These four episodes are about LGBT issues in the workplace. Why? With over 60% of LGBT graduates who were ‘out’ at university going back into the closet when they start work, and employees who feel they can’t disclose using as much as 30% of their mental energy hiding their true identity this is a vital issue for HR to get right and to keep developing beyond policies and disclosure statistics.

LGBT+ issues in the workplace

Date: 05/04/16 Duration: 18:37:00

In this episode we speak to gay, lesbian and trans people talk about their work, their colleagues, disclosure, language and why there’s no such thing as the LGBT community. Our guests include Stephen Frost, a globally recognised diversity expert for Frost Included, trainee vet Hattie Smart, EY partner Liz Bingham, Amy Stanning, shared services Director at Barclays, Head of diversity and inclusion at NHS Employers, Paul Deemer, and Scott Durairaj, head of patient experience, mental health and learning disability for the NHS.

Philippa Lamb: Hello this month we’re bringing you a new podcast every week and all of them are about LGBT+ at work. Why are we focusing so hard on this? Well because right now more than 60% of LGBT+ graduates who are out at university go back into the closet when they start work. That's right – 63% and that's according to Stonewall.

So what’s going on? LGBT+ employees of course have legal protection against discrimination but we all know that making workplaces inclusive is about more than rules and regulations and for all the positive messaging on company websites and good work being done by many organisations tens of thousands of LGBT+ people still feel it’s just too risky to bring their whole selves to work.

So what are their anxieties and how do you create a workplace where everyone can flourish?

Getting to the heart of this really matters. Failing to be inclusive is very expensive.

Great candidates and valuable employees avoid organisations where they’re just not confident they’ll fit in and they can waste as much as 30% of their mental energy hiding who they are if they work for an organisation that doesn’t feel truly inclusive.

In this first podcast you'll hear gay, lesbian and trans people talk about their work and their colleagues, why they do, or don't, disclose their sexual identity, how there's no such thing as the LGBT+ community and why all sides get so hung up on language.

Stephen Frost is globally recognised diversity expert and a gay man so he's ideally placed to assess the situation for LGBT+ people at work.

You'll also hear from trainee vet Hatti Smart; EY partner Liz Bingham; Amy Stanning, who is Shared Services Director at Barclays; Paul Deemer who is Head of diversity and inclusion at NHS Employers and Scott Durairaj, head of patient experience, mental health and learning disability for the NHS.

Stephen Frost: So where are we now? I think in many ways we’re in a great place. In many ways we’re world leading. In many ways we’ve changed this to be a positive good, a commercial good, rather than a cost or something we don't want to be associated with. But of course we still know that young people are bullied for being lesbian or gay. We still know that too many people think of their identity as being a liability in their career rather than as a resource and part of them being an authentic, whole person at work.

PL: This is a reality for many young people entering the workforce, here’s Hatti.

Hattie Smart: There has been times where I've not mentioned it at all because I've felt that it wouldn’t have been taken in the right way necessarily. Times on placements more than anything else, some settings are quite traditional, quite religious, old-style farming communities. I've known for a fact that people have been verbally abused on placements because of their sexuality. So it was something that I maybe hid.

SF: I think the issue becomes when, let’s take Jane or Bob that have been out at university, have bought the website and the marketing and the ‘Kool-aid’ and then have gone in and met the line manager and then the penny drops. Oh! And it’s the classic you know Drucker quote that the culture eats strategy for breakfast.

HS: What they say on paper and what actually happens can be two completely different things and I think you kind of need to be there for a while to understand that at times, which is difficult when you’re at interview process.

PL: Not disclosing can put a serious dent in productivity and in career progression.

Liz Bingham: I had a flourishing career until rather shockingly when I turned 30 I fell in love with a woman for the first time. This was at a point in time when Elton John was married to a woman and George Michael was straight. And so it was not an environment where I felt comfortable in coming out, started to doubt whether I was in the right place: my career sort of really stalled as I struggled to stay in the closet, if you will.

