How Rainbow WISE promotes inclusion and belonging
As we near the end of Pride Month and the celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community, we sat down with some of our Rainbow WISE team and customers to understand more about the program and the people it helps.
Rainbow WISE is a relatively new program to WISE, but has quickly grown in size, and most recently expanded south into Victoria earlier in 2022. Izzy Calero (she/her) is one of the program’s Diversity Employment Consultants, and has been working with Rainbow WISE since its inception.
Why is this program so important for the LGBTQIA+ community?
What is important in all spaces is a consistent sense of belonging. When you sit down with a Rainbow WISE Employment Consultant as an LGBTQIA+ identifying customer, you can expect to experience exactly this. In my experience, the Rainbow WISE cohort comes very highly qualified. This indicates that the level of work experience, skills and attributes do not contribute to their barriers to securing suitable employment, but very often, their previous experiences of homophobia/biphobia/transphobia/etc is what holds them back. Ensuring that our space is welcoming, inclusive and empowering allows our customers to feel as though they are seen for who they are as LGBTQIA+ people and that their gender and/or sexuality is a contributing factor to their daily experiences.
What supports does the program provide that are specific to its customers, over and above DES?
Rainbow WISE is equipped with allocated funding to cover the cost of legal change of name for our Transgender and Gender Diverse customers. This cost is about $190 in the state of New South Wales and for many of our customers, this is not feasible. Additionally, Rainbow WISE provides training to our employers and their teams who feel that they need further education surrounding LGBTQIA+ identities and how their workplaces can be more inclusive in their practices.
Rainbow WISE Consultants provide a particular level of understanding that comes from lived experience when supporting our customers. We find that this is imperative to their sense of safety, empowerment and inclusion and supports their wellbeing enough to see real change in their goals and achievements.
I am also proud to say that we have designed template packages for all the formalities necessary when a customer begins to socially and/or medically transition while they are already in employment. This package includes:
- A letter from the customer to their employer
- A letter from the customer to their colleagues
- A letter from the employer/manager to all other staff
- List of resources and links for further information
- List of required changes (if any) in the workplace and the requested date of when they become effective
- List of medical appointment dates (if any) and the request for annual leave/sick leave
Rainbow WISE in Sydney has built relationships with multiple community connections to benefit particular customers in need. Some of our most powerful associates include the Gender Centre, ACON and Twenty10, which are all community-based support services. We have seen customers receive the upmost care and support when being referred to these external services; many have achieved wonderful goals through this team-based approach.
How does the team go about finding supportive and inclusive employers for Rainbow WISE customers?
Honest conversations. As previously stated, our customers are more vulnerable to adversities due to their gender and/or sexuality so when contacting potential employers, we ensure that their safety and wellbeing is the first and foremost consideration. Thankfully, I am yet to come across an employer who was not open to learning about LGBTQIA+ identities. It is of great importance to me to approach every conversation with employers with the message of empowerment for them to see the benefits of diversifying their workplace environment.
What is your top tip for anyone looking to adopt more inclusive practices towards the LGBTQIA+ community?
The effective practice of diversity and inclusion is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation… In fact, its entire purpose is the exact opposite. The need for diversity and inclusion is due to the assumption that everyone (staff, for example) is the same. Learning about the diversity amongst identities and putting in place simple practices to include them are vital. Examples of this can consist of inclusive language surrounding pronouns; having procedures in place for Transgender and Gender Diverse staff who transition while they are in the workplace; allowing for “chosen name” option on employee record files; and enabling people to be a good ally if they see others being discriminated against in the workplace. In addition, outsourcing accredited training and development courses on the topic of LGBTQIA+ diversity and inclusion is beneficial for all workplaces to make real, tangible change.
What have been some of your proudest moments working with our Rainbow WISE customers?
In early 2021, I was honoured to assist in the application for the change of legal name for one of my customers for the first time. This process can take 6-8 weeks after submitting the application and during the waiting period, we got the news of having to work from home due to Sydney’s COVID lockdown response. This customer sent me a selfie with their new birth certificate and told me that they had just updated their details with Services Australia. Even though we were all working from home, I called some colleagues and gave them the customer’s JSID to search and waited for their reaction when they saw that their name had legally been changed. Not only was it my proudest moment as an Employment Consultant, but my proudest moment working in the Rainbow WISE team. My Business Manager approved the cost, another colleague assisted in printing out the forms, another one of them drove the customer and myself to make the payment, and it was all for this one wonderful moment of affirmation. Two weeks after receiving their new birth certificate, they started their new job where they still work to this day!
Feedback from our Rainbow WISE customers, shows the program really is opening doors and providing much needed support.
Skylar (she/her), the very first customer through the doors of Rainbow WISE, was successfully placed into a role at Havas Media during the height of the pandemic. Faced with many challenges seeking employment before she started working with Rainbow WISE, Skylar said the biggest hurdle was navigating difficult questions.
“It was a relief not having to explain my situation because my employer already knew my story. WISE Employment has been very helpful in supporting me to have those challenging conversations.”
Now an Assistant Office Manager, Assistant Office Manager, Skylar loves the responsibility that comes with her work, and better yet, she feels comfortable going to the office each and every day.
“Everyone is so warm and welcoming. I now know I can go to work and be exactly who I am, without hesitation,” Skylar says.
Another Rainbow WISE advocate, Lilith (she/her), is now working in a highly sought after programming role at Google thanks to the support of the Rainbow WISE team.
“After hearing about the new WISE program providing specialised help for queer people, and since I’ve only been out as trans for a few years, I thought they’d be a much more supportive environment than other job search agencies,” said Lilith.
“Izzy offered support by booking appointments with Pure Insights, who helped me organise paperwork and appointments with mental and physical health professionals. This helped me to investigate issues that have been affecting me for years and to take steps towards achieving diagnoses,” said Lilith.
Lilith is proud that her job allows her to support other members of her community. “Having a job means I’m able to provide for myself and my partner and improve both our qualities of life, which is financially demanding given both our disabilities and my medical transition. To have a position that’s well-paying means I’m also able to share that wealth with others, supporting friends who are independent artists or creators”.