Blog written by Dr Luke Fletcher
Hello! I recently joined the University of Bath School of Management as a Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor in December 2020. I previously worked at Aston University in Birmingham (2016-20) and the University of Brighton (2014-16) before that. I completed my PhD at the University of Kent in 2014.
As an LGBTQ+ person navigating my early academic career within a management/business school environment has been a bit daunting given the reputation of business schools being traditionally quite masculine, power/status-driven, and not as inclusive as they could be. I want to share some of my experiences, and how I have grown to be proud of my LGBTQ+ identity in academia and how I have harnessed that energy in my career.
First off, I have been ‘out’ as gay from about 17 and I have not necessarily hidden or concealed my identity from others when socialising or at work. I even came out in an interview for an HR job in a defence company once, which didn’t go down very well with the stuffy, military-style straight white male interviewer – but that’s another story! So I have felt relatively comfortable with disclosing my sexuality and my LGBTQ+ identity in most situations.
However, what I have struggled with is the anxiety about how I should portray myself when teaching for example, or how I may be perceived when doing research that may be viewed as being too personal to my identity. As I conduct research primarily on the psychological experience of work, it felt quite a natural evolution to move slightly away from the more traditional research in my area to focusing more specifically on LGBTQ+ workers. This evolution has been gradual but has really started to go up a gear over the past couple of years.
When I started teaching I was constantly worrying about the pitch and volume of my voice (I’ve always been soft spoken and don’t have a particularly masculine voice) and the way I looked in a lecture theatre – I was crippled with anxiety of coming across too feminine or ‘camp’ or ‘queer’ and having students think I was too young, too inexperienced, and not knowledgeable enough.
So I would just focus on content and trying to come across as competent and professional as I could. My personality didn’t really come through and I didn’t get great feedback for my modules and kept getting told I should try to be more silly, entertaining, and jokey. All of which are not really that helpful, particularly when my personality isn’t really like that anyway – I’m more thoughtful, reserved, and like to engage students in a meaningful conversation rather than jumping around being a ted talk host with witty one liners. Even now the pervasive message from some corners is still about faking it to make it as an ‘edu-tainer’.
I take on board some tip bits of advice like that as they can be useful, but my prevailing attitude now is to find the right balance and mix of things that works for me and to not lose sight of who I am and how I would act (obviously teaching is a bit of a performance so you need to adapt yourself a bit).
As I worked out the kind of teacher (and academic) I wanted to be and what style suited my personality and my identity, I felt more comfortable with disclosing more details about myself to my students and peers, and building more personal connections with them. Being LGBTQ+ provides us with a unique set of experiences and insights, and can help us to build relationships with students that may also being struggling with who they are and how they want to be treated. It’s an ongoing journey of self-discovery and expression. Finding supportive colleagues and allies who can be those rocks that you can rely on for support become increasingly important.
In terms of my research, I’ve always been pretty confident in my skills to ‘do’ research but less so in communicating in front of large academic audiences who as we know aren’t always the most friendly or supportive of your work all of the time. You have to develop a tough skin as rejection is very much embedded in the academic process. Although I am critical of many parts of peer review and academic practices/processes, I still feel empowered by it and find meaning in doing academic work. But a system built upon the principles of regular rejection is probably the hardest for LGBTQ+ people to cope with as it stirs up so many painful memories and anxieties. It is something that I think I’ve struggled with the most and something that I’ve had to work on regularly in my career.
It isn’t just the harshness and impersonal nature of peer review rejection process but also the comments and microaggressions that can be quite prevalent within an academic community that likes to value itself on critical debate. I have faced homophobic and transphobic comments even in academic conferences on diversity and inclusion, for example I had one academic say in a panel discussion on diversity in entrepreneurship ‘why do some LGBT people want to be different, surely everyone wants to be normal?’. Even now, doing LGBTQ+ specific research has spurned comments like ‘this is a bit too sensitive’ and in a recent journal paper rejection I had comments from a reviewer who clearly didn’t really understand what LGBT even meant (even though we provided clear definitions and glossary of terminology). It feels that we must constantly prove our case and provide a stronger set of arguments/evidence for our work to be seen as legitimate.
But, all this has done has empowered me to do more and to be unapologetic about being visible about my LGBTQ+ identity and the fact that I am doing research on LGBTQ+ workers. I have had some great support too from the people that really matter – my manager, my collaborators, my close academic friends, and my network of professional contacts in HR and inclusion. All of these people have continually said what you are doing is important, keep doing what you’re doing. I have also received funding and research support and have developed some wonderful projects with other academics and professional bodies.
I have realised that keeping true to your passions and values as an academic are the most important – follow the research that keeps you passionate, motivated, and energised. I know some early career researchers have been worried about doing research that is close to their LGBTQ+ identities in fear it will hinder their job or promotion prospects. My answer to that is – a University or employer that isn’t inclusive and nurturing of its LGBTQ+ academics isn’t worth working at. There are plenty of institutions that are waking up to inclusion. We all have choices, and those choices can also drive change – those institutions that struggle to hire and retain a diverse group of academics are going to start looking increasingly bad in comparison to those that are.
I should stop now as this blog is turning into a long winded cathartic story of my life!
Keep strong, keep positive!
Luke's blog was written as part of the University's activities related to celebrating LGBT+ History Month.
If you were inspired, interested or could relate to Luke's blog in anyway then you may be interested in joining our PGR Doctoral Exchange session at the end of the month. Please see details of the upcoming session on Friday 26th February 2021, 10:00 - 11:00 below.
Putting the PGR in LGBT+: An Informal Chat about Being an LGBT+ Doctoral Student
Are you a doctoral student at the University of Bath? Do you identify as LGBT+? Then this Doctoral Exchange session is for you. Come along to reflect on LGBT+ History Month and what it is like to be LGBT+ in academia. This Exchange session will offer an informal and safe space for those of us who identify as LGBT+ to share our experiences with each other. It will allow us to discuss challenges and issues around being LGBT+ in academia and to identify opportunities to improve the LGBT+ experience at Bath. There will be a chance to learn about what is going on at the university for LGBT+ PGR students , but there is no commitment to get involved beyond the Exchange session if you do not wish to do so. Whatever you decide to do, don't miss this opportunity to connect with and learn from others who share similar experiences as you.