PL: Did you feel before you made the decision to transition and to be open about it, did you feel that the situation you were in impacted adversely on your performance at work?

Amy Stanning: Undoubtedly. When you’re having to hide something so fundamental about yourself as gender identity, or indeed sexuality, you have to use so much of your mental capacity to kind of protect the secret that that inevitably a) distracts, but basically takes mental energy away from anything you do, family, work.

I got to the point where I could no longer cope with managing the conflict between how I felt and how I appeared. I reached out to my senior HR business partner and basically said, “This may come as a bit of a shock to you but I need to transition my gender, transition my presentation at work and I need your help to do that.”

LB: My boss had a conversation with me and he asked me if the flatmate that I’d introduced him to was in fact my partner? But then I thought well I could lie because I've been lying quite successfully for two years, but I realised I didn’t want to lie and so I told him the truth and we had a great conversation. And then at the end of that conversation I asked if he would respect my confidence because nobody else in the office knew and it didn’t affect my work and he told me that I was wrong, that it would affect my work if I wasn’t being able to be open and honest with my colleagues, my clients, that it would diminish my effectiveness as a leader. And so I very tentatively stepped out of the closet and amazingly enough the sky didn’t fall in and so I told a few more and that was really positive. All of this was happening eight years before I came out to my parents.

The fear disappeared, the fear of being found out. I think when I was in the closet the power was all with everybody else, you know in terms of the potential to find me out and then for bad things to happen. With every conversation I had I felt I was claiming back the power, power with a small ‘p’.

PL: And you must have spent a great chunk of your energy in hiding that truth?

LB: Yes, yeah trying to avoid using pronouns and names and being very vague about what you did at the weekend and so on.

PL: And not disclosing could also land you in some awkward situations.

Scott Durairaj: I've had some really interesting ones, so I worked in an organisation in East London once. It was interesting there was quite a few Asian staff there and my heritage is, my father was Sri Lankan, mother was English, and I was in my 30s I think at the time and there was a woman there and she said, “Oh you're not married!” and I said, “Oh no,” because at that time I was still with my partner who I'm with now but we couldn’t get married of course, but I hadn’t come out in this organisation. And she said, “Oh I've got some friends I’d like you to meet.” I thought it was going for an innocent curry with a load of Asian colleagues who I worked with, hadn’t realised she was lining me up for a date with an Asian woman. So before I knew it I was kind of on a date with a woman.

PL: Awkward for both of you?

SD: Yeah well it was yes, it was a bit of a ‘Will and Grace’ moment – that unwitting prejudice that occurs. So when people talk about, “Oh so was it a civil partnership or did you have a normal wedding”? You know those kind of languages, the heteronormative approach we kind of tolerate.

PL: It’s ignorance isn’t it but not necessarily with malicious intent?

SD: No. But unwitting prejudice when it’s delivered by a number of people still deliver enough micro-aggressions to an individual’s spirit, confidence, ability in themselves to actually negatively affect how they see themselves and how they seem themselves within your company.

PL: Unwitting prejudice undermines an inclusive atmosphere.

SF: It’s this ladder isn’t it from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence to conscious competence. So it’s this kind of journey of learning which L&D can facilitate. It can help and say, “It’s okay,” right, “There's a ladder, there's a route, this is normal, it happens to everybody, we’re all biased, let’s just all learn.” And you put people on training courses and it just becomes normalised that okay we all learn this stuff, great, happy days. But I think another way is just very practically in the moment when it really happens, like in the line manager example, and it’s just, as with disability, ask – just ask. “I'm sorry what would you like? I'm sorry I don't know. What would you suggest?” And just asking is actually a really important thing to do.

PL: The language thing it’s interesting to hear your thoughts on that because a lot of the conversations we've had for this podcast people have been anxious about terminology and the terminology around LGBT can be extremely complex, certainly for people not in those circles, and I think even for people who are. And it seems that the legal framework around it is almost creating more barriers though because as you say people are literally anxious now that they’re transgressing legally if they say or do the wrong thing.

