Interview : Jen Gagg

Interview : Jen Gagg

“I have always been passionate about fairness, decency, respect, equality and diversity.” We chat to Jen about her 27 years working in the prison service. Her role as an Equality Officer is one she does with passion. She lives by the motto equality never sleeps.

I have been in the Prison Service as a Prison Officer for 27 years this year. I have always been passionate about fairness, decency, respect, equality and diversity.

In the 70’s I came out as gay and went through some difficult times and personally faced discrimination and isolation and at one point I was homeless.

My zest for raising diversity awareness has not waned. I wanted to learn more about different cultures, disabilities and difference, I was never confident at getting things down on paper but preferred trying to achieve better outcomes for all by raising awareness so people did not feel how I felt in the 70’s.

I was given the opportunity to be the Equality Officer in 2008, first part time and then full time. My role is to ensure that we can demonstrate and assist the Governor in our General Duty under the Equality Act 2010. We do have Government Inspections and Equality is audited, so my responsibility is to provide them with evidence that we are achieving their expectations.

I knew what I wanted to achieve, we have a diverse workforce and a diverse prison population. Equality is at times the last item on the agenda but my vision was for managers and staff to think about equality in their decisions and equality and diversity to be embedded.

I am thankful to the Governors and to my present Governor Diane Pellew, that I have had, in the last 5 years been able to go into the community, to learn from what the agencies and other people are doing and then bringing that knowledge into the workplace e.g. autism, learning disabilities, human trafficking and Trans* issues and there are many people to thank for that.

Although I am shy at heart I love presenting equality and diversity to an audience and the achievements and the positive feedback from delegates does mean so much to me.

I was invited onto a:gender steering group (support network for transsexual and intersex staff in government and agencies) and recently have been asked to work with them for another 2 years as the Diversity Lead under their new Chair Karen Dawn Harvey and feel proud to do so. I have just completed the training to be a dementia champion and will deliver information sessions this year but I will never stop wanting to learn more.

“I truly believe that people should feel that they can be themselves and with education and raising awareness, ‘acceptance’ is key, we can all make a difference.”

One of the highlights so far this year was to receive a Butler Trust Certificate from HRH Princess Royal for my work in Equality and have been nominated in the Excellence and Diversity Awards and still can’t believe that it is me .

I do not find it easy to talk about myself and always put my heart and soul into my work and I care about people. My day job keeps me grounded and I work with great people. I set myself high personal standards, I try and keep myself visible and network as much as I can in and out of work. I truly believe that people should feel that they can be themselves and with education and raising awareness, ‘acceptance’ is key, we can all make a difference.

My motto is ‘equality never sleeps’ and I shall keep going even in retirement.

“My motto is ‘equality never sleeps’ and I shall keep going even in retirement.”

What has been the proudest moment in your career to date?

One of my proudest moments was having worked from a blank canvas at the establishment, it was my first equality audit and it is tense time waiting for the outcome. We got a green audit but when she said it was the best Equality work she had ever seen in any organisation, my emotions took over and felt so proud of the work and for everyone who contributed.

Are there still things you want to achieve?

Ha, Ha. Working full time, there are not enough hours in my working life but I would like to be a Diversity Role Model and go into schools. My involvement with a:gender means a lot to me and I am looking forward to working with this Government support network and raising their profile further. I enjoy interacting with people and there is still so much to learn about life. I just want to make a difference.

What role do you think diversity celebration days like ‘International Women’s Day’ and ‘National Coming Out Day’ have in promoting greater understanding and inclusion in society?

Oh, I go back to my school years when history was a 2hr dictation. It would have been great if we were taught about the Windrush boat, Alan Turing and influential women e.g. inventors. We had no technology like today or speakers coming in. I believe it would have helped others and inspired those that felt they were in a minority group. Teaching difference is important and it benefits society in so many ways in fostering respect.

One day we may not need International Women’s Day, National Coming Day or Black History Month, everyone is invited to the events. Today it is important to embrace it, celebrate it as it is tomorrow and I want to be a part of that.

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About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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