As part of LGBT History Month, we’re highlighting the stories of LGB* civil servants. Brais Louro is a strategy advisor at Public Health England. He writes about why culture change is tricky, and how every civil servant must become an ally to make it happen.
I’m the kind of person who would only work in a place where I feel welcomed as a gay man. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and I’m very happy to say that is exactly how I feel in the Civil Service. I joined in 2013, and I immediately felt welcomed into a more diverse workforce than any I had worked in before.
For the last two years, I have noticed there’s a collective understanding that diversity is not just about bringing people from different backgrounds together, but about creating an inclusive environment where everyone can realise their potential.
My teammates – first in the Department of Energy and Climate Change and now Public Health England – have been actively supportive and championed any activities I or other colleagues organised as part of my departmental networks.
My managers have encouraged me to increase my visibility as a gay man and develop my skills as a as an LGB* leader. I attended the Stonewall Leadership Programme with their support; it helped me reflect on my responsibility as an LGB* leader and bring the revamped energy back to work.
But not everyone has the same experience, and workplace inclusion is not just a responsibility of LGB* or any other ‘minority’ groups; it’s the responsibility of all civil servants.
It’s not just me who says this; our most senior leaders agree. Sir Jeremy Heywood was clear in his recent blog:
“We need to ensure that the changes in policy are accompanied by changes in culture throughout the Civil Service. And that means all of us looking at what we can do to make ourselves and the teams we work in more inclusive, so that we are not simply ticking the ‘diversity’ box but are actually becoming an organisation that genuinely values difference not conformity.”
The biggest question for me is how we go about creating this “more inclusive” environment. I don’t think there is one answer, but I do know that it will require everyone in the Civil Service to pitch in, and I believe it has to start with a more inclusive dialogue.
I am not sure how many of you would have been through a similar situation, but when conversations get personal, the starting assumption still is ‘you must be heterosexual’. And it does get awkward, leading to silence or on occasion a “well… erm… I don’t have a girlfriend…actually I don’t think I’d ever have one… erm…” Lots of blushing usually follows.
The assumption is right most of the time, but when it’s wrong, it can make LGB* people feel uncomfortable and less welcomed.
Changing our culture is tricky, but we have to do it. There isn’t only a strong moral case, but also a solid business one too. For example, when gay people remain in the closet they are 10 per cent less productive than when they feel able to be themselves 1. We have enough of a productivity puzzle, so it’s in our collective interest to fix what we can fix, and I believe we can fix this.
I call on all civil servants to act. You don’t have to know all there is to know about diversity or inclusion to be an ally – believe in equal treatment and agree that it is our collective responsibility to create an inclusive work space. And know this: you will have a positive impact.
- Frost (2014), “The Inclusion Imperative: How Real Inclusion Creates Better Business and Builds Better Societies” ↩