LB: Yes I think that's absolutely right. So I've experienced that myself where people have said, very innocuous question like, “Are you married?” and I am now married but prior to same sex marriage I’d say, “No but my partner and I had our civil partnership.” And the response was often, “Oh I'm sorry” ((laughs)). Actually what sorry that I'm in a civil partnership or sorry that you assumed I was married? What is it that you’re sorry about?

PL: There’s a kind of hypervigilance isn’t there, an oversensitivity about it?

LB: Yes exactly.

PL: That people were terribly anxious about transgressing that makes them behave in a safe way and a safe way is often not a reaching out or an inclusive way.

LB: Absolutely.

SD: What’s useful for me with LGBT is we recognise that it’s an umbrella term. I think people who use it as a very clear descriptor that would be wrong. I always say it’s not necessarily whether people say to me, “Are you LGBT? Are you BME?” I would rather them think “this is Scott and there are some particular areas we need to consider in employing Scott.” And that's all I'm asking for.

PL: Scott’s point about treating people as individuals is an important one because there's no such thing as the LGBT+ community.

SD: Within the LGBT community there's a lot of bi-phobia.

LB: The lesbians will all stick together but within the lesbian community you'll have different factions.

AS: A lot of gay and bi people don't get trans, why should they? Because that's about sexual orientation whereas trans is about gender identity. It’s very different.

LB: Within the gay men community you have a hierarchy.

SD: And there's also a hell of a lot of trans-phobia.

LB: And don't even get me on the bisexuals, you know. There are some members of the community who don't think they should be represented at all, you know kind of “make your mind up, you can't have it both ways” ((laughs)).

PL: Accepting that one size doesn’t fit all means not relying solely on disclosure data to understand your employees. The NHS employs 1.3 million people so statistically that's maybe 100,000+ LGBT staff – but how many of them feel able to disclose?

Paul Deemer: What we find in terms of sexual orientation is that the disclosure rates are quite low, so there's a high level of “do not wish to disclose” or “unknown”. So on that 1.3 million 0.6% of the workforce declare themselves to be gay, 0.4% of the workforce declare themselves to be lesbian and 0.4% as well declare themselves to be bisexual.

PL: So in terms of lesbian, gay and bisexual people you've got under 1.5% of the workforce reporting which is really low isn’t it?

PD: According to the data. It is very low. And we know it’s not accurate.

PL: So it’s about recognising what these numbers really mean.

SF: It’s legal in the UK to ask people about their identity if they want to voluntarily disclose and that gives you a real measure on two counts: 1) it gives you a measure of how many people might identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, in an organisation. And we know that if the national average is around about 6% where an organisation benchmarks versus that, and it’s usually a lot lower. But secondly it gives us a measure of inclusion because if we thought that there were about 6% LGBT people in the country and therefore perhaps in our workforce, if not all those people feel able to disclose or want to disclose it’s actually a measure of inclusion more than a measure of diversity because can they be out? Can they feel comfortable and trusting that organisation to let you know?

 PL: And it’s important to ask the right questions in the right way.

SD: What I've learnt over the time is the barrier to those questions is not the people answering them it’s the people asking them. If I start by asking, here’s some questions that are really personal, you don't have to answer if you don't want. That really sets that structure. But if I say, “Here’s some critical questions that would be really helpful for us as an organisation to prove the services we deliver, if you could help us fill them in that would be great.” It frames the question much more differently and you get much more positive answers.

PL: It’s tricky ground isn’t it, particularly for straight people asking those questions because in their head they’re thinking, “no one asked me this question, no one asked me about my sexuality”.

SD: But I think that's the point they should be because we assume. So some people look at me as a six foot five, mixed race Scouser and they will make an assumption I'm straight and it happens quite a bit, maybe not so when they look at my shoes but it happens quite a bit.

PL: There's a lot to take in here so let’s think about the endgame, what should a workplace feel like?

AS: The day comes when you present in your acquired gender for the first time, which is nerve wracking. I had a role where I was mobile, so three or four days of the week I was different location. So everywhere you’d go there's a first time. When you walk in, in my case to a branch and there are cashiers sat behind the desk or personal bankers at the front and they kind of all know you're going and they all want to look, which is fine and that's just how it is.

