My day at the Stonewall Scotland Workplace Conference

My day at the Stonewall Scotland Workplace Conference

Every year the UK’s biggest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) charity Stonewall hosts a number of workplace conferences around Great Britain, normally in London, Leeds (or Manchester), Cardiff and Edinburgh. The purpose of the conferences are to bring together people from organisations who are members of their Diversity Champions programme and those with an interest in workplace equality and diversity, to share some of the best practice around this area from a range of organisations, across many sectors, in a variety of sessions and workshops. With delegates gaining lots of insight, challenging their own thinking and learning new things…they will then leave better equipped to make their own workplaces more inclusive.

I attended the Stonewall Scotland Workplace Conference in Edinburgh on 18th November 2016. It was the first Stonewall conference I’d attended since 2013, when I was the Chair of one the UK’s largest and most active (at the time) LGBT staff network groups. This was the Cardiff conference, where I also presented about the value of network groups in one of the breakout sessions, alongside Cardiff University and Tate Modern. I’ve also previously attended the regional conferences in Manchester and London so had some idea of what to expect. I was looking forward to attending, but this time representing Inclusive Networks which I founded as a result of my experiences being a part of a staff network group.

In advance of the conference, held at the Edinburgh Conference Centre in the city centre, I had to choose two breakout sessions to attend on the day – one in the morning and one after lunch. With ten very different sessions to choose from this was quite tough – I wish I could have chosen a few more. After careful consideration of what I felt would be of most benefit to me now and were most closely aligned to our Inclusive Networks strategy, I settled on ‘Community Engagement : How to maximise the impact of CSR within your local communities’ and ‘Diversity in Diverse Environments’.

The conference started with a very warm welcome from Colin Macfarlane, Director of Stonewall Scotland, who passionately reminded the 200 delegates that with hate crimes and prejudice on the rise across Scotland and the rest of the UK, not helped by some recent world events, now is the time to stand tall as role models and allies.

Sticking to the usual format for the conferences, the keynote speaker lineup included a representative from the sponsor of the workplace conferences, EY. Maggie Stilwell, Managing Partner for Talent in the UK and Ireland at EY, was first to speak. She shared some insight into workplace diversity and inclusion at EY, a leader in this area, and she spoke about her personal journey and how she has had to learn what it feels like to be an outsider to enable her to relate to and support the communities she doesn’t identify with being a part of herself – being a white, CIS, middle-class mother of two. The value of using your staff network groups to support this came through strongly (their LGBT+ staff network UNITY was launched in 1995) and that actively asking about topics we don’t understand is vital, and we should talk to and do things with people who are different to ourselves. This will help broaden our own knowledge and understanding. A positive start.

“Actively asking about topics we don’t understand is vital, and we should talk to and do things with people who are different to ourselves.”

She was followed by Shirley Rogers, Director of Health Workforce and Strategic Change at Scottish Government. I really engaged with what Shirley had to say, her tone and added humour helped. Talking about her own career journey that has seen her hold roles in the Police Service and NHS, I think lots of what she had to say will be hugely supportive for lots of the delegates who may be presenting their business case for investing in diversity in the workplace (surely it’s a no brainer), and perhaps becoming a Stonewall Diversity Champion. Talking about the annual Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (WEI), a measure of the most LGBT friendly employers in Great Britain, she said, “Taking part demonstrates that we give a damn”, and that they’ve made a start, but their journey is a long way from finishing. I really liked what she said about recruitment too, “Recruit for values, attitude and behaviour. The rest can be taught.” Shirley was a hit with the delegates, with her name being mentioned in lots of conversations I had throughout the day.

The final speaker was a newbie to the Stonewall family, Rebecca Stinson, their newly appointed Head of Trans Inclusion. Rebecca talked about her role and how Stonewall are continuing their work with a dedicated trans working group on their soon to be published report on how to positively engage with and support transgender people in every part of our lives – from the workplace to public services. I’m looking forward to reading it. In her presentation she talked about allies, and their importance, saying, “We need to focus on allies. Allies are the key to getting trans inclusion in the workplace right. If you’re not trans, you need to be an ally. If you’re not an ally, that change can’t happen.” I’ve never met Rebecca before and I’m looking forward to hearing more about what she has planned for Stonewall’s more recent engagement on trans issues (not so new for Stonewall Scotland).

