why I'm doing this interview, because I feel a bit of responsibility to be visible and to share my story. I think if you can see people from all walks of life being out it definitely helps with acceptance.
There's so much pressure to get everything right by a certain age, to have the house and the partner and be on the right career path. Sometimes we feel like it’s too late to make a change, and that's so wrong. Often it’s ourselves which impose these self-limiting beliefs, but obviously society puts these pressures on us all.
As much as gay people are accepted in society nowadays, there's still a lot of social stigma associated to being gay and an undercurrent of difference. I think it's important that we instil confidence and self-assuredness in young people, to help them accept who they are, but also a society which is tolerant and equal
We need a society that has gay people being visible in business, sport and media, because you can't be what you can't see.
How has your life changed since coming out?
I moved from the UK to Australia last year with my Australian fiancé, so that never would have happened if I hadn’t come out and met her! I've grown and made new friends. I've lived on my own, and I've lived with new people and reconnected with old friends. There were some gay girls who I used to work with, and when I came out they took me under their wing and we became really good friends. It sounds really corny, but there is a whole new community out there for you.
My dad passing away helped me to realize that life does go on, and you've got to live your life fully, otherwise what's the point? Seeing the way my mum thrived in spite of all of the loss gave me confidence that actually you can make a good life for yourself even with change.
I'm definitely less concerned with what people think of me now. I'm more assertive and I'm more easy going. I’m more resilient, more balanced and flexible to change. I’ve realized that most things don't have to be the end of the world and that things always work out.
Did you feel supported when you decided to come out?
My family and friends were amazing, to the extent where I thought “why didn't I do this earlier?” I'd actually changed my job about a month after I came out which was a complete coincidence. The culture at my new workplace was so supportive that from day dot, I decided I was going to be my true self. Of course it was nerve wracking, but it was just part of my identity at work and no one ever questioned it.
My previous job didn’t have a particularly supportive culture, so I think if I had stayed there I would’ve kept it to myself. I was going through a difficult time and wasn't able to bring my full self to work, and it can be hard to separate home life and work life sometimes.
At previous workplaces there were quite a few gay people that I'm still friends with now. While I didn’t know it at the time, they normalized being gay for me.
How important is it to be your most authentic self at work?
I appreciate that as a cis, white woman, I don't face the same challenges day-to-day compared to say a gay person of color, or trans or nonbinary. My sexuality doesn't really come into the picture. It’s only when I'm talking about my personal life at work, that’s when it’s nice to be able to refer to my female partner without someone’s look of shock and surprise.
Thankfully at WiseTech everyone's been totally accepting. What we need to avoid is people feeling uncomfortable to ask you questions and you feeling uncomfortable about sharing. We have colleagues we need to connect with to work effectively together and if you're not really being yourself, you're not going to be fully present at work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to come out at work or be themselves at work, but is scared to?
It's a totally personal decision and there's no obligation for anyone to feel like they should come out, it’s up to the individual and what they feel comfortable with.
Everyone's coming out story is different and people take whatever time they need to accept themselves, but studies have shown that when people are out and feel truly themselves at work, their mental health is improved and they're more productive.
I'd start by thinking about whether the fear is based in reality. Obviously there’s societal pressure, but is it a real fear because of an attitude that you know exists or is it your own perception and your own worries?
There’s a real chance that your colleagues won’t be fazed at all and be supportive about it. Speaking from my own experience, a lot of it is just in your own head rather than what other people think. In the right environment, work can be a great place to experiment with being different, more real version of yourself apart from your usual family or social circles.
Why is it important for companies to be diverse and inclusive?
WiseTech is founded on innovation and people are the lifeblood of our company – so being able to attract and retain great talent is essential for business success. We know that younger people in particular want to work for companies that are purpose-driven and inclusive.
Investors are also increasingly recognizing that diverse companies perform better. There are studies which show female-dominated boards often do better financially and having diversity of thought allows you to understand your customers and navigate the changing needs of the market. Demographics are changing globally and it's important for businesses to reflect the communities they operate within and serve.
How do you think companies can be more supportive and inclusive of the LGBT community?
Visibility is really important – whether that's having internal employee networks, champions at a senior level, giving LGBTQ people the platform to speak at events or representing the company.
A key step is reviewing core business policies to make sure that they are inclusive for LGBTQ people. This can mean ensuring workplace bullying and harassment policies refer to homophobia, and that parental leave policies are inclusive for people who are in same sex partnerships.
Where possible, the language in your workplace should be neutral and should not assume that someone's partner is the opposite sex. Learning and training are key areas for businesses to work on, such as inviting your employees to training sessions on inclusive language and allyship training.
Recruitment is another important factor, which could include participating in LGBTQ career fairs and making sure that job adverts clarify we're a LGBTQ friendly organization.
Lastly, the senior leaders in an organization play an important role. You need the champions at a leadership level to work with employees to drive change and influence policy, listening to grassroots suggestions from staff to keep ideas flowing and hear what it’s like on the ground.
What does Allyship mean to you and what advice would you give to people on how to be a good Ally?
Some people will have a higher status in society and have more opportunity, so Allyship is about using your privilege to help people who are in a less privileged position, across class, religion, race, gender, sexuality.
Allyship is about educating yourself and understanding the differences faced by different people. The challenges faced by lesbians are different to the challenges faced by trans people and so on. Understanding what the different terms and language means, such as non-binary and just having a Google, educating yourself and then thinking about your own biases can be helpful.
I’d also say that no one’s expecting you to get it all right, so don’t be afraid to be humble and vulnerable. Even as a gay person myself, I feel overwhelmed by all the changes in acceptable language. It's okay to get things wrong as long as it comes from a place of kindness. It's better to get things wrong and try than to not try at all. It can be so tempting to shut down but at the end of the day, it's not really about you.
If you make a mistake, don’t make a big deal out of it! Just correct yourself and move on, rather than making a long winded apology which can just make things worse! Building a culture of learning, growing and supporting one another is more important than getting every detail right.
Day-to-day, it’s often automatic to assume someone’s gender identity or the gender of their partner so just taking an extra moment to think and use more neutral language until they’ve spoken can be a really simple but positive way of helping people feel included.
The most important thing of course is calling out injustices and discrimination if you see them, but only if it feels safe to do so. If you do witness an attack or a slur, please call that out and say to people, “hey, that's not on. I don't think that's the right language to use. I don't think that's cool.” I know it's awkward and no one wants to be that person, but it’s important to use your privilege to step up and be an Ally.