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Keep On Pushing

Cherice Thomas

Story by
Cherice Thomas Programme Leader, Kyndryl

LGBT icon in shape of a circle on rainbow flag. Sexual minorities

Cherice Thomas, Programme Leader at IT infrastructure services provider Kyndryl on why the case still needs to be made for DEI initiatives.

One of the things that I love most about my job at Kyndryl is the business’s KIN groups. Our Kyndryl Inclusion Networks are employee-led resources for people with shared identities around things like race, gender, sexual identity, and disability. They are sponsored by the company at the global enterprise level and branch down into country-level chapters, giving everyone who works here the opportunity to organise, support one another, foster professional development, and find better ways of working in an inclusive environment. That embedded link from the highest level of the business down to the individual employee makes them feel, for me, unusually valuable and empowering.

Reading this, you might be thinking that there is nothing hugely unusual in all of this. Many enterprises now invest in a structure of inclusion groups alongside their business organisational structure, and while Kyndryl (if I may say so) does that especially well, is this still something that merits shouting about?

I think it does – and, in fact, that it’s a kind of initiative that we need to make the case for as powerfully and persuasively as ever.

I myself volunteer time for three KINs, working with the Race & Ethnicity KIN Core team as well as taking part in the LGBTQ+ KIN and the Women’s KIN. In all of them, I find both a meaningful recognition of my own experiences and an important opportunity to support those coming up through the business world after me.

A Journey

Coming out, for me, was a long journey from my late teens through to my mid-twenties, and the professional environments I was learning to move in at the time were far from my only challenge. I am proud of my Caribbean culture, and it is something that I dearly love being part of, but in my early adulthood it wasn’t always forward-thinking about people’s sexualities. A complex history of anti-LGBT laws on the books in the region and a code of religious belief introduced through the colonial era incubated a stubborn opposition to people living as anything other than straight.

That made me scared to come out – fearing that I wouldn’t be accepted for who I am, that I would lose the friends and family I rely on. Sure enough, there were people I lost along the way, but I was also blessed with a deep well of support from those I loved the most, and who loved me the most.

Today, my Caribbean community and the broader culture have come a long way in understanding and accepting LGBTQ+ identities. So has the national culture in this country, just as we’ve made important progress in terms of eroding away some ethnic and racial prejudice. Many things have contributed to these shifts, among them the willingness of businesses to make space for the unique experiences of identity that people bring with them into their work.

There are some cynics who see these advances as being inversely correlated with the need for initiatives like KINs – who think that the better we get, the less we need to try.

I am not so complacent.

Bigotry Continues

Globally, there are still far too many nations where pursuing a same-sex relationship can result in persecution, imprisonment, or even death. It’s important to recognise that fact, both as a gross injustice in itself and as a warning that bigotry is not a creature of the past, but a threat in the present. As proud as we should be of the rights won and the discriminations ended, a status quo of equal rights is much easier to destroy than it is to build.

We can look to recent tides in the US as evidence of this: trans people barred from military service; federal contractors using religious exemptions to fire LGBTQ+ employees; growing censorship of inclusive educational texts; organised financial pressures being applied to businesses trying to accommodate diversity; legislation acting against women’s bodily autonomy; and much more besides.

I fear that it will be hard to imagine such a degradation being repeated here in the UK until it actually happens. In the face of such a risk, it is important that businesses double down on the good that they can do.

As a child I was drawn almost compulsively to logic and geometry puzzles, often begging grown-ups to get me more books of them. In the admissions process for my first IT job I was informed that I’d received the highest ever recorded score in the aptitude test they were using. This is a career that absolutely fits me, but in my youth it’s not something I ever imagined for myself – and that’s because it wasn’t until I was solidly in my career that I saw anyone who reflects my culture and values doing this role.

That role-modelling of career possibilities, and the wealth of talent it gives businesses access to, is the usual headline reason given for investing in things like the KINs that I take part in, and that quality is enormously valuable. 

We shouldn’t forget, though, that such initiatives are also a social stance. They are a way of saying ‘not today’ to those who would make prejudice the norm once more. And today, that’s something to shout about.

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