 PL: Do you constantly feel you’re having to manage people’s expectations and preconceptions?

AS: Yeah so my presentation was hugely important to me and still is. And you know you make some fashion crime mistakes along the way but if the culture and the environment is right whatever people feel they will treat you with respect and that's really important in the workplace. So I knew I could go somewhere and even if I looked appalling people would treat me with respect and the challenge for me wasn’t being at work it was going to work and leaving work. So sitting on the train, sitting on the tube with people looking at you, that was incredibly stressful and on more than one occasion led to me being abused and assaulted. So for me to be able to almost like come to work where I was who I was, no discrimination, was hugely important to me.

PL: We’re getting to the end of this first episode but before we finish here’s a sobering thought: when we started work on this series I imagined we should all be aiming at a time when inclusion would be such a norm we wouldn’t need policy about it anymore but Stephen put me right on that.

SF: Often people, good people espouse a nirvana where we don't need to do this stuff because it’s just natural and normal and here’s the slightly uncomfortable truth; as human beings we prefer sameness to difference and if we don't consciously include we will unconsciously exclude. So I think yes we can get to a situation where it becomes much more commonplace and it’s standard HR practice, and we’re not there yet, but I think even if we were to attain that nirvana vigilance is important in order to prevent regression. And I think we can show in hard data that when you don't consciously lead on this stuff you do go backwards. In the absence of transparency and challenge and inclusion we do tend to hire in our own image and we do tend to get more homogenous rather than more diverse.

PL: Our thanks to Stephen Frost, Hatti Smart, Liz Bingham, Paul Deemer, Amy Stanning and Scott Durairaj.

Come back to the podcast page every Tuesday this month for lots more on the how tos…

AS: We planned that I would sit down, firstly with my team and then with a larger peer group and basically tell them the story.

PL: Okay before you go any further I want to ask how you felt before that meeting because it just sounds terrifying?

AS: Terrified, absolutely terrified.      

PL: And the how not tos…

LB: My then boss said to me, “There must be more of you out there?” And I said, “What Aries?”

PL: Women?

LB: What are you referring to? ((laughs)).

Interview with Amy Stanning

Date: 12/04/16 Duration: 08:13:00

Amy Stanning is shared services Director at Barclays and in this podcast she discusses her experience of transitioning her gender identity while staying in the same job, the essential support she received from her senior HR business partner and her tips for HR on how to create an inclusive culture in the workplace.

Amy Stanning: I had realised and come to understand what my true gender identity was at a very early age but like a lot of people of my generation we kind of made the best of it. The older I got, and probably the more stress I accumulated in my everyday life at work and at home, the less able I was to cope. And I got to the point where I could no longer cope with that. So all that’s coming together. All that's kind of crystallising. So then to cover kind of how did I approach it at work. Frankly I got to the position that this was something I had to do and then it was almost a question of will work go with me or not because either way I'm going to do it.

Philippa Lamb: Right.

AS: Once I’d got to the Rubicon moment I reached out to my senior HR business partner and I rang and basically said, “This may come as a bit of a shock to you but I need to transition my gender, transition my presentation at work and I need your help to do that.” So Karen being the lovely empathetic person that she is was hugely supportive but the first thing she said to me was, “This is new to me so whilst I can't, [at our first meeting] I can't give you the answers, my commitment to you is I’ll go and find out.”

PL: And was that a good response for you?

AS: Yeah so that was great. And she was very supportive, very committed to get the information she needed to work with me to make it happen. And the bottom line, and I’ll always remember what she said, she said, “Whatever it takes...”

PL: Right.

AS: “…we’ll make this happen and we’ll support you. You do not need to have any worries about work.”

PL: What a great response.

AS: So that was just amazing for me.

PL: So that must have been the first of many conversations you had at that time and subsequently about this at work?

AS: Yeah.

