Blog: Working for action in LGBT+ inclusion

From Dr Al Laville, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, University of Reading: 

Stonewall has played a huge role in the history of fighting for equal rights for people of all sexualities and genders. The University has worked closely with Stonewall for many years, and we will continue to work with them in the future. 

One of Stonewall’s successes has been the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, a metric for LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace. This has provided a useful yardstick to help organisations across the UK to measure their efforts to become better places to work for everyone. The University of Reading was awarded Top 100 Employer status in 2019 and 2020, and achieved a Silver Employer award in 2022. These achievements were made possible by partnership working with Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) at many events and initiatives including at Reading Pride and co-delivering our Bi inclusion training.  

The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index is updated every three years, and we have been an active part of conversations about how the index can improve, better reflecting the efforts of organisations to work towards equality. After providing feedback to Stonewall, the University has decided to pause our involvement with the index in 2023.  

We felt the Index can be overly-prescriptive, with positive actions highlighted more through a ‘tick-box’ exercise of activity, rather than genuine institutional improvement. For example, we run a detailed programme of activities for our senior leaders, which we believe provides the best environment to bring about meaningful cultural change; yet the Stonewall Index only recognises the activities of senior leaders by their attendance at specific events. We don’t think this reflects genuine leadership towards LGBT+ inclusion. 

We also felt that the current Stonewall index is inflexible in its reporting dates; evidence for the Index must be drawn from a strict 12-month period, whereas we know that genuine change comes from long-term action plans. Yet we feel these longer-term plans and activities are not adequately recognised. 

It’s important that we judge ourselves openly, but we need to be confident that we are testing the right measures. That’s why, after discussions with the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board and the LGBT+ Action Plan Group, including representation from across the University, the LGBT+ Staff Network and RUSU, the University has decided to pause our membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme.  

We want to better support meaningful LGBT+ inclusion at the University of Reading. That’s why from today, we are launching a new LGBT+ inclusion initiative fund for 2022/23, with funding earmarked for inclusion projects, open to University staff and students. These projects will support the wider University LGBT+ Action Plan, and further advance LGBT+ inclusion for all our community. We urge anyone interested to find out how to apply for the LGBT+ inclusion initiative fund. From 2023/24, the LGBT+ inclusion initiative fund will be combined with our annual D&I initiative fund. 

We want to continue to work with Stonewall. We’ve spoken to Nancy Kelly, chief executive of Stonewall, about our concerns with the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. As a result, we have been asked to work with Stonewall in their strategic review of the index, which we will be happy to do in the coming months. We hope that this will lead to a scheme that will reflect good practice, encouraging more action and less bureaucracy. Once that is complete, we would be happy to revisit our formal membership of Stonewall’s scheme. 

From Sheldon Allen, RUSU President, and Jem Mckenzie, RUSU Inclusion & Communities Officer:  

We recognise the benefit that the University has received over the years from membership of Stonewall, and how this has previously proved beneficial in their work to be an open and tolerant workplace for all. However, at first glance, pausing our membership might not seem in keeping with this and we have sought to understand the rationale behind it. We attended a call with the Chief Executive of Stonewall to hear more about plans moving forward and Allán has explained the decision and provided some helpful context around why the decision was made. 

We are pleased that the University will launch a new fund that will be ring-fenced for staff and students to access funding to support LGBT+ inclusion and initiatives. We’ll be hosting Student Pride on 28th February, and we will work with university colleagues for LGBT+ History Month. We hope to see the partnership between RUSU, and the University strengthened, with more opportunities to capture student voice in this work.  

As the students’ union at Reading, we will always scrutinise the decisions of the University and speak up in the interests of all students. We hope the University continues to engage with Stonewall and will consider returning to its membership in the future if it is in the best interests of all students. 

From Dr Ruvi Ziegler, chair of the University of Reading LGBT+ staff network: 

The LGBT+ staff network is continuing to advance its educational mission by holding training sessions for members of staff. Our next sessions take place in February, a special time in the LGBT+ calendar, marking LGBT history month. We will be holding a Bi inclusion training (on Monday 6 February between 3-4pm), a Trans awareness training (on Tuesday 7 February between 1-3pm), and LGBT+ Ally trainings (on Wednesday 22 February and Thursday 23 February between 1-2 pm) to which all colleagues are warmly invited. We are also excited about the potential activities that the university’s funding commitment to support colleagues LGBT+ inclusion could facilitate, and strongly encourage colleagues to submit proposals. 


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