Allyship during LGBT+ History Month

Inspiring LGBT+ allyship amongst staff is one of the key aims of the LGBT Plus Staff Network; it is also amongst the Network’s most popular initiatives. An ally is a person who doesn’t identify as LGBT+ but believes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people – and others who don’t fit the majority experience of gender and sexuality – should have complete equality and equity of opportunity. (We want to point out that an ally can also be someone who is already in the LGBT+ community but wants to be an ally to people from other/all parts of the LGBT+ spectrum—allies are a broad collective!) Allyship can help to create a safe and supportive environment where LGBT+ staff and students feel valued and included.  

The training 

With all of this in mind, LGBT+ History Month was the perfect opportunity to expand the reach and ally membership of the LGBT Plus Staff Network (these members of the networks are known “LGBT Plus Allies” and are invited to partake in the Network’s regular activities). So, in the last week of February, we ran two online workshops aimed at introducing allyship and talking through some ways staff can become effective allies for LGBT+ colleagues at the University of Reading. The workshops were one-hour in length, were discussion-based and explored the following topics: 

  • What is an LGBT+ ally  
  • The case for LGBT+ allyship at Reading and in the United Kingdom 
  • Strategies for how you can be an effective ally 
  • How to get involved in events, activities and projects to promote diversity and inclusion at Reading 

The sessions were advertised to staff who are new to LGBT+ allyship or are interested in beginning their allyship journey. We had around 20 attendees over the two workshops.  

During the workshops, participants contribute to three activities. The first two are aimed at stimulating thoughts around what an ally is and what that means to people and the second asks what allies should actively do. Below you can see some of the words that were produced in the word clouds in response to the activities: 

This image has the question 'What is an ally?' at the top and below it are words that workshop participants submitted via Menti, a polling software. The larger the words appear, the more they have been submitted by people. The biggest words in response to the question, "What is an ally?" include: understanding, supporting, and advocate.

Image 1: The result of a Mentimeter poll in response to the question, “What is an ally?” asked during the Introduction to LGBT+ Allyship workshop. 

The larger the words appear on a word cloud correspond to how many times they were submitted. So, a larger word would have been submitted multiple times by different respondents. The most popular responses to the question “What is an ally?” in one of the sessions were: understanding, supportive, and advocate. Friendship was also a popular response, as was the sentiment of being non-judgemental. 

The second question asked, “What does an ally do?” and people were encouraged to think of which activities allies might do to support LGBT+ people: 

This image has the question 'What does an ally do?' at the top and below it are a collection of words that workshop participants submitted via Menti, a polling software. The larger the words appear, the more they have been submitted by people. The biggest words in response to the question, "What does an ally do?" include: question and educate.

Image 2: The result of a Mentimeter poll in response to the question, “What does an ally do?” asked during the Introduction to LGBT+ Allyship workshop. 

The most common things that people felt allies do were to: question, educate, and support. There was also an active element to allyship evident in respondents’ answers around being active in creating a safe environment for LGBT+ people and calling out negative behaviour. 

The session then went on to explore key issues faced by LGBT+ people in the workplace and how this could impact their mental health to stress the imperative of why we talk about LGBT+ allyship at work. Then, participants are introduced to a method of challenging inappropriate behaviour or language towards LGBT+ people and provided with resources to take their allyship forward. 

Reflections from Participants

“I thought the training was very good – for me, I’ve always considered myself an LGBT ally, but I had never joined the LGBT Teams site. I want to support my colleagues but was worried if I joined the site I would somehow be invading a ‘safe space’ for them that hadn’t been set up with me in mind. However, following the training I have joined the LGBT Teams site so that I can find out more about events/issues etc and am glad that you [Ceara] and Michael made it clear that the site was open to allies as well as LGBT staff.” 

  • Tasha Easton, Governance Office  

“Thank you to Ceara and Michael for an engaging and informative session! The training provided lots of practical advice on how to be an LGBT+ ally, both at work and outside of it.  I recommend this session to all staff at the University, as everybody can benefit from learning about the ways they can contribute towards creating a safe and inclusive space for everyone.”

  • Phoebe Homer, Student Communications

Reflections from the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor 

Being new to the University of Reading, delivering these sessions for me was a really good way to see how confident people who self-select into these trainings feel about their ability to be effective allies. The threats that LGBTQIA+ people face in the workplace are real and for me makes it fundamental to pursue active allyship where I can which, in my case, means being able to co-deliver these workshop sessions with the Lead Ally, Michael Kilmister. 

I am so grateful to those who came and participated in these allyship workshops through your reflections and contributions. As with most workshops of this kind, it is usually people who are already interested in the challenges LGBTQIA+ people face that attend. My focus for future workshops will be encouraging those who are less familiar with the struggles of LGBTQIA+ people and the impacts of these struggles at work to come along to the sessions. Hopefully, this can be one way of embedding the knowledge of LGBTQIA+ people’s challenges and the approaches of effective allyship for inclusion and justice more comprehensively across the University. 

