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The power of professional LGBTQ networks: Iain Gowers from Roche talks to myGwork

Iain Gowers leads Roche’s UK LGBT network and talks to myGwork about supporting the community.

2020-04-17

In partnership with myGwork

Iain Gowers has been working in IT support at Roche for 11 years because of a happy accident; a recruitment agency sent him there by mistake, but as soon as he was there he knew it was the right job for him.

“It’s quite a funny way of ending up at a company you love, but when I walked through those doors, I know this was where I was meant to be”.

Over the last three years, he has set up the UK branch of OPEN, Roche’s forum for LGBT employees and allies at Roche, which was something employees wanted to put in place.

“We are such a diverse company, which is great, and there are LGBT people spread out across all of our departments, because of that people wanted to be able to come together more often and have a place to discuss things like the Orlando shootings, the rise of hate crimes and homophobic comments that happened after the Brexit vote came through”.

Iain saw the other local pharmaceutical companies were setting up networks already and wondered why they weren’t doing it too, so he decided to set it up and within two months it was up and running.

“I went to London Pride the day after the Brexit vote, which was really topical, and saw other pharma companies and that’s where we started. Now we have participated in Brighton & Hove Pride as a company for the last three years in a row.

"We wanted to engage and get closer to our community, and with Brighton being the largest event in the South East, this was a great place for us”.

The first year they started with a small walking group of 25 people, the year after they had a float for the first time, and last year they had over 100 people join them.

“We get incredible feedback, and it’s one of the most significant events in the calendar for us”.

One powerful moment was when two nurses were at Pride and remembered how Roche helped with HIV in the 1980s.

“These nurses just came up to us, and it was really special, we never would have known that if we hadn’t gone, and that would have been a lost part of Roche’s history”.

Iain’s UK site was the first of Roches’s sites to be involved in Pride, and now other the sites around the world are following suit, with eight planned for 2020.

“The float is for our employees, it’s not about corporate advertising. Our experience is now allowing other countries to get involved; places like China for example where being gay is not accepted, we are starting to work with more and more with and I really take pride in that”.

This area of work, as well as training around trans issues, are both areas where Iain says they can support the community and its incredible to see how small easy things can make a difference.

Raising awareness of trans people's experiences and improving access to trans awareness training is something that’s particularly important to Iain.

For the last 19 years, he has worked as a Trustee with Allsorts youth project (an LGBTU+ youth project for young people under the age of 26) and has been exposed to some of the challenges faced by trans & non-binary young people.

“The trans issue is huge for young people and it is a massive massive change from one generation to the next. Even going back only a few years ago we had a few people identifying as trans, and now it is maybe a third or a half of all our members”.

Involvement in groups outside Roche is something that is part of who Iain is; as well as being a Trustee for the LGBTU+ charity Allsorts youth project he competes and is a management member of the LGBT+ swimming club Out To Swim South and was involved in his Brighton University’s LGBT network, as well as being an active campaigner.

“When I turned up at university, the main LGBT club called Revenge in Brighton & Hove didn’t allow women in. This was totally absurd with it being the largest LGBT community. So we decided to boycott it and, after a few months, they changed their policy”.

He recently learnt that one of his ancestors was a suffragette and his mum runs a community art group, so giving back is something that is really important in his family - Iain says it is just programmed into him to do something good for the community.

“I realised quite early on, that there is a lot of apathy in the LGBT community, and I realised if I didn’t crack on and do things, then they just wouldn’t get done.

"I don’t think I could sleep knowing there are young homeless LGBT people out there that aren’t getting any help for example”.

Roche is a corporate member of the myGwork business community.