WHEN Alexander Legaree started working at a mine in Canada for BHP Billiton, he enjoyed the job until his supervisor found out that he was gay.
“It took leaders from other areas that recognised what was going on to step in and support me.
“After everything was done and the dust had settled, the Asset President apologised to me for what had happened and explained that that’s not who BHP Billiton was.”
While the increased visibility of the LGBTI community has led to greater acceptance, the workplace can still prove to be homophobic, particularly in blue collar industries.
However, a number of high-profile companies have begun tackling discrimination and homophobia in the workplace to ensure all employees feel safe and accepted.
BHP Billiton recently became a member of Pride in Diversity, and established the company’s Global Inclusion and Diversity Council to set the strategic direction and diversity priorities.
“My incident highlighted something fundamental to me about the company discrimination for any reason was not tolerated and I could be myself,” Legaree said.
“Our CEO Andrew Mackenzie formed the council to shape our long-term strategy on LGBTI, gender, and Indigenous equality in our company and I’m fortunate enough to be part of that council to bring my perspective and my voice to the table.
“It’s not been all smooth sailing and there have been bumps along the way, but as I connect with more of my colleagues it’s become clear that I need to show the same kind of leadership that was shown to me and help make everyone feel welcome here.”
Energy giant AGL has also recently been part of the push towards equality and LGBTI-inclusion in the workplace, both in its white and blue-collar sectors.
Two years ago it launched AGL Shine, an LGBTI inclusion strategy that works to contribute to building an inclusive and supportive workplace for its sexuality and gender diverse employees.
The company also recently partnered with both Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival and Sydney’s Mardi Gras Film Festival.
AGL Energy group operations general manager Doug Jackson said the company wanted to connect with the LGBTI community in a more substantive way.
“I’ve heard positive things from both people who identify as LGBTI and people who are straight allies, they see it as symbolic of our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” he said.
“A personal friend of mine asked me what I was doing one weekend, and I told him I was heading to the Mardi Gras march — he’s nearly 60 years old and was a bit uncomfortable with it, but he got the chance to hear and learn things he’d never had a chance to think about.
“In the last two years we’ve been on a big journey with Shine, literally shining a light on the LGBTI community, and it’s been employee-led and employee-driven.”
Jackson said their blue collar sector in the mines and stations were far more traditional and male-driven, with over 600 employees at their AGL Loy Yang asset alone.
He said that while the culture can be different in those areas, they’ve done a lot of work in the past year to promote diversity and acceptance. “We’ve undertaken programs to talk to local workers about LGBTI issues and that’s showing up quite well,” he said.
“We had [Victorian Labor upper house MP] Harriet Shing come in as a guest speaker to talk about her experiences and share her journey, and people found that helpful.
“The Loy Yang station mine is moving past blue collar towards acceptance of LGBTI people… there have been issues in the past around bullying, intimidation, and harassment, but we haven’t really heard of that in the past one or two years.”
Jackson highlighted one particular worker as an example of how their blue collar sites have grown increasingly more accepting.
“In one of our other blue collar operations in rural Victoria we have a trans person who moved there because of her desire to move there as a lifestyle choice,” he said.
“She’s been very accepted by the blue collar workers, especially given many of them are older men in their 50s and 60s… she can be very open about her identity in the community and around those she works with.”
The Change Lead Manager in AGL’s group operations, Simon Fieldhouse, said his experience working with the company has been an evolution.
“I feel that I can bring my whole self to work – especially when it is so well sup- ported at senior levels of management,” he said.
“I’m out at work, choosing to share parts of my personal life with those whom I have built a connection with… it feels not only safe to do so, but just the way we do things now and a cultural norm.”
Fieldhouse added that seeing AGL involved in both Midsumma and Pride March helped make his identity feel welcome and accepted.
“Attending Midsumma Carnival was a great opportunity for Doug to meet my partner and to experience Midsumma,” he said.
“And to march in Pride March with AGL and have such great support from the blue collar part of the business spoke volumes in terms of support.”