Jennifer McAllister is Personal Assistant to the Head of Residential Agency at JLL. She is also Treasurer of their LGBTQ+ network Building Pride.
Can you please tell us about your coming out experience (s)?
My coming out experience happened over many years, when I struck up the courage to do it.
I grew up near Belfast in Northern Ireland, having gone to an all girls’ school, but it wasn’t until I moved to England for university that I confirmed what I suppose deep down I already knew. I told no one at university, not even my close friends, which mentally was a real challenge and still tried to give me another chance for fear of being outcast. I kept it to myself until I was 24 when I finally confided in one of my best friends while we were on holiday. She was amazingly supportive, which gave me the readiness to tell others.
I kept a relationship secret for three years until I came out to family individually, but it turned out that I am terrible at keeping secrets and they had guessed all along. All were incredibly supportive and assured me that it would never change any relationship I had with them and that all that mattered was that I was happy. My mother found it harder to accept because I had boyfriends before and this wasn’t the path she had envisioned I would take. She was also worried life would become more difficult for me. Also, I highlighted my hair, wore makeup and painted my nails! However, she is a complete rock for me now and we have moved past the difficulties.
I didn’t openly come out in the workplace until I was 28 and since then, have been very lucky not to have experienced any discrimination. It did take me a while to find my stride with it all because I had great fear of this being a hindrance to my career. I am fortunate now to work for such an inclusive company and I have had occasional facetious comments made in the past, but I am able to confidentially give as good as I get!
What do you think the current climate is like for lesbians in the workplace? Have things improved or gotten worse?
This is a very interesting question and one I find difficult to answer. I have been in the property industry for 14 years, and have never been able to, in any company I have worked for, count on one hand the number of lesbians I am aware of in the workplace. I believe many do not feel comfortable to be themselves, for fear of non-acceptance, judgement or Dickensian style comments. Many are still in the closet. However, I believe some are starting to find their voice. With the help of established LGBTQ+ senior authorities in the workplace, mentoring, LGBTQ+ networks and diversity and inclusion policies within the larger companies, and within time, more will feel comfortable to “come out” knowing there is support there. It is a work in progress, and one that I am hopeful about.
Have you ever encountered active discrimination in the workplace based on your sexual orientation?
Luckily no, but I am aware that might not be the case for others. Comments that some see as innocuous can make many feel even more isolated.
How do you personally support your other lesbian and gay colleagues?
As a member of our Building Pride committee, I am involved in helping to organise LGBT inclusive events, lunch time talks, Pride and many more, which has the sole aim of showing support and allowing people to feel that they are absolutely accepted to be who they are. As the only lesbian on the committee, I take it upon myself to try and make others aware that I am here for support and general recognition in a safe and confidential environment. I think there can be the perception that one is defined by their sexuality, when in fact, it only encompasses one part of them.
What role do you think LGBT+ allies can play in the workplace?
The need for LGBT+ allies in general in the workplace is paramount; not just by coming to events and showing support, but standing up to others if homophobic, biphobic or transphobic discrimination is witnessed or when people are “outed” without their consent. There can be an empathy deficit when it comes to others trying to understand what it means to hide a part of yourself, or to push yourself out of your comfort zone every day.
What has been your greatest achievement as part of the LGBT+ network?
Reaching the Stonewall Top 100 Employers has been JLL’s greatest achievement thus far, not just for us, but for the wider industry. The ongoing hard work and passion that resonates through all LGBT+ and allies in the firm has truly paid off. However, we know that there is still a long way to go, but to be the only real estate company in the top 100 is fantastic and something that I am incredibly proud of.
From a personal point of view, my greatest achievement is just becoming part of the committee. I’ve been on quite a journey with accepting who I am, so if I can reach out to others, by showing support from the network, then I feel we are achieving what we set out to do.