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Mercury Pride Month | Interview: Marianna Karachaliou, Senior EHS Advisor
Author: Cormac Byrne  /  21st Jun, 2021  /  News, Announcements & Press

Mercury is celebrating Pride Month in June 2021. To mark the occasion, we spoke to one of our employees Marianna Karachaliou about her experiences of working in construction as a gay woman.

Marianna currently works as a Senior EHS Advisor on a large-scale technology project in Co. Kildare, Ireland.

Can you tell us about your career to date? How did you end up working for Mercury?

“I have travelled the world working on construction projects. I completed my Masters in Environmental Engineering & Safety in Denmark and then started working for an oil and gas company in Greece, after this, I moved to a large multi-national company working on projects in countries such as Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and European countries such as Kosovo and Ukraine.

“I came to Ireland from Ukraine; I met my wife there and we moved here two and half years ago. She works in logistics and is the love of my life. She is very comfortable with her identity and we decided to move here as it can be quite difficult to live in some regions of the world that are not as LGBTQ+ as a married couple. Ireland was our top choice.

“Construction is male-dominated, and differences are not always accepted but I think Mercury is doing a really good job. Mercury is one of the few companies I’ve worked for that has really good systems in place to protect employees and a really good EAP programme.

“I’m currently working on a large technology project in Co Kildare. Mercury is making great progress on the project. It’s always busy and our personnel are excellent. The project is incredibly interesting and anyone with an interest in construction would be happy to work on this project.”

What made you pursue a career in construction and what is the industry like to work in as an LGBT person?

“If you have a thick skin in life, you can work anywhere. However, I never thought that I would end up working in the construction industry. I started studying environmental studies in college and wanted to work on environmental projects. I like rules and regulations and ended up working as an EHS Officer which is a job that really suits me. I’m not an office person and working outdoors on a large construction project keeps my mind active.

“In terms of challenges faced there has been a few. I haven’t had any issues while working for Mercury, but in the past, while working on different projects in different countries it has been difficult. In some parts of the world, you simply can’t just go around and say: ‘I’m Marianna and I’m gay.’ Being a woman is a challenge in its own right in some countries. Sometimes you just have to adapt to the country you are living in. As I would like to be given respect, I would also respect the culture and religious beliefs of the country I am in. I am very proud of my LGBTQ+ identity but sometimes you must be careful of how you act and portray yourself. If you go to a country that is not accepting, then you must abide by the rules.

“When you’re a woman and a lesbian in some countries you must adapt and know when to open your mouth and when not to. Ireland is a very accepting country that Irish people should be proud of. There are so many immigrants here and I am very respectful and glad for it.”

Marianna pictured (left) with her wife.

“Sometimes people ask me if I’m married or what my ‘husband’ does. Depending on the person I’ll judge the situation and answer accordingly. I don’t demand from people to just accept who I am. It’s none of their business. You can’t tell the whole world your business. Sometimes people are curious about me because I’m a woman and a lesbian, and because I am bald – sometimes they ask more than they should. But when I get to know people, through work or in my personal life then I’m happy to speak about families, spouses, and plans for the future.”

Are there any notable differences between your experiences working in Greece compared to Ireland?

“I’m lucky that my family has been fully behind me from a very young age, but it’s difficult because you need the laws to back you up. In Greece, religion is very interconnected with the country and as a result, it’s not as easy to live in as a gay couple. Same-sex marriage was only recently permitted where previously it was more of a legal agreement – I got married in Ireland, but this is not recognised in Greece. If I want to live there, I have to sign a civil partnership.

Marianna pictured (right) with her wife.

“Moving to Ireland was a very educated choice that we made. I had two friends living here who were happily married and this was a good example to us of how LGBTQ+ people are accepted in Ireland. I’m really appreciative of the opportunities we have in living and working here. Irish people are so accepting, and I can speak freely about my spouse without having to hide her gender. It’s an unbelievable feeling for us and I’m also incredibly lucky to be working alongside some fantastic co-workers at Mercury who have never had a problem with or mentioned my sexuality. They have been incredibly open-minded and supportive and that reflects both on Mercury and on Irish culture as a whole.”

What does Pride mean to you?

“Many people perceive Pride month as a time for partying and drinking but don’t understand the real essence of Pride. For me it’s not about celebrating being different, it’s celebrating who I am, and I do this throughout the year – I am proud of who I am every day. Pride is a day and a month that allows us to celebrate who we are. People who are gay can come out and become lost in a crowd of people who are like them. When I was younger, and I saw these parades on tv it made me realise that there were other people like me and that I wasn’t alone. I love Pride but it’s important to be proud all year round.”

This is the second year in a row that Pride will be happening during the pandemic. Do you have any plans for the events this year?

“The only plan I have is to go to Greece and visit my parents as I haven’t been home in two years, but if anything happens pride related when I’m there then I will try to attend. With the COVID situation it’s not so secure yet, we have to be very careful still. I’d like to see us start an initiative in Mercury and host an event between our staff. Education is the key for everything in relation to diversity and inclusion.”

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