PL: How did they go because at some point presumably you sat down with your director, superior?

AS: ((laughs)) I remember that very, very, very well and he was very supportive, so that was a major relief. So basically we put in place a plan which had me sitting down with my team. So at that time I probably had 25 direct reports, tell them the story, in my own words, in my own time. And at that meeting would be present my boss, HR, a representative from the Gender Trust. That I would then share and then I would withdraw. And whilst I was out of the room they then ran a Q&A session, it was like the “Hoo; so what does this mean?” Answer all the questions.

PL: Okay before you go any further I want to ask how you felt before that meeting because it just sounds terrifying.

AS: Terrified. Absolutely terrified. And I think kind of a big learn for me was kind of looking back at that in time and it really is seared on my memory, oh gosh I think they all probably thought I was going to die, I’d got some awful illness that I was telling them about. It was very heavy and very serious. And actually I learnt something not long after that actually trans is not tragic.

PL: And how did they respond?

AS: Shock. Huge shock. I then had two weeks leave and during that time it was agreed that all my reports would go through a short, I think one to two hour training session on what it meant to be transgender, why, how, implications, the journey, loos, pronouns, names, sexual orientation, dress, you name it. So that then gets you to a position when the day comes when you go back and you present in your acquired gender for the first time which is nerve wracking and I think what I would say is people get really hung up on making mistakes or getting it wrong.

PL: Right.

AS: So it’s like the atmosphere in the office was I knew everybody was waiting for the first person to use my former name, because of course I changed name, or to misgender me. And actually I’ll always remember the first person to misgender myself was me, which kind of, and I actually made a point of going, “Oh there you go I'm the first,” and we had a laugh and that kind of broke the tension.

PL: Do you constantly feel you’re having to manage people’s expectations and preconceptions?

AS: Yes so my presentation was hugely important to me and still is.

PL: And what’s the key thing there for you to appear appropriate for the role you’re in?

AS: Absolutely.

PL: Right.

AS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know you make some fashion crime mistakes along the way.

PL: Well we all do that.

AS: But the point is if the culture and the environment is right whatever people feel they will treat you with respect. And actually some of the people that I knew best or my closest colleagues might take me aside and say, “Do you know what, that's not really working,” or, “Your make-up’s a bit over the top.” But the point I want to get to is that for me work became a really safe space. And the challenge for me wasn’t being at work it was going to work and leaving work.

PL: The journey?

AS: The journey. So sitting on the train, sitting on the tube with people looking at you, that was incredibly stressful and on more than one occasion led to me being abused and assaulted. And I had to steel myself and occasionally still do, leaving work and jumping on the train and all the rest of it.

PL: Let’s talk a little bit about inclusivity at work because obviously that’s an issue for all sorts of people within the LGBT+ community on all sorts of levels. For you, what would it be that might have got in the way of you feeling included once you’d transitioned?

AS: Yeah use of language, but also it’s the way people behave. It’s when you talk about other things, fashion, whether it be shopping or whether it be sport, news, politics, whatever, it’s actually being included in those conversations, being included within the group. The fact that I've gender transitioned does not mean that I'm not interested in sport anymore, yeah?

PL: ((laughs)) Oh right.

AS: But you know kind of at the end of the day you have to be big enough to get over that.

PL: For HR, managers at all levels, what is the most important thing they need to keep in the forefront of their mind if they find themselves in the situation of having that conversation that you had with your HR, what should they do?

AS: The reality is trans people are out there. So however big your workforce, large or small, you've probably got trans people in it. So I think the statistics would say that at some time or other in their lives about 5% of the population question their identity. About 1% of the population ever in their lifetime do something about it. So that means within every HR group there needs to be a subject matter expert, point of excellence. I think that's really, really important. But when you’re having the conversation be empathetic and be understanding and commit to go away and do your research because I think the message is that for the individual who’s transitioning to get to the point of having the conversation they’ve gone through so much and what they need is your help, your empathy and your support and you, as Karen was in my case, to be the trusted and informed professional that they can rely on for help in transitioning with work.