Photos : Gender neutral toilets | Shirley Rogers representing Scottish Government

A great start to the day, now it was time to attend my first breakout session, ‘Community Engagement : How to maximise the impact of CSR within your local communities’. This is an area I have a real interest in, after being heavily involved in supporting over 80 diversity events and initiatives whilst I was Chair of a staff network group. When resources are low, the decision making process often being long, tiresome and a fight at times, getting your community engagement right is imperative – it’s likely costing you money in some way too, and lots of time. There is also a risk to your brand and personal reputation if things don’t go to plan, and if working with vulnerable people or groups, there are a lot of things to consider. There is real value in authentic community engagement, on lots of levels.

In a change to what I’d experienced at previous Stonewall Workplace Conferences, the session had one organisation (plus Stonewall) on the panel to share some insight and best practice. PC Janine Turnbull represented Northumbria Police and talked about their engagement with the diverse communities they serve and the ways in which they communicate their diversity and inclusion messages and campaigns, including the importance and ways of reporting hate crimes. It was reassuring hearing from Janine that organisations simply can’t think that supporting one event a year, such as a Pride event, is enough to authentically engage with communities and LGBT+ staff (and allies) and more needs to be done throughout the year. She also talked about how influential social media is and how useful it is for sharing messages and important information. She shared a few videos, including a video of various ‘Mr Gays’ from around the world voicing their support for reporting hate crimes. I’m personally not a fan of the Mr Gay (or similar) competitions but Janine said the campaign was positively received which is the main thing.

Following Janine’s presentation was a mini-workshop which allowed me to chat more to some of the other delegates and hear more about their own workplace and community engagement work. On my table were representatives from Barclay’s, RBS and TSB – a few I’d met before at an Out in Glasgow networking event.

It was interesting getting the insight but with my advanced network group head on, I didn’t really learn anything new that I would have been able to take away and put in to practice. In previous conferences I benefited from hearing from a number of different organisations on the panel, representing various sectors and networks/organisations at different stages of their journey. Personally, I preferred the old format as you got lots more insight. The new format is a result of feedback from previous conferences so I’m probably in the minority. From speaking to some of the other delegates, they did find the session useful.

“The equality laws we have in the UK were fought for over a significant amount of time, and by lots of people, and we can’t allow for that to be reversed, or weakened.”

Following lunch and a catch-up with Maggie Archibald from West Lothian Council, it was time for my final session, ‘Diversity in Diverse Environments’. This session looked at how to engage with staff who work in different locations and those who may be in roles that makes it more difficult to get involved with staff network activities.

A representative from Police Scotland talked about his own personal workplace diversity and inclusion journey, him being a ally and the introduction of LGBT Liaison Officers in Scotland – and how being LGBT+ in more isolated communities can be much tougher. He gave an interesting example of one LGBT Liaison Officer on an island in the north of Scotland, with only a few thousand residents, who challenged why the role was needed as “There wasn’t any gay people in the area”. Needless to say, they’re on a journey!

He’s an awesome ally and I enjoyed listening to his personal story, but most of the presentation wasn’t particularly on topic and I know from speaking to a few people on my table that they felt the same and this session wasn’t what they expected.

We did get some insight from a representative from the The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and how they use internal comms such as the intranet and posters to engage with staff. I’m sure this would be useful to networks and organisations at the beginning of their journey – some practical and easy to implement tips.

The highlight from this session was the mini-workshop following the presentations where we were given a few scenarios and as a table we discussed how we could have prevented the issues from arising, and how we would have approached them differently.

To end the day was a keynote speech from Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall. I always enjoy listening to Ruth speak and this was no exception. Ruth talked about how recent global political changes, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump (yeah, it wasn’t a dream), will impact different areas of equality worldwide and how we must all come together and make our voices heard. The equality laws we have in the UK were fought for over a significant amount of time, and by lots of people, and we can’t allow for that to be reversed, or weakened.

After some questions from the audience, that included “Why are there not more straight CIS men leading Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace”, it was time to close the conference with some networking and a few glasses of wine.

Making the conference as inclusive as possible, it was great to see gender neutral toilets, the keynote speakers were accompanied with a BSL interpreter and there was a prayer/quiet room available for delegates to use.

A nice surprise to end the day, I caught up with Alex Gwynne of Stonewall who was my go-to person in my staff network group days at The Co-operative Group. She was always a pleasure to work with, and a great support too. I also caught up with Lisa Tait who is the Co-chair of the ‘OUT at Tesco’ LGBT+ network at Tesco, an awesome network and the winner of the ‘Network Team of the Year’ award at our 2015 Inclusive Networks Awards. A few of us then headed to The Jolly Botanist gin-bar just down the road for a few G&T’s and to reflect on the day.

Thanks to Stonewall Scotland and their awesome team!


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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