Pride Month – The luxury of being you

Pride flag
Pride flag

Ashley, graduate of environmental science, is married with two children. Her fantastic eye for detail landed her the job of looking after our MCerts. Anna, also married with two children, moved from Dublin to Brighton 11 years ago. Her expertise in accountancy and customer services finance positioned her as the candidate of choice to look after our charges and revenues. Ashley, whose family emigrated to Australia, joined Southern Water 15 years ago. His talent propelled him from our frontline customer service to leading the developer and wholesale services team.

What do all three have in common – other than being brilliant, talented people working at Southern Water? They’re all openly gay and living a happy life.

Sadly, it doesn’t always go together. Most LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+) people I spoke to had seen or experienced themselves some form of discrimination in early life – and sometimes beyond. Living in communities where nobody was openly gay exacerbated their feeling of loneliness.

Waking up in the morning and just being you is something that most people take for granted. Imagine though living everyday not being able to express who you are without fear of negative reaction. Imagine struggling to even accept yourself as you are let alone fearing the rejection of those closest and dearest to you. Imagine being at work and feeling like you have to hide your life outside. This is something everyone I talked to has experienced. One said: “At some points early in my life, it felt like being me was the worst thing I could be.”’

But everyone I spoke to also remembered the utter elation and relief of coming out, being able to accept yourself and feeling accepted by others just being you. Many said it was “the very best day of their life” and “a massive weight off their shoulders”. The sheer joy of being you among your friends, family and colleagues is a very special feeling.

These humbling and deeply insightful conversations make you realise the critical importance of inclusivity at a human being level. It hits you right between the eyes. And it runs through our company values in so many ways.

Inclusivity is critically important to how we make decisions and run our business. Some of the biggest disasters in human history have had their origins in groupthink – the most notorious probably being the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. Groupthink is when a group of decision-makers share the same background and the same way of thinking leading to very bad decisions.

By contrast, the greatest companies understand the critical importance of diversity of people and of thoughts. That’s what makes them strong and successful.

It was clear in my conversations that Southern Water has made great strides in creating an open and inclusive environment – an environment where you can truly be yourself and where all that matters is your skills, your experience and your passion to serve our customers and our communities. 

Pride Month is about the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people and the celebration of incredible people irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation. Everyone I spoke to was extremely positive, feeling fully accepted at Southern Water. This is amazing, but I sense this isn’t true for everyone.

It matters that we clearly and unambiguously reinforce our individual and collective commitment to inclusivity every day, that we embrace diversity of thinking and background. It’s just who we are. Southern Water is us. It is the brilliantly talented and committed people within. Being inclusive is what makes us whole.

Lawrence Gosden, incoming CEO