Interview with Liz Bingham

Date: 19/04/16 Duration: 08:05:00

Liz Bingham is a Partner in People Advisory services at EY and in her podcast she describes how her career flourished after a supportive boss encouraged her to come out at work and how this helped her become a more authentic leader. Liz also discusses her opinion of the experience of young people entering the workforce, as well as giving tips for HR and line managers who want to bring a truly diverse community into the workplace.

Philippa Lamb: I thought we might just start off with a little kind of mini, potted version of your career.                           

Liz Bingham: Oh gosh my 30 year career.

PL: In short where did you start? Where are you now?

LB: So started from an unusual background of being working class, state school educated and not a graduate, coming into a professional services environment, was lucky enough to have been given a break. And found myself in a space working in restructuring which really suited me: it’s a mix of law and finance and general business common sense. Very fast paced, very varied, absolutely loved it. Had a flourishing career until rather shockingly when I turned 30 I fell in love with a woman for the first time. And back in the day was when there were no gay role models in life really, let alone in business. This was a point in time when Elton John was married to a woman and George Michael was straight. And so it was not an environment where I felt comfortable in coming out. I started to feel very uncomfortable at work started to doubt whether I was in the right place: my career sort of really stalled as I struggled to stay in the closet, if you will.

And then my boss had a conversation with me and he asked me if the flatmate that I’d introduced him to was in fact my partner?

PL: How did you feel about that?

LB: I was really shocked. But then I thought well I could lie, because I've been lying quite successfully for two years, but I realised I didn’t want to lie and so I told him the truth and we had a great conversation. And then at the end of that conversation I asked if he would respect my confidence because nobody else in the office knew and it didn’t affect my work and he told me that I was wrong…

PL: Wow.

LB: …that it would affect my work if I wasn’t being able to be open and honest with my colleagues, my clients, that it would diminish my effectiveness as a leader. And it was my first instruction, if you will, into the notion of authentic leadership. And so I very tentatively stepped out of the closet and told a few people. And amazingly enough the sky didn’t fall in and so I told a few more and that was really positive. But the more conversations I had, the more my confidence built and the more normalised it became and my career got back on track and actually probably flourished and accelerated even faster than it had beforehand..

PL: So you said your very smart boss said you wouldn’t be as effective and successful if you weren't authentic about bringing the Stonewall idea, bringing your whole self to work. Have you found that to be true? Do you think you flourish better?

LB: Absolutely yes because all of the fear disappeared the fear of being found out. And I felt with every conversation I had I felt I was claiming back the power, power with a small ‘p’. I think when I was in the closet the power was all with everybody else, you know in terms of the potential to find me out and then for bad things to happen, so reclaiming that power was very liberating.

PL: And you must have spent a great chunk of your energy in hiding that truth?

LB: Yes, yeah, trying to avoid using pronouns and names and being very vague about what you did at the weekend and so on.

PL: Do you find there's any sort of generational difference between older colleagues or people of a similar age, or younger people? Are attitudes largely across the board now just accepting and inclusive?

LB: I think the younger generations definitely are more inclusive than my baby-boomer generation but my fear is that it’s when they come into the workplace that is the first time that they will start to see some kind of bias or prejudice or worse against individuals because they are gay, because they are of a different ethnic minority or because they are women.

I think the Human Rights Campaign did some research and I think it’s 63% of out graduates go back into the closet.

PL: You see that is interesting. So when you say as many as 60% of young people even discussing the fact that maybe they need to be back in the closet if they’re job-hunting, there's clearly something about the way work, the workplace, the working world, is presenting itself to these smart young people: we’re talking about graduates mostly here, coming into your sort of workspace, have you any sense of where those messages are coming from

LB: I think it’s everywhere actually. I think it's in the media. There’s still snipey comments. So there’s a kind of a societal thing which doesn’t help and I think there's insufficient role models in business that actually say, “Look I'm like you, whether that's because I'm a lesbian or because I'm working class, or because I'm not a graduate,” or whatever it might be.

