There are lots of reasons why I’m proud to be a civil servant: seeing the commitment and professionalism that thousands of colleagues put into delivering frontline services; the incredible support that we provide to our ministers; and the way that civil service colleagues respond to the demands of an emergency. These are all powerful reminders of why we do what we do.
But one of the things I’m proudest of is being part of an organisation that is truly committed to equality and tackling barriers that could stop people from achieving their potential.
I’ve had the privilege of being champion for gender identity and sexual orientation for DWP since 2017. I continue to learn a huge amount in the role. I identify as a ‘straight ally’, but when I took on the role I knew a lot more about some communities than others. Working across an organisation as large as DWP, with 80,000 colleagues spread across the country, has given me an opportunity to learn more about the huge diversity of identities and orientations, and the different experiences and challenges that people face.
I can’t and won’t pretend to speak for all of those communities, but as a senior leader I can provide a space for those people to come together and have the conversations themselves. So, I am delighted to be heading up to Manchester this week for the first ever OneTeamGov LGBT* gender identity and sexual orientation event.
More than 100 people are coming together alongside DWP from departments including HM Revenue and Customs, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Ministry of Defence. Over the course of a day we are going to hear from champions and leads across government about what works, lessons we have all learned, and best practice we can share. We’ll also get an external perspective from the campaigning charity Stonewall. And we are going to have the opportunity to discuss all of the issues raised – from previous experience, it is bound to be a lively conversation.
It’s a great opportunity to join up. Every department and every organisation has its own experience, and there is a huge amount we can learn from each other. I know from working with DWPride, our LGBT* network here in DWP, that there is a lot to be gained from sharing knowledge and ideas even within one department. The effect is multiplied when we look wider.
Why does this matter? Well, in the couple of decades since I joined the civil service, we have made tremendous progress on some of the issues faced by LGBT* and other communities. A colleague recently wrote movingly of his experience returning to speak to the pupils at his old school, where he had been subject to violent homophobic bullying. He found the school welcomed his testimony and is now acting with real commitment to support LGBT* students. Society has moved on. But there is still a long way to go – not just to tackle explicit and overt acts of exclusion and discrimination, but to shift the toxic cultures and insidious exclusion which persists in too many places. That requires new techniques and new ideas to make a difference.
When we’ve made progress, it’s been through people coming together to support each other. And in Manchester this week we’re making a real step forward in bringing people together across departments, organisations and communities. I can’t wait to get there!