This article is based on a blog post from July 2019 by Anna Sharman. All information was correct at the time of posting but may be superseded by the time you read it, not least by the pandemic. See the page on our values [link] for more on how we are working for equality and the planet.
Today I’m announcing a change in Cofactor’s ways of working. From now on, Cofactor is proud to be both an LGBTQ-friendly and environmentally friendly company. This means we will do our very best, even more than we do already, to accept everyone and to reduce our negative impact on the environment. I’m very excited about this and think it will make our training more effective.
Many companies are trying to market themselves like this nowadays, and sometimes it can look like ‘greenwashing’ or ‘rainbow-washing’, particularly just after ‘Pride month’. How is Cofactor different?
An environmentally friendly company
Most training companies have a large carbon footprint because they fly a lot. I have been aware of this ever since I started being a trainer, and in general I have not tried to market our workshops to locations where we would have to fly. I have flown once or twice a year, when it seemed essential. But I’ve always been concerned about climate change (which is now a climate crisis), and about the destruction of wildlife habitats. The School Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion have made me ask what more I do. I am a keen birdwatcher and keep hearing about bird numbers declining.
How could I live without the sound of swifts every summer, or the sight of herons on my local wetlands – especially if I could have done more to preserve their habitats?
As a company owner, I can influence not only my own lifestyle but also the way my company works. I’m not saying that Cofactor trainers are never going to fly to workshops, but from now on we will try very hard not to. As you can see in our statement of values, we will travel by train instead of flying and by bicycle or public transport instead of car, where possible.
Where this is not possible, we will charge extra and donate the difference to an environmental charity. We will also consider other ways to deliver training, such as online or by finding a local trainer to deliver our workshops.
There are other ways in which a company like Cofactor can cause or prevent environmental damage, including our use of plastic and paper and choice of food and drink. We will keep a close eye on how we can improve our record in these areas. We will also nudge our clients by asking them how they are doing in these areas. We will carefully research environmental charities to support as a company.
An LGBTQ-friendly company
What about the ‘LGBTQ-friendly’ bit? LGBTQ stands for lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans and queer. This is more personal to me. I am bisexual, and this has affected my career in science, publishing and business. Until now I have mostly kept my personal life separate from my professional life, but now I have decided to be more open, so as to better help our clients and workshop participants.
When I was a struggling postdoc in another country, my difficulties were not just to do with the lab work, or the fact I was a woman and a foreigner, but also because I had gone back into the closet. After coming out only a few years earlier, I no longer had the LGBTQ community around me. This added to my sense of isolation. Many other LGBTQ researchers have had similar experiences.
Knowing there were others like me would have helped me a lot at that time and later. When I returned to the UK I got involved with the bisexual community, particularly Bicon, where I heard about how others experience bisexuality. I have also learnt a lot about the experience of trans and non-binary people. I am grateful to them for making it possible for cis people like me to dress in less gender-defined ways.
So I now want to be open about my sexuality, so as to show LGBTQ people I work with that they aren’t alone. Our training is on writing and publishing, not on relationships, gender or sexuality. But I want everyone to be comfortable attending Cofactor workshops, however they present or whoever they are attracted to. We will respect people’s pronouns and try to get people’s names and pronouns right, and will apologise if we get this wrong.
Other kinds of diversity are important too. We can’t claim to be experts on other issues in the same way that we can on gender and sexuality, but we will try our best and keep learning about how other issues affect researchers. These include ethnicity, age, disability, nationality and immigration status, social class, income/wealth, and native language. Regarding the last of these, I am becoming more and more aware of how my privilege as a native English speaker has enabled my whole editing and training career, and I want to use that privilege for good and not exploit it or make assumptions about non-native speakers of English.
I’m excited about this change because it will enable Cofactor to help people more, and help me to feel I am doing my bit, however small, to avoid making the climate crisis worse. It will help improve the diversity and environmental credentials of our clients too! And it will mean that my personal and business life will be more integrated, so that I can be more myself in my professional capacity. I won’t be talking about my personal relationships, but being able to say that I’m bi here feels freeing.
I will be able to talk about my career history more openly, which may make my contributions to discussions on science careers more useful. I have given a few talks about my career at scientific institutions over the last few years (and written this for Vitae) and have enjoyed them a lot. So if you’d like me to talk at your careers day for STEM PhD students, postdocs or people in publishing, do get in touch!
Do also get in touch if you have any suggestions for how Cofactor can improve its environmental and EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) credentials or if you have any comments on this change in general. If you support this initiative, please say so! Especially on Twitter, where there is a wider audience.
Thank you for supporting Cofactor over the last five years, and here’s to the next five, ten or twenty years of learning and helping people!