Interview : Martyn Loukes BEM, Transport for London
Photo : Martyn Loukes BEM, Chair of the OUTbound network at Transport for London
Martyn is a Business Development Manager for Transport for London’s (TfL) Customers, Communication and Technology division, and he works in their Managing Director’s Office. His day job gives him a unique insight into the workings of one of the world’s most well known – and high profile – public transport providers at a senior level. He’s also the Chair of their award winning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) network group, OUTbound.
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Authentic, creative, tenacious, innovative and marmite.
How did you get involved with OUTbound?
An opportunity presented itself to me as the previous Chair had stepped down to concentrate on the Olympics, and with a little coaxing from OUTbound’s Senior Sponsor (my boss) I decided to go for it.
In 2012 the network was already quite mature, and after seven years of existence it didn’t seem as relevant to some people as it should have been. We had a declining membership and it felt a bit cliquey, which was something I desperately wanted to turn around.
I’m also a lover of a challenge, and although I was worried about the amount of work that I needed to do to modernise our network, I had loads of ideas and felt I could achieve it.
Why are LGBT+ networks, and other employee networks, needed?
Transport for London (TfL) is a large complex organisation and is essentially a company of two halves; we have operational workforce of 15,000 staff and an office based non-operational workforce of the same size.
Staff networks provide support, education and policy within an organisation. We are the subject matter experts for our specialism and can make huge changes that affect the workforce. In the past two years we’ve been responsible for the introduction of trans guidelines for managers and staff, we’ve arranged training for our occupational health staff on gender identity and ran the UK’s largest workforce HIV testing event. I’d say that was a bit more than a social club.
It’s also a great way to connect like-minded people. For office based people it’s much easier to connect with other LGBT+ people. But if you’re at one of our far flung stations – if all you see around you are straight men (which reflects most of our workforce) – would you not want to connect with people like yourself?
Photo : The awesome #RidewithPride bus, taxi and train
“Staff networks provide support, education and policy within an organisation. We are the subject matter experts for our specialism and can make huge changes that affect the workforce.”
You’re the Chair of the network. What does this role entail and is there a team of people supporting you?
One of the first things I did as Chair was to modernise our governance structure. I wanted a leadership team rather than a committee (that sounded a bit 1970s to me), and to have a more flexible structure. Two roles are voted on – mine and my Deputy’s – the rest of the team are made up from people across the business with a particular specialism who come and go over the life of my leadership.
I often approach people to get involved if they have a certain skill I need; project management is a key one but communications is another. Sometimes I’m really lucky and someone steps forward to get involved, I rarely turn anyone down as there is always so much to do. The only thing I would say is that the leadership teams cannot carry passengers, everyone has to do a job or it becomes a much bigger burden for the rest of the team, or more likely me! My current team is made up of ten people – the largest it’s ever been with our gender balance reflecting the membership with three women on it.
My role as Chair is very busy. I spend time everyday doing something for the network. If it’s not answering emails, or sending Tweets it’s planning the next event or thinking of innovative things we can do. Currently we have three events being planned all at once, including Pride (London) so I’ve just taken on an events manager to lighten the load a bit.
Since the #RidewithPride campaign last year our external engagement is at an all time high, I get invited to many events and functions and I do what I can to attend and speak about what we do here in TfL.
You’ll shortly be passing over the baton. Do you think there should be a timeframe for a Chair being in the role before the need to pass the baton to someone else?
I have thought long an hard about this. I had a two year turnaround strategy, bringing in new people and setting out what we were going to achieve as a network. We not only met our goals, we surpassed them in many cases and I wanted another year to do some really special external engagement – #RidewithPride. This final year for me is about consolidating what we have done and leaving a robust legacy. I now feel ready to handover to a new leader and invest my time in something new, I just haven’t worked out what that is yet.
I believe networks should have strong leaders, and they should also be at the right level to get things done. I think an initial term of two-years should be the minimum for new leaders with the option to extend by up to another two years. I don’t believe chairs should stay in situ forever. The problem with never ending terms is that it’s far too easy to become entrenched, and the network be identified with one person and that can make it cliquey. It’s also easy to lose touch and you need fresh blood to breathe new life into networks.
Four years ago no one had ever heard of us; now we’re inspiring other cities to start their own Ride with Pride campaigns. I’d say that was career high for me along with my British Empire Medal. The only way is down now and so it’s a great time to quit.
A London black cab is decorated in rainbow livery to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) 2015 as part of the #RidewithPride campaign.
Has it all been plain sailing?
It’s been far from plain sailing. Some of my ideas require a lot of patience and understanding from those around me. There have been tensions and robust conversations but I’m very lucky to have brought my team with me and I have had so much support from others.
I’m also very hard on myself; I hate failure and don’t take criticism well, my aversion to public speaking didn’t sit well with my ambitions. Eighteen months ago I got myself a gay coach, Darren Brady, who does a lot of work with the LGBT community. He really helped me come to terms with who I am and helped me become more focussed. I’m far more settled and confident as a result, and I really enjoy connecting with other networks and speaking at events.
