A Commentary by Wendy Ferguson
When you work in the area of Human Resources you inadvertently become involved with every people issue imaginable. The broad and impersonal definition of HR is ‘the dealing with personnel of an organization, especially when regarded as a significant asset’. I certainly agree with that, but to me it has always been much more because every person comes with a history, complex emotions and personal challenges along with their neatly organized resume containing their job experience, education and professional accomplishments.
About a year ago, I was very moved by an incredible story of the journey of a transgender woman who had faced all sorts of challenges. I was inspired to write the following on my flight back from northern Alberta:
I sat, teary-eyed, with a 65-year old transgender woman in a remote oilfield office today. At that moment she wasn’t a label or in a parade or someone on the evening news. She was a real person in front of me. A survivor from a long road of pain and loss. Imagine working macho jobs in a macho industry for decades and being brave enough to make that transition after a lifetime of knowing you were someone else.
“Most people abandon you”, she said. “Did you know that 50% of transgenders are suicidal? Most of my family and friends left me ten years ago when I made the decision to be myself. They just leave.” Her dog ultimately saved her with unconditional love. Imagine that…the dog pulled her out of her darkness.
She said “confronted with something like this…imagine putting all your friends and family and colleagues in a room and opening all the doors and windows…who would stay and who would run? People you were sure would stay end up running and those you’d never think would stay surprise you. And those are your real people.”
She went on to tell me about the mentorship work she continues to do. How she is thinking of going back to university, maybe writing a book. What an inspiration!
She got me thinking a lot. It’s so easy to judge an issue or people at a distance, strangers on TV and social media. We judge or fear because we don’t understand. But when a person is vulnerable, right in front of you it’s an entirely different story. I’m not going to lie, I can’t relate to her world, but I don’t even need to. I could relate to her as a person. We’ve all been through hard times and the problems differ, but much is the same. Our dogs will always save us and our real people stay.
I found an article published in the Houston Chronicle from 2016 and unsurprisingly, “across the Texas oil and gas industry, LGBT workers struggle to navigate the workplace where acceptance, openness and respect can vary widely. Despite gaining marriage rights and growing mainstream acceptance, some LGBT workers in the energy business are confronted with many of the same professional pressures and doubts that persisted 20 years ago”. I suspect that we face the same challenges in many Alberta workplaces. Companies may issue policies on anti-discrimination, equal employment and human rights, but are these policies upheld when there continues to be a general stigma? We know that our Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on the protected grounds of gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, but that certainly doesn’t mean that this is commonplace in the industry.
The truth is I haven’t been able to find too much in the way of previously written articles (except for political rhetoric) about this issue in our energy sector. I know it exists because I am exposed to this issue often in the work that I do. I know people who have lived in fear of exposure and workplace consequences in the industry for decades. Perhaps it’s something people don’t tend to write or talk about, but I’d be interested to hear from those who have been touched by this issue (confidentially of course). In the meantime, I’d will share a few resources for employees who face challenges and organizations that are ready to commit to a culture of diversity and inclusion:
- Alberta LGBT Chamber of Commerce site: ab-lgbt.com. This organization claims to help to build a strong Alberta economy supported by, and supportive of diverse communities. As a business owner, why not connect with them?
- Government of Alberta Bullying Helpline: 1-888-456-2323. This line is for all Albertans in all bullying situations. It is available from noon to 8pm, 7 days/week.
- Government of Alberta Bullying Helpline Chat: alberta.ca/bullying-find-supports
- Highly rated book written by John Browne, the former CEO of BP, about his own difficult journey in the oil industry: The Glass Closet, part memoir and part social criticism.
- And if nothing else at all, I recommend you tap into this report that covers the entire issue including the fear of discrimination and workplace training: https://ccdi.ca/media/1070/20150528-report-lgbt-inclusion-in-the-workplace-en.pdf
The best thing that can occur in our industry is more communication and training about diversity and inclusion. Some companies are taking the initiative, others are claiming to do so, but not wholeheartedly living up to their claims, and others haven’t even broached the subject. I sincerely hope that this piece gets people talking.
Wendy Ferguson is a Human Resources Professional and owner of Stick People Solutions (SPS), providing simple, flexible and effective solutions for complex people issues. SPS specializes in employment legislation, policy, workplace investigations and recruiting solutions. Please follow Wendy Ferguson on LinkedIn for future articles about HR in Alberta.