IWFM EDI Focus Group’s Emma McLaughlin-Edwards on Pride Month: ‘Be active to allyship and be counted’


  • EDI

28 June 2023


My name is Emma. I’m a gay woman working in facilities management (FM) and I am the Executive Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the brilliantly inclusive FM provider EMCOR UK.

Section 28

Since my early twenties, June has always meant more to me than just the start of summer. I recall my first ever Pride event in London and feeling part of something bigger than myself for the first time in my life. Seeing other people represent me in a confident, vibrant, and welcoming atmosphere was mind-blowing. I felt I had arrived at a place I didn’t know existed but had so desired. 

I was just about old enough in the late 1980s to hear the term ‘Section 28’ being discussed when the Conversative Government introduced an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988 banning state schools from teaching or promoting the ‘acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. The legislation prevented the discussion of LGBTQIA+ issues and stopped pupils getting the support they needed; it was repealed in 2003 and David Cameron apologised for the legislation in 2009.

As a mother to three children from a same-sex marriage, I can’t begin to imagine the hurt, isolation, and exclusion my family and I might have felt had that same amendment existed today. Thankfully, we made progress, including the passing of the Marriage Act (Same Sex Couples) 2014, which recognised same-sex marriages in England and Wales and Scotland in 2014, Ireland in 2015, and Northern Ireland in 2020. Yet there remain 64 countries which still criminalise homosexuality, with some countries enforcing up to 30 years’ imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Weight of expectation

Throughout my career, I have always been an advocate for and actively involved in LGTBQIA+ networking groups, understanding first-hand the importance they have in the workplace and the sense of belonging they offer. While we have made progress in some areas, discrimination and exclusion still exist, meaning many LGBTQIA+ people don’t feel they can be their true selves at work. The very need for these networking groups is indicative of this.

My current role is the pinnacle of my career and I feel the weight of expectation and need for change every day. I am privileged to bear that weight and grateful to EMCOR UK for that responsibility. It is through learning, unlearning and relearning that we will deliver our programme of Allyship across EMCOR UK. Providing our colleagues with training, a safe space and accountability demonstrates our authentic approach. I have had many allies throughout my career and at times when I needed an ally and didn’t have one. I don’t want a single employee to feel un-heard or un-included, and so by creating 3,500 allies in our organisation, we hope to level the playing field for those who need support. 

We have chosen June to launch our ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’ campaign, offering confidential support and guidance to anyone who might feel unsure about any unwelcome behaviours they have experienced or witnessed. This approach enhances our commitment to providing allyship across our business.

True inclusivity

If Pride isn’t evident every day, it runs the risk of being classified as ‘rainbow washing’ or ‘pink washing’ - terms used to describe those who don’t offer tangible change or support to the LGBTQIA+ community, except through the month of June, which is transparent to LGBTQIA+ employees and sets an organisation’s tone of culture.

True inclusivity welcomes and encourages the work of LGBTQIA+ employees and ensures equity is the backbone of the organisation and its people are represented and with equal voice.

This Pride month, I had the privilege of speaking at my children’s school and was overwhelmed by their understanding and knowledge of both Pride itself and what the words equality, diversity and inclusion meant, and why they were important. I left feeling enthused that the future of the LGBTQIA+ community in safe hands.

Be active to allyship; stand up, speak out, and be counted by signing up to Stonewall’s UK Take Pride campaign: UK, Take Pride! | Stonewall