Simone Shephard is a trainee plumber at Sovereign. She explains how the housing association convinced her it was a good place to work and what Pride Month means to her
This month is National Pride Month and I was asked if I’d write something about what it means to me. My affinity with this month has evolved over the years – from my time of feeling ashamed of being gay to becoming comfortable and confident in who I am today. In the past, I’ve enjoyed going on marches and attending events for Pride with friends. Pride provided me a space to feel ‘normal’.
These days, I don’t attend too many Pride events, especially now I live in quite a rural place, but I support my community in other ways. I am now proud of being gay and I no longer hide who I am inside and outside of work. In my last job, I worked in a primary school, so I hope I gave the children I supported a positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community. I am also pleased to be given this opportunity to talk about Pride as a representative of Sovereign. It is great to feel comfortable in myself, but also safe in the workplace to be who I am.
However, I know that sadly, although I feel safe in expressing my sexuality, that doesn’t mean that others do, which is why Pride Month is so important. Until everyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ feels safe and secure, then Pride Month needs to continue to strive for parity for my community.
“It wasn’t that other places said ‘don’t come here if you’re a woman, don’t come here if you’re black, don’t come here if you’re LGBTQ+’, but they didn’t expressly say ‘please do come here’, either”
When I started work at Sovereign last year, I had been through an incredibly difficult time – my wife and I had just lost our son and things were pretty tough. I decided I wanted to make some changes in my life, giving up my job as a teaching assistant in pursuit of trying something new. I wanted to do something practical and hands-on, but aside from DIY at home, I didn’t really have the experience.
I started looking at apprenticeships and Sovereign’s website immediately stood out. It wasn’t that other places said “don’t come here if you’re a woman, don’t come here if you’re black, don’t come here if you’re LGBTQ+”, but they didn’t expressly say “please do come here”, either.
Sovereign’s website was very clear. It said: “Your values are what matter.” It added: “If you’re willing to work hard, be adaptable and accountable, and pitch in as part of a team, then that’s what we’re looking for.”
But it also said, quite clearly: “We want to increase the number of women in trades.” There were women on their website talking about what it meant to be part of the trades team; Sovereign had won awards for its apprenticeship. I was given a practical introduction to what being at Sovereign might be like, by a female carpenter, completing the tasks in a relaxed, welcoming environment.
“I want the housing sector to know that giving people the confidence and the reassurance that they can be open – if they want to be – and the ability to be who they are at work is important”
When it came to the recruitment of women, they led by showing me what Sovereign was. And that’s how I realised that I could help, too. If I showed myself – my skin colour, my gender, my sexuality, but also my work ethic, my willingness, my abilities – I’d present a complete picture that others could see, follow and understand.
I want the housing sector to know that giving people the confidence and the reassurance that they can be open – if they want to be – and the ability to be who they are at work is important. It’s about colleagues being aware that if someone does talk to them freely about their sexuality or their race, it might have taken quite a lot of courage for them to take that step. In fact, we can all make one easy change – putting pronouns on our signatures. It gets things out in the open, without it being a big deal.
The flipside is it can also be about people who are BAME or LGBTQ+ accepting that in learning, people may not ask the right questions in exactly the right way. It’s important we all work together to create greater understanding and break down barriers.
If an organisation treats all workers and residents with respect and if others stand up and say something when they spot racism, homophobia, transphobia or sexism, we’re on the right track. It’s about creating an environment where honesty and openness is possible, and everyone can feel proud just to be themselves.
So – Pride Month: what does it mean to me? It means that until everyone has a nurturing environment and can be seen and respected as an equal, then our job is not done. Until then, Pride Month will continue to provide an important platform and voice for the LGBTQ+ community.
Meanwhile, I am proud of the person that I am and I am proud to play my part in Pride Month.
Simone Shephard, trainee plumber, Sovereign