PL: What gets in the way of feeling included at work for you? Is it around language?

LB: I think there is a vocabulary barrier. So people can be fearful of overstepping some imaginary legal line and then bad things happening. For UK business we are a very class-conscious society and British business is very hierarchical and that's kind of what drives a lack of inclusion, to my mind, is because it’s always the most senior person in the room who is expected to come up with all the ideas and so therefore regardless of your personal identity you just don't feel that you’re in an environment where you can make a full contribution.

PL: So tips for well-intentioned HRs, recruiters, line managers, what should they be doing in order to bring a truly diverse community through their doors?

LB: I think be brave and ask questions. Engage with everybody in a way that you would like to be engaged with. And being careful with language yes but don't be hypervigilant. If you trip yourself up apologise, you know I had no intention to cause offence, I'm very sorry, blah, blah.

PL: EY looks very different just walking through your offices now I remember the first time I walked through an EY office, Ernst and Young as it then was 20, 25 years ago, is it where you want it to be? Are we still on the journey in terms of diversity?

LB: Still on a journey definitely. We’re almost at risk of declaring victory too soon because it does look very different but we’re a country mile from really understanding how to include everybody in the best possible way. And I found this recently with a  colleague who is a Spanish national, so English isn’t his first language, his English is excellent but quite heavily accented. He's a white man, straight white man but because he's not a native English speaker he's finding that there are biases against him. So it comes in many different shapes and forms. So yeah we’re still on a journey but we have got to keep on focusing on this.

Interview with Scott Durairaj

Date: 26/04/16 Duration: 06:41:00

Scott Durairaj is Head of Patient Experience; Mental Health and Learning Disability at NHS England. In this episode he discusses his experiences in the NHS, what he looks for when considering new organisations and how organisations can begin to build on positive and inclusive cultures.

Philippa Lamb: Tell us about the job you’re doing now and how you came to be doing it?

Scott Duraraj: Okay so I'm the head of patient experience for mental health and learning disability at NHS England but I also hold a remit within the patient experience team for vulnerable and marginalised patient populations which include lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, in the widest population and the others which you can call Q, I etc. so intersex as well, as well as gypsy travellers etc.

PL: No you’re a bit of an NHS lifer aren’t you?

SD: Yeah about 24 years I think now.

PL: Obviously you've been an NHS employee in a variety of roles for a long, long time, what’s your experience as a black gay man been of being an NHS employee?

SD: There’s two types of organisation and two types of issues I've faced. Firstly when I've worked in organisations where there are no black people, people are much more comfortable to talk to me about the gay issue. And so it’s actually easier to be gay than it is to be black, but one of them I have to come out about one of them I don't. So I think that’s quite an interesting quandary how people find it perhaps easier to talk about sexual orientation. In areas like Manchester, the big cities I guess that's true to say. I think it’s a bit different in some of the more rural communities.

Where there's very diverse NHS organisations I've had some really interesting ones. So I worked in an organisation in East London once, it was interesting there was quite a few Asian staff there and my heritage is, my father was Sri Lankan, mother was English, and I was in my 30s I think at the time and there was a woman there and she said, “Oh you're not married!” and I said, “Oh no,” And she said, “Oh I've got some friends I’d like you to meet.” So before I knew it I was kind of on a date with a woman.

PL: Awkward for both of you?

SD: Well it was yes, it was a bit of a Will and Grace moment and I was very honest with her and we had a good laugh about it actually and everybody was really cool.

PL: So this brings me to the question of voluntary disclosure because, as we’ve now discovered, the disclosure levels amongst the lesbian, gay, bi and trans community in the NHS workforce are really, really low. If you’re working somewhere new how would you gauge whether you wish to be open or not.

SD: So what I've been doing the last, probably, ten years of my career is before I apply for the job I look on their website. I look to see whether they have staff networks. I look to see whether they have positive mention of same sex relationships. So their benefit policies, so whether it be maternity and adoption, they talk about same sex couples. When they talk about compassionate leave they talk about same sex partners. I look for things like that because they’re little tones to tell you what the culture, what the barometer is. And then I ask some specific questions in the interview.

