A more inclusive workspace

The only reason I dare to write any of this is because Henrique wrote about the positives and negatives of his new workplace.

I have a relatively new job too, since March, and one of the things I struggle most with is that my coworkers are much less "my kind of people" than I used to have around me in the previous company, which unfortunately went bankrupt. They are still nice people and most of them mean well, but I don't feel at home.

Last Friday, during lunch time, I found myself suddenly in a homophobic conversation among the three other coworkers at the table. It was the kind of conversation where straight males find an anecdote from their past where they were confronted with homosexuality, and then distance themselves from it by telling how they rejected it in the moment. The group will then encourage this by confirming they wouldn't have that either, and then someone else can take the turn to tell such an anecdote.

Being in the conversation felt like being in a slow train wreck. I looked up from my phone, wondered what was happening here, but then it not only continued, it worsened, with the anecdotes just piling up. It is very hard for any person to break such a chain, even for allies willing to change the subject, and I as an open gay person (to them too!) just did not how to handle this. When the conversation ended I walked away, did a solitary walk around the block and packed my stuff to work from home the rest of the day.

The reaction of my teamlead was good: we scheduled a meeting with someone from HR. After the meeting, I talked it over with two of the coworkers that same Monday, and with the last coworker yesterday, as he wasn't present anymore on Monday. With this, everything should be fine.

But I notice I still feel bad. To be fair, I felt much better on Monday. The reactions of the first two coworkers were really good and I noticed how completely at ease I worked on Monday afternoon. I knew I belonged, that I could sit there behind that desk, that it was my place and that I was valued. That is a very important feeling.

The third coworker was back on Tuesday, and this is the coworker I have caught with homophobic and racist comments before, so I felt a bit more nervous going into this conversation.

He didn't notice there was something wrong with the topic, and he said he did not have the intention of hurting me. I said I could try to help him by being more clear about when a topic wasn't suitable. He agreed. I said that I am actively withholding parts of myself and my opinions from lunch conversations, because I know he has different political views. He said that yes, he is that way, he likes to ventilate. At the end of the conversation the teamlead asked if I wanted to add anything. I said that for that moment, I did not.

I was already dissatisfied when we walked out of the room. I gave my coworker space to be himself (as I always try to) and hoped he would return the favor. He took the space, but offered none. In a way, I now made it my problem to wait for the next homophobic moment. I now have to be watchful again, because it might happen again – dare I say, will happen again. The first time it will be mild, but if I let it slip, it will come back bigger, until we are at full homophobia and full racism again.

I mean this last part is obviously speculation. But it reflects how I envision the situation to go, and how I lost that feeling of being able to just be, to just focus on my work without having to worry about what conversations are happening around me. Inclusivity is an effort, and it should not be on the shoulders of those who are in some minority.

In the conversation with HR, they said they were alarmed because I said "I have as much right to this job as them". Conversations like the one at lunch are a way to subvert that right for minorities, because it makes them be on guard when the straight white cis males can work with all their focus. Help, I even think I played this down a bit for HR, just because I didn't want them to feel so uncomfortable with the thought of homophobia in their company. It wasn't aimed at me right? Maybe they didn't mean it like that? But no: it was very toxic and it should not have happened. And: it is not my job to educate my coworkers.

I don't exactly know what note I want to end on. I guess I want to just thank you for reading. Trying to understand each other and to see life from their perspective is the best thing we can do in these matters.