Russ Greenwood joined the Civil Service 37 years ago. This month, he will be awarded the Imperial Service Medal for Meritorious Service. He tells us about how he got involved and why you should too.
I retired from the Civil Service in 2015 after nearly 37 years’ service. I spent 13 years of that service as chair of the Defra LGBT staff network, on top of a very busy day job.
I decided to take on this important role because I was angry at my department; they hadn’t included a question in our staff survey allowing staff to declare their sexual orientation. They didn’t include it because there had been no input at the survey pilot stage from LGBT people. My first task was to draft a business case explaining why the question should be included. The case gave HR the clear evidence they needed to get the question included the following year. This was the first of many projects, led by our network, to improve the visibility of LGBT staff over the years.
Over the years, I’ve been asked many times “do you still need staff networks? Save your energy for the day job – you’ve got all the legislation.” My reply was always a resounding “of course we still need networks!”. We still need be there to provide support to LGBT staff and to engage heterosexual staff about the issues we face. We need to be there to work with, and advise HR on diversity and equality matters to ensure clear visibility of LGBT staff and the issues.
I saw a whirlwind of change during my time in the Civil Service. In the 1980’s I never talked about my sexuality in the workplace except to close friends. In the 2000’s I found I could have conversations about my life with my work colleagues, highlight all the positive legislation changes and at the same time tackle the usual myths: it’s a lifestyle choice, you harm kids, you don’t have settled long term relationships, you’re an expert in fashion and interior design (believe me I’m not).
Humour and light-hearted banter in a team is often an important part of working life – helping people to have a laugh and relate to each other. But as anyone who has witnessed a best man’s speech go horribly wrong with a misjudged remark knows, what’s funny to one person can be deeply hurtful to another. Thankfully the days of racist banter being commonplace in the workplace are increasingly distant, but many LGBT people can endure casual homophobia and transphobia on a regular basis, It could be someone one saying “that’s so gay” to refer to something bad or saying that being gay is “not normal”. These comments might seem quite innocuous but could be really damaging for someone struggling to come out as LGBT.
The recent Orlando atrocity sadly reminded us that in many parts of the world LGBT people are both physically and verbally bullied, attacked or murdered and have few or no legal rights. Having clear visible groups that can campaign on LGBT issues is still so important and relevant.
I think CSRA is a marvellous example of what can be achieved but CSRA and the networks could always do with some help from you. Getting involved changed my life, I developed my work skills portfolio, raised my own personal profile, became a role model, achieved bonuses and I was awarded the MBE. This month I collect the Imperial Service Medal for Meritorious Service.
All these were of course wonderful and in some cases a complete surprise. However engaging and clearly influencing senior management on LGBT matters, talking, listening to, and then helping distressed LGBT people and just talking to people and seeing their viewpoints change will always be my highlights.