Melanie Rogan from Financial Times spoke to Zoe Schulz from myGwork about LGBTQ+ inclusion in tech, co-leading Proud FT, and how the network is currently pushing for trans inclusion in the workplace.
Mel’s journey into tech hasn’t been straightforward, although, she admits, it does make sense as she was always obsessed with making websites on GeoCities. She now leads a tech team within one of the largest business news organizations in the world. With a readership of over one million, the majority of whom are digital subscribers, their tech teams are invaluable, and Mel is working to ensure LGBTQ+ inclusion is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Mel grew up in Galway and has two university degrees. The first in art history that she completed in at Trinity College Dublin. Then, relocating to London, she studied digital design. At this point, having freelanced throughout her degree to help pay for it, she secured a position in an email marketing agency. This had a big focus on HTML and CSS coding, and Mel was enthralled to be working with major clients such as PlayStation and Tesco. She then felt extremely lucky when Financial Times (FT) approached her to interview her for a job in their marketing team.
This was seven years ago, and she got the job as the FT’s new CRM Creative Manager within B2C Marketing. While busy working on creative and engaging projects, she also took the time to get to know the other teams across the organization, particularly the technology team. This helped to broaden her skills and, to further this, she sought out secondments. After spending several secondments with the tech team, she convinced them to give her a chance and landed a job as their junior engineer. Not long after this, she was granted an opportunity to complete an apprenticeship at Makers Academy. On completion, Mel was promoted to a mid-level engineer. Now, she leads her team and is flourishing as both an engineer and a leader. “We craft tools that are then used by different parts of the business,” Mel says, explaining the work of her team, “to try and make life a little bit easier for engineers and just making the experience of what we make at the FT as engineers smooth and easy and fun.”
After coming out at the end of university, Mel wasn’t sure if she would be able to be out in the workplace. “When I had my first serious job in that marketing agency, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be out or not. Then, I remember the day before the job [saying], ‘Nope.’ I’m going to start well here and be completely honest. So, anytime somebody asked me ‘What are you up to this evening?’ I would reply, ‘Oh, my girlfriend and I are going for dinner,’ and then just let that sit and see what people reacted with.”
Luckily for her, the reaction has been mostly positive. Yet, when starting at FT, Mel felt she had joined a truly welcoming environment. She also considers herself lucky to be in an organization with such dedication to LGBTQ+ representation. This is especially prevalent within tech, with a high amount of visibility and diverse applicants, she admits they must be doing something right.
“I think people are working really hard to improve LGBTQ+ representation and to make the industry more accessible. At FT we want to make sure everyone feels welcome, and we have policies that say this is what we’re going to do to make you feel welcome.”
Being a founding member of Proud FT, the FT’s LGBTQ+ network in 2017, allowed Mel to create tangible changes in her workplace. This started as a small group of employees, who came together and said that everyone’s super supportive here, but we don’t have an LGBTQ+ network, so let’s try and make one. Now it’s one of the most active networks at FT, with over 200 members showing up to make a more inclusive workplace for all their LGBTQ+ colleagues. “The network is a group of passionate and lovely people who sit together and work really hard at issues that face our colleagues.”
Proud FT started with 4 or 5 people wanting to make a difference and now it includes people across departments all contributing their unique strengths. “This helped build the network into something really welcoming,” Mel says, “but [it is] also a really powerful source for change and good.” As a formal network, they have structured meetings and working groups that exist to tackle specific issues, such as any HR concerns. A highlight of their work is the events they run, such as recently marking Trans Day of Remembrance. They also often link up with other networks, such as the FT Women’s Network and FT Embrace (the BIPOC network), which they did for International Women’s Day. Mel understands these issues are intersectional and by working together they could create an event that truly welcomes all women.
Proud FT is a true asset to all colleagues. It acts as a force to push forward workplace equality and is a safe space for LGBTQ+ colleagues to lean on one another. A network can benefit any organization, no matter how far along their equality journey they may be. “The first step [to starting a network] is to be brave and say, let’s start a meeting where we all have a coffee and see who’s around who’s willing to chat, whether they are an ally or LGBTQ+ themselves. And if you can get a group of like-minded people, then you can start from there. Then, it’s a case of talking to one another and understanding how as a group you can help make something better.”
Mel and the rest of the network are currently focusing their efforts on trans inclusion in the workplace. They will soon be putting a trans inclusion policy in place, which will let their colleagues know what they can do to make trans employees feel welcome. On top of this, it will cover language and best practices, to ensure anyone, no matter their previous knowledge on the subject, has the tools to create a workplace where their trans colleagues can thrive.
“[Trans inclusion] is one area that I think the FT is doing particularly well in and it’s really heartening to see that they take the encouragement and the passion that’s coming from our employee network to push that forward. Because it makes everybody who’s on the committee and people who support the group feel like we are agents for change and have the power to make things better. And that always makes you feel like you can bring your whole self to work, either as a committee member or as someone coming to the FT, whether you’re trans or whether you fall within the LGBTQ+ community.”
Although Mel admits the pandemic initially slowed them down, she’s been committed over the past year of lockdowns to ensure they were still having important conversations about equality, quickly moving all their events online. Going forward, she is as dedicated as ever to continue these conversations and bring people together.
“I would love if in one year we have this conversation again and there are even more things that are happening to make more people feel welcome. That from a talent perspective, if we’re advertising a job that we’re always changing and adjusting to allow for the fact that we’re going to have colleagues who are neurodiverse and we’re going to have colleagues that fall within the LGBTQ+ community, sometimes falling in both, and just recognizing the intersectionality of all of those different parts. That we always challenge ourselves to widen the viewpoint of what inclusivity means and what diversity means because it can mean so many different things to different people.”