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Meet the gay guy who’s improving Heathrow and the work life of LGBTI folk

Meet the gay guy who’s improving Heathrow and the work life of LGBTI folk

Patrick Vickery LGBT Network Heathrow

As a kid, what you want to be when you grow up is a world of infinite possibilities. Princess, firefighter, Power Ranger – none of those interested Patrick Vickery.

He wanted to be a milkman.

But twenty years later, he’s landed his actual dream job at Heathrow airport. The 24-year-old tells me this as we move through the secret staff passages that snake through the building, as if we’ve skipped down an aviation-themed Diagon Alley. Eventually, one heavy door later, we find the light of the depature lounge. Patrick stares out at the hustle and bustle of Europe’s biggest airport and it feels like he’s at home.

‘It’s the industry I find really exciting. That everyone is going somewhere different and they’ve come back from somewhere else. I think that’s really, really amazing.’

Patrick, from Camberley in Surrey, isn’t just an employee at the airport. He’s part of 14 successful graduates out of over a thousand applicants to Heathrow’s grad scheme. But he’s also a member of their Proud Network diversity initiative, which aims to influence work culture to make it more inclusive to LGBTI people.

With around 76,000 people on site, working here isn’t like turning up to any old office job. So these groups – spanning disability, gender and ethnicity – are in place to make sure that this veritable town of people are looked after properly. Despite only having been set up in the past year, they’ve instituted a Pride campaign that spanned the whole airport. Now people are starting to take notice, and Patrick’s eyes light up when the network is mentioned. He’s carved a place out in this career and he wants others to do the same.

How did the career change from milkman to what you do now?

I used to think the milk floats were quite cool and I wanted to drive one. But then I realized milkman had to get up at like 2 o’clock in the morning, so at that point my enthusiasm waned slightly. Once I got a bit older it did become apparent to me that I wanted to work in aviation. A lot of my family grew up working with airlines and airports – including Heathrow. It was just always in the back of my mind that it was something I wanted to do as part of my career.

Heathrow Pride welcome signs
These posters welcomed travelers during Pride month

What did you do before Heathrow?

I was working for a reinsurance broker. But I was specifically an aviation analyst from a reinsurance prospective. Whilst I was doing that I felt that the aviation part of it was really interesting. I wanted to get into a job that was even more directly aviation focused, which was one of my motivations for wanting to work at Heathrow.

So you landed your dream job?

Yeah, I feel really lucky.

What kind of qualifications do you need to get into the position?

To get into the grad scheme at Heathrow you just need to have a degree, they don’t specify what subject you study. They are quite keen to get people from a range of different disciplines. From my graduate intake we have everything from acting to law; I studied Geography. They don’t have any specific grade requirements either. The whole process is aimed at being as inclusive as possible.

What was the process like?

It started with form filling online, then the next stage was a video interview – not a live video interview, it was a recorded one. You get prompted with questions and it’s all very focused on situations you might encounter working at the airport. The next stage was a telephone interview with a member of the HR team, where they find out a little bit more about you and your motivation for applying and kind of situational judgement questions.

The final stage is at the assessment centre and that involves doing a group exercise, a case study exercise, a presentation exercise, and then you have a more traditional face-to-face interview. It was quite tough. But it was interesting because they made it quite realistic to what your job would be like working at Heathrow. I felt like it gave me the opportunity to convey my passions and why I specifically wanted to work at Heathrow. Because it is quite a unique environment.

Most grad jobs are based in the city in an office, going to the same desk every day. Working at Heathrow is more varied, a lot more dynamic, and a lot more fun.

Heathrow Pride flag kissing photo
Heathrow created its own Pride flag with the kisses of 6000 passengers

Are you friends with the other graduates?

We all know each other and we get on really well. There’s 14 of us on my intake in December. They do a lot of development courses for us as a group and we socialize quite a lot out of work too. I’ve made some really good friends in the group. I do like that sense of being a part of this graduate group, we all start at the same time and eventually we’ll all go off into our different areas. But I like having that support network and sense of community it brings.

What’s your day-to-day in this job?

I mainly work on projects within Terminal 5 and some of the other terminals as well. It’s mainly projects that aim to improve the experience our passengers have while traveling through the airport. It’s a lot of engaging with stakeholders, and contractors and looking at passenger feedback to see what areas we have to improve in. It involves a lot of being out and about in terminals and meeting up externally and internally to discuss what we’re doing.

[Patrick smiles and points at one of the chairs. He told me earlier that his co-workers make jokes about his obsession with chairs]

And lots of chair-based activities! It’s one of those things, chairs in airports, that you don’t really think about until you work at an airport. Having worked on it now you realize how much consideration goes into just moving them. It’s probably sad how excited I get about them now. But I do. So…

Can you tell me about the Proud Network?

The Proud Network is part of our diversity and inclusion campaign. There’s the Proud network that looks at LGBT+ issues within Heathrow and then we’ve got a women’s network, a disability network, a culture and ethnicity network, and more.

Who heads these networks?

Each one has a lead and they do this alongside their day job. Our network lead is Tim, and his day job is in the rewards team. We have a meeting once a week that all the committee go to, where we discuss what we’re currently doing, our plans for the future, and we can share any issues that have risen in the last week. If anyone’s noticed anything that needs to change.

They are still in their infancy to some extent, so a lot of the work is going out to our colleagues and letting them know that these networks exist. We’re getting a lot of traction now, in particular with the Pride campaign over the summer that has seen a lot of interest. We’ve seen a lot of new members sign up. I think what our focus needs to be now is keeping that momentum going after Pride month, to keep getting new members, engaging with colleagues and building up the network.

Heathrow Pride flag
The Pride flag hanging above Heathrow

Has this allowed you to meet and make friends with LGBTI people at work?

Being a part of the Proud Network I’ve had the opportunity to meet a load of LGBT+ colleagues. But among graduates as well, there’s a few of us that identify as LGBT+. As a campus that has 70,000 people on it, the statistics say that a few people will be gay.

What’s it like being in a company like this when you’re openly gay?

I know that sometimes you can be hesitant to come out – out of all the places that I’ve worked Heathrow is definitely the one that I feel most comfortable, I’ve never felt like I couldn’t be myself. I’ve got a lot of support. I think overall that I do feel comfortable with being myself. Part of me feels like you shouldn’t have to feel lucky to be able to be yourself at work, because that is something you should just have anyway. But I know that in a lot of places that isn’t the case, so I do feel lucky.

Have you always been out at work?

In my last job I was. Whilst I was still at uni I had a pub job, and at that point I didn’t feel comfortable to be open about it. They were just part time jobs, they weren’t my career. It was necessarily as important to be open. I guess working a pub with all these rowdy drunk people – it’s sad, but it wasn’t really worth the risk of someone saying something.

When you think about it now, it’s a bit sad that this was the case – but it didn’t bother me a huge amount. But luckily, at Heathrow, I don’t have to pretend that I fancy girls.

What advice would you give someone who’s going to apply to the grad scheme?

Just go for it. If you feel like you have a passion for it and aviation and airports, I think it’s something a little bit different, it will challenge you in ways that a lot of other jobs won’t challenge you. And if you’re interested, we’ve got material online about the scheme. It happens every year, so just go for it.

Heathrow is a partner of Gay Star News.

More from Gay Star News:

Meet the inspiring gay guy in charge of airfield safety at Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport unveils Pride flag made of 6,000 passengers’ kisses