Is there still work to do to embed the network within TfL and ensure all staff can access the network?
I say to everybody that our communications strategy has been our strength. Without it we would not have more than doubled our membership and our #RidewithPride campaign would not have been as big a success. I would like to say it was all planned from the start but it’s really evolved over time.
As I have said we’re largely an organisation of two halves and up until August of last year our operational membership was as low as around 10 per cent. We’ve had a really big push over past nine months and launched a Yammer channel as a way of communicating with operational staff who primarily use company mobile devices. Yammer is a Facebook-like social media tool which is for internal use only, it’s incredibly popular with operational staff. Since we launched our Yammer channel we’re now the third most interacted-with channel (behind shift swaps) and the operational staff membership of OUTbound is at 24 per cent.
” I don’t believe chairs should stay in situ forever. The problem with never ending terms is that it’s far too easy to become entrenched, and the network be identified with one person and that can make it cliquey.”
How important is social media to the network?
It’s incredibly important, our Twitter channel (@TfLLGBT) grew from nothing to having the second largest Twitter following of any staff network in Europe in under six months. We wouldn’t have a rainbow taxi on our network without it, and I doubt we would have inspired other cities to take on a Ride with Pride campaign.
We’re the only staff network in TfL with an externally facing Twitter feed and it did take a while to get through the approvals process, particularly as we were pioneers. We produced a business case and I spent around six months talking to as many people as possible about our reasons for doing this and convincing them it was the right thing to do. Luckily, I’m in the right place to know who to talk to and was once again supported by our Senior Sponsor, who just so happens to be head of communications here. We initially launched it as a closed channel to prove it we weren’t going to do anything crazy with it. We then opened it up shortly before we launched the rainbow bus in LGBT History Month last year, and it became an overnight success.
We decided not to launch a Facebook channel as this requires more intensive engagement, there’s a certain beauty in keeping your engagement to 140 characters. The key to success on social media engagement is to have something to talk about and make it relevant. Do it often and to have the correct tone of voice is also key; you can’t make it too corporate. Most importantly, avoid getting dragged into arguments and disputes. Every now and then we’ll get a negative tweet, I’ll always engage with something positive and leave it at that.
We’re also very lucky that @TfL has over 1.8m followers and I just speak to my colleagues in the Press Office to retweet relevant tweets. We pick up around 30-40 additional followers every time we do that. We also have regular giveaways of limited edition rainbow Oyster wallets – these are unbelievably popular with people tweeting pictures back to us when they get them. It’s a great engagement strategy, and so simple to initiate.
What five network achievements are you most proud of?
I’m lucky we have quite a few to mention but my top five are:
[ 1 ] Creating the #RidewithPride campaign, and the world’s first rainbow bus. It’s meant so much to Londoners and hardly a day goes by without someone commenting on it.
[ 2 ] Running the UK’s largest HIV workplace testing event; not just for gay men but for everyone.
[ 3 ] Winning the our first ever award from Inclusive Networks. I see it everyday when I get into work and makes me feel so proud.
[ 4 ] Increasing membership by 110 per cent in less than four years.
[ 5 ] Getting OUTbound on peoples’ radar and inspiring other networks.
Photo : Martyn and some of the OUTbound team with their Inclusive Networks Award. The team won the ‘Engagement Initiative of the Year’ award for the awesome #RidewithPride campaign.
“Some of my ideas require a lot of patience and understanding from those around me. There have been tensions and robust conversations but I’m very lucky to have brought my team with me and I have had so much support from others.”
When your time as Chair comes to an end, what’s next for you?
I’m not sure yet, I expect I’ll be in post until after the summer and then we’ll see. I’d really like to work with a charity or another organisation because I think I’ll find it hard to just stop – even for a few weeks.
I find the subject of diversity and inclusion fascinating and love talking about it, I doubt I’ll ever take a break from that. I’m very lucky that I get asked to talk at events on a fairly regular basis and I really do enjoy taking part, and giving back. I’d like to keep that part of my D&I work going.
And you have a permanent reminder too….your British Empire Medal.
It was completely unbelievable when I got the letter from the Cabinet Office. It was even harder for me to keep quiet about it until the Queen’s Birthday Honours were announced last June. I told a few people I could trust and a couple of people told me that they had nominated me.
It was an incredibly proud moment; I wish my mum had been alive to witness it and a lot of my friends were completely stunned to see my name in the papers. The Gay Press were lovely too and it really crowned off my year. I know I worked really hard for it and bringing the rainbow crossing to London is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in the workplace, and it was a huge deal for London with everybody having a view on it. By contrast the rainbow bus proved to be much easier, despite a shaky start. But I’m also quite humble, I see a lot of people on the diversity circuit all doing amazing work I hope that they have their moment in the spotlight like this too.
It’s also really great TfL actively seek staff to be recommended like this, and it’s fantastic that diversity in the workplace is being rewarded in this way. I encourage other organisations to do the same with their outstanding employees.