“Suddenly I realised I wasn’t necessarily going to face a negative experience: all because I could see people like me.” myGwork spoke to Ashley Halstead, sales coordinator at Enterprise, about his journey finding community, and the importance of inclusion for LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities in businesses.
Ashley Halstead’s life begins in a military family, moving from his place of birth in Bournemouth to RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, which he describes as a “macho environment”. Despite growing up knowing he was gay, this environment left him feeling unable to verbalise these feelings or to come out. “Throughout secondary school, I was in the closet,” he says. “Everyone knew, but I just didn’t want to say anything.” This changed when he reached sixth form, where he finally felt comfortable to open up, spurred on by the visibility of other students. “There were a lot of people who were out, and suddenly I realised I wasn’t necessarily going to face a negative experience: all because I could see people like me.”
“I think LGBTQ+ youth groups are really on the up”
This coincided with Ashley joining an LGBTQ+ youth group at the age of 16, as he made the transition from school to sixth form. “Whilst there’s a lot of talk about youth groups being on the decline, I think LGBTQ+ youth groups are really on the up,” he says. “I had a 20-minute bus ride from the military base I lived on up to Reading, straight to an LGBTQ+ youth group. It was massively well-attended, with kids as young as 13 feeling comfortable engaging with other young LGBTQ+ people.” Members had a welcoming policy to introduce themselves to new members, and then could set about integrating themselves into the activities the club hosted. “Having people actually meet each other outside of Pride events enabled us all to connect with a local LGBTQ+ community.”
Ashley embarked on a short retail career before deciding it wasn’t for him. Heading to university, he studied Business Management, before beginning a career in the insurance department at Enterprise. Rapidly, he built a reputation for customer service excellence and creating and building successful working relationships. Within his first year, he had already been promoted twice and has subsequently been promoted further to sales coordinator, beyond the insurance sector of the business. This involves supporting the wider sales team to ensure that all relevant risk has been approved and ensuring that account set up can proceed.
“I’ve got some capacity in my work day to do something I’m really passionate on”
Further to this, Ashley works with Enterprise’s Pride network. “It’s a project-based system: rather than having one person holding a role that takes five hours a week every week, instead I can say I’ve got some capacity in my work day to do something I’m really passionate on, let’s work with others in the network to get this going.” This, Ashley believes, contributes greatly to the success of the network in allowing its members to better balance between his day job and his extracurricular projects. Currently, he is working on infographics of LGBTQ+ flags, including the history and meaning of each flag. He recently co-hosted a Pride Day, enabling employees from across the company to talk about their stories, the support they’ve received, and boost the visibility of LGBTQ+ employees.
“It’s important for LGBTQ+ employees and allys to be visible”
Visibility is a key part of Enterprise’s strategy to embed diversity and inclusion into the workplace, as well as working “smarter” to support LGBTQ+ staff. “If we have an event going on in the European Headquarters in Egham, we work with other offices nearby to share resources to support.” These events include information sessions, panels and Q&A opportunities. “It’s important for LGBTQ+ employees and allys to be visible, it makes a difference.” Enterprise also actively partakes in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and is currently in the Top 100 and has been awarded the Gold standard.
The mission at Enterprise however is also about improving diversity and inclusion in the industry: being part of Driving Pride, one of the LGBTQ+ Automotive Networks, to ensure that Enterprise is playing an active role in supporting the sector. “The automotive sector often has a reputation for being full of one particularly type of person, but when we look at who is leading our business this couldn’t be further from reality, our leadership is incredibly diverse with a combination of different background, cultures and abilities.” The work is about asking how to make the sector more appealing to LGBTQ+ people and being visible to the community to show that you can LGBTQ+ and do work in the industry.
“We discussed what would work and what would not work“
Diversity and inclusion strategies would be remiss, however, if they did not focus on intersectionality, which Ashley knows all too well. Having both high-frequency deafness and being neurodivergent, he says the support he’s received from Enterprise has been key to his success. “I sat with a senior manager, and we discussed what would work and what would not work, using his knowledge of the business and my knowledge of my disability.”
Ashley can’t use phones, so instead he works in sectors of the business that are more likely to use teleconferencing – which can be subtitled. “Enterprise prides itself on being an organisation prepared to listen to people about what works for them,” he explains. All of Ashley’s working arrangements reflect what is best for his wellbeing and productivity, and as a result his work thrives. “Reasonable adjustments don’t always have to cost money, often it’s just about listening to employees.” This is a marked improvement, Ashley says, to his previous experiences; where he often found he would get far in the interview stages for jobs, only to be ghosted when he began to discuss his disabilities.
“I’m hopeful for a lot more understanding about how businesses can make a real difference in people’s lives”
Instead, now Ashley actively partakes in promoting understanding, going as far as to take part in a seminar on hidden disabilities, called “In My Shoes”, where he spoke about his experiences. Ashley’s first manager within Enterprise, hadn’t heard of his disabilities before but was committed to learning how best to support him and within minutes was researching what the disabilities were and how best to support people with said disabilities. This series of webinars has enabled Enterprise employees to share their stories – from being LGBTQ+ in the workplace, to hidden disabilities, to being part of a military family and constantly moving around, enabling people to better understand who their colleagues truly are and to embrace each other’s differences.
His main hope? More listening, as companies continue to better understand their employees, and we all try to understand each other just as we are, allowing us to show up authentically in our entirety. “I’m hopeful for a lot more understanding about how businesses can make a real difference in people’s lives, like Enterprise has done in mine.”