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5 recommendations for businesses to support the mental health of young queer people.

5 recommendations for businesses to support the mental health of young queer people.
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Will Banks (he/him), a Thriving From The Start committee member reflects on a recent panel event discussing what it’s like to be queer* in the first years of your career.

It’s well-established that members of the queer community are more likely to experience mental health issues than the wider population. Discrimination, micro-aggressions and difficult experiences of coming out mean that queer people are on average 2-3 times more likely to report a mental health condition than those outside the community. And we also know that people in their early careers face particular wellbeing challenges. The CMHA’s Time to Act Report showed that nearly 3 in 4 people in their early careers had experienced poor mental health in the past year.

But what is it like to be both queer and in your early career? The Thriving from the Start community recently hosted a virtual panel event exploring this intersectionality, joined by Oscar Hoyle (they/them, Trans in the City), Steph Gallagher (she/her, Bank of England) and Nicole Fernandes (she/her, PwC) and Farimah Darbyshire (she/her, CMHA). The event explored the mental health implications of coming out in the workplace, the language people use to discuss their identities, and the role of queer networks in supporting the mental health of young queer people.

To help support businesses in supporting their young queer people to thrive, we have collated just 5 key takeaways from the discussion with our panelists:

1. Create a “queer-positive” culture

The panel discussed the difficulties around coming out as queer in the first few years of a new job. Even in a supportive environment, queer people may expend a lot of mental energy deciding when to come out for fear of a negative reaction from colleagues. While in reality most queer people will never be met with discrimination in the workplace, previous experiences may lead to a perception that sexual and gender identity should not be discussed in the workplace.

Our panelists agreed that a neutral, discrimination-free environment is not sufficient to support queer people in coming out, and that vocal support, allyship and activism make coming out substantially less difficult.

2. Use the appropriate language used by your young queer people

Our panel discussed the fact that the term “queer” is preferred to LGBTQ+ by many young people. Some consider it to be less prescriptive and more inclusive, as well as avoiding the need for individuals to subscribe to a particular term to describe their identity. However, given the term’s historical usage as a slur, others may be less keen to use this term. Either way, businesses should use the terms they view as most appropriate, upon consulting with queer colleagues.

More broadly, companies should ensure that appropriate language is used to refer to queer people. Normalising sharing pronouns, and ensuring that the correct pronouns are used for all individuals is of utmost importance.

3. Support queer staff networks and advertise them proactively

All of our panelists mentioned that queer or LGBTQ+ staff networks have a transformational impact on their mental health. Staff networks foster a sense of community, and provide a space for queer people to discuss the issues they face in a supportive environment.

These networks should receive central support, and should be visible to all staff. This could include advertising the network proactively to new joiners, ensuring all queer people can benefit from the

4. Amplify the voices of queer people further on in their careers

Many organisations have senior leaders from the queer community, who can serve as an inspiration to younger people. Our panel noted that senior colleagues being actively open about their gender or sexual identity not only provides younger people with role models, but also sets the tone that discussing queer identities is welcome in the workplace.

5. Provide training on queer issues to those outside the community

Organisations should look to provide training on queer identities to all their staff. This can help people outside the community to be allies and actively support young queer people. This might also enable staff to speak up when they witness any discriminatory behaviours.

These 5 recommendations are by no means exhaustive, but should go some way in helping businesses to support their young queer talent. I, and the rest of the TFTS committee, would like to extend huge thanks to the panelists for their openness and insight in what was a fantastic panel event.

*For the purposes of this blog, the terms LGBTQ+ and queer are used interchangeably.