CSRA’s Ally Engagement Lead, Brais Louro, writes about the work happening across government to engage straight allies as a way of improving the Civil Service for LGBT people.

In February, I called on every civil servant to work together to make our workplaces more inclusive. Since then, we’ve been working with LGBT networks to better understand what they’re doing to engage allies1. If they aren’t doing anything yet, we asked whether they’d be interested in learning from others to do so.

Why allies are important

In the Civil Service People Survey, 3.5% of people declared as LGB*. Even if LGBT people made up closer to 10% of the workforce, these numbers wouldn’t be enough to achieve the critical mass required to drive change and become the inclusive and open workplace we want to be.

That’s why we’re looking at allies: they’re instrumental to delivering lasting cultural change in the Civil Service.

What we’ve done so far and what we’ve learnt

We contacted 38 departments and agencies. We learnt that at least 10 organisations have a formal or informal ally network, and the rest want to understand best practice and learn from others to establish an effective approach to engaging allies.

We’ve learnt a lot about what departments and agencies are already doing.

The Environment Agency ally network is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! It was set up to support LGB&T staff to be themselves at work and home, and achieve their full potential.

Its 460 allies have been a force for good, increasing the visibility of LGBT issues and contributing to positive change. The network runs events on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, contribute to raising awareness of LGBT issues, and speak up for a more inclusive workplace.

The Scottish Government set up an ally group in 2012 to promote full workplace equality. The group has grown to more than 100 members over 4 years. They’ve implemented the “speak up, speak out” campaign, endorsed by the First Minister of Scotland and the Permanent Secretary.

HMRC set up a network in 2014 to raise awareness and drive change, with around 50 members. In just over two years, the allies have grown to 750.

The Ministry of Justice set up a group in 2015 to create a space for allies to advocate for a more inclusive workplace. The group already has grown quickly and it now has 20 active members. A quote from Mervyn Thomas, Group HR Director, powerfully sums up their ambitions:

“everyone in the Ministry of Justice can play a role in creating workplaces where all our staff can be themselves, are supported and can perform to the best of their ability, regardless of sexual orientation.”

What’s next

We want to help more organisations engage allies. To do that, we’re going to:

  • gather more information, particularly from those organisations we’ve not spoken to yet
  • explore opportunities to establish a buddying scheme, which enables different organisations to work together and learn from one another
  • summarise best practice and share with interested organisations

We’ll update you after summer with our latest progress.


  1. LGBT Allies: non-LGB&T people who believe that LGB&T should be treated as equal, and recognise that it is also their responsibility to create an inclusive work environment. 

3 Comments

  • Richard Foggo - 10th June 2016, 6:04 pm

    Fantastic to see all this good work to promote full workplace equality. Best wishes from the Scottish Government

    Reply
  • Richard Heaton (MoJ) - 15th June 2016, 9:47 pm

    Well written Brais, and thank you CSRA. Proud to see contribution from MoJ’s human resources director, Mervyn Thomas.

    We’ve all known the importance of support from straight allies in our personal lives – I know I have. In the workplace, that support can make a huge difference.

    Let’s also try and be allies ourselves, to other groups who may feel marginalised or excluded by some aspects of civil service culture.

    Reply
  • Kevin Oliver - 11th January 2017, 8:52 am

    Totally agree with this.
    Everyone has a responsibility to promote a fair society for all. I’m proud to have been an Ally for many years. I’ve met several exceptional people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    Reply

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