PL: And you've felt reassured?

SD: Yes. I’ll ask because I…and there is a risk because if they choose not to employ you because you've asked questions around, well I'm thinking of adopting, for instance, which I was at the time, what is your same sex adoption policy? Now I look for body language. You become skilled at this and I didn’t see any grimaces or anything, apart from the fact they didn’t know the question.

PL: Just confusion.

SD: Yeah and I actually got the job. And there is an argument here, so some people say, “I would never do that because I might never get the job.” My answer is well if I wasn't going to get the job because I was gay then I wouldn’t want the job in the first place.

PL: So what do you want to see in organisations, because obviously you’re involved with the NHS, I'm thinking about organisations generally who have a stated objective for whatever reason, financial and/or legal, ethical, to make their workplaces more comfortable and welcoming and inclusive for everyone, what do you want to see? Do you want to see networking groups? Do you want to see straight advocates? Do you want to see LGBT champions? What works for you?

SD: None of that really.

PL: Right.

SD: I think what I want to feel, so I don't want to see things I want to feel that I'm not judged by my sexual orientation or the colour of my skin.

PL: I completely understand what you’re saying about that, I'm interested, I'm putting myself in the shoes of a CEO of a boardroom and thinking, we want to drive that culture in our organisation that’s who we want to be. They’ve got to have some sort of strategy for making that happen with their people haven’t they? So what should they be doing?

SD: So strategies are really I always say start with data. So I've worked in trusts where we’ve got 90-odd percent sexual orientation data and so I think starting with data is really key. Educating staff about their own data, because I don't think you'll ever get to customer or in NHS terms patient data unless staff feel comfortable. And in the NHS I often get, and this is quite critical really, people saying, “Yeah but it’s just really difficult asking them questions.” And I say, “But in the NHS we can ask somebody to strip off and get into a gown with their backside showing, for an x-ray.” But we can't ask them what their sexual orientation is. And some people go, “Yeah but that's what they do in their bedroom.” And no it’s actually not. It’s not about sex. And I think they’re the things. So what I've learnt over the time is the barrier to those questions is not the people answering them it’s the people asking them.

PL: Do you get the sense that employers generally are getting there with this?

SD: I am of course of I am. So with the advent of equality within the workplace and the equality within social settings with regards to goods, facilities and services and equal marriage, all of that drives a new normal and I think I saw statistics being a father of two wonderful children, that adoption now, 12% of new adopters are LGB which I think is fantastic and there's still more work to be done on transgender adoption. But I think we are getting there and I think there is a creation of a new normal but it’s interesting when you go out it’s created a difference. It’s much harder to be public and not be out when you’re an adopted parent. And it’s something I hadn’t considered. When you've got two kids and one’s shouting daddy and the other one’s shouting pops everybody in that vicinity knows you’re gay parents. So a hate crime for LGBT people is on the increase and has continued to.

PL: Are you worried that's going to reflect in the workplace?

SD: Well most workplaces are a reflection of society. I do still look at organisations if I'm looking for another role, if I'm going for an interview I still think about how will I fit?

PL: And do you think college leavers are doing that right now?

SD: I think some are and I think maybe their first choice will be an organisation that has a history of positive LGBT outcomes either in Stonewall or have stuff on their website.

Stonewall Global Diversity Champions

Stonewall Global Diversity Champion

The CIPD is a member of Stonewall’s Global Diversity Champions programme, working together to ensure that we are an LGBT+ inclusive employer and membership organisation across our UK and International communities. Our principles – work matters, people matter and professionalism matters – enshrine our belief that good work is safe and inclusive.

Stonewall and the CIPD share the vision that by embedding inclusive values, organisations can drive higher levels of wellbeing, motivation, satisfaction and productivity. Our ambition is to ensure that all of our staff and volunteers feel confident and comfortable in bringing their whole selves to work - because people perform better when they can be themselves. 

Read: The CIPD pledges to make a positive difference to LGBT+ workers

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