Reflections from the Lead Ally 

This is not the first allyship session I have had the pleasure of facilitating, but these latest sessions incorporated a few key changes that moved the focus from information to discussion and action. The word cloud activities provided a low risk barrier for people to get involved in the session and begin to orientate themselves with key allyship concepts and activities. It was also reassuring for participants, reaffirming they were already carrying out allyship in their contexts; they just did not necessarily know it! The final activity we asked participants to engage in – setting a goal for the next 12 months – hopefully gave participants a sense of purpose. We suggested this could be highlighting they are an LGBT+ ally in their email signature or attending and volunteering at events. For me, performing allyship values – i.e., actively engaging in the task of making our contexts and communities inclusive environments where diversity and difference are celebrated – is at the core of allyship. (For the record, my nominated goal was writing for #DiverseReading; a goal I’ve met with this blog post!) 

Where to next? 

Are you hoping to become a better ally? One of our attendees and colleagues, Phoebe Homer from Student Communications, has written a fantastic blog post on how to be an LGBT+ ally, covering terminology and what to do if you make a mistake, what you can do to become an ally, and resource for support for LGBTQIA+ people at the University. 

If you would like to join the LGBT+ Staff Network as an Ally or would like to request a workshop for your area, please contact Lead Ally Michael Kilmister or Ruvi Ziegler, LGBT+ Staff Network Chair. 

Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2017: the results

I’m blogging following the release yesterday by Stonewall of the results for its Workplace Equality Index 2017.

The headline is that we’ve made significant progress, increasing our University of Reading ranking from 204 out of 415 submissions last year, to 168/439 this year. Perhaps more importantly we’ve increased our score from 39% last year — which sounds poor, but was last year’s average across all submissions, and the average score across the Education sector – to 51% this year. To put this in context, the Top 100 in the WEI – and it is this group that Stonewall celebrates publicly – achieved 62.5% and above, with an average of 74%.

Regarding our own sector, we know at this point that 46 (of approximately 160 UK universities) submitted into the Stonewall WEI this year, and that 12 universities are in the Top 100, with Cardiff (23), Swansea (31), De Montfort (39), and Manchester Metropolitan and Manchester University (joint 41) in the Top 50. Sir David Bell, our Vice Chancellor, committed us publicly in February last year, as one of our staff Diversity and Inclusion targets, to achieve a Top 50 ranking in the WEI by 2020. This is certainly a challenging goal, but one that I see as entirely achievable with hard work and commitment collectively – and we need to learn from our very successful University colleagues elsewhere!Stonewall_WEI_2017

Taking a step back, does any of this matter? Is this ranking, indeed the WEI as a whole, important to us? Is it related to the experiences of our LGBT+ staff and students on the ground?

An important part of the answer to this question is that our participation and progress in the Stonewall WEI is valued by our own LGBT+ staff. We surveyed on this point to our LGBT+ staff through our LGBT Plus staff network in March last year, asking whether it is a good use of our time to submit into the WEI each year, and the feedback was resoundingly yes. This, by the way, was a non-trivial question. It is a significant piece of work to make the submission. The pro forma we complete probes in detail across nine areas of our work, asking questions about our Policy, Training, Staff Network Group, All-Staff Engagement, Career Development, our Line Managers, our Monitoring, Procurement Practices, and our Community Engagement — see my earlier blog for what exactly they are interested in. And in addition to the pro forma we submitted a portfolio of 91 pieces of evidence, and ran the standard Stonewall all-staff survey.

A second answer to this question is that it seems to me, having had the experience now of leading our 2017 submission that went in last September, that the Stonewall WEI and the probing questions it asks focuses our thoughts and activities on exactly the things that we should be thinking about and doing anyway. I’ve written previously about the actions that we took in advance of our submission last year, that have led to the improvement in our score, but briefly these included lots of useful work and activity, for example consultation with our LGBT Plus network on changes to policy, allies training for our staff (with some emphasis on senior management), new development opportunities focussed on our LGBT+ staff (role model and leadership training), and our first ever UoR presence at Reading Pride.

So where do we go now in terms of hitting our Top 50 Target by 2020, and before that reaching the publicly visible and celebrated Top 100 by 2019? Well, we have our results now but not yet our detailed feedback which we will get at our feedback meeting with Stonewall at the end of Feb (and I will blog again after that). Also, we know that the WEI methodology will change somewhat for the three year period 2018-20. The details are not published yet, but we do know that there will be more emphasis on supporting our Trans staff, and more emphasis on how employers work with their customers, which for the University sector means support for and joint working with our students (we have good relationships with RUSU to build on). So the way ahead is not completely clear yet.

However, we do already have plans and actions in place. In particular, we are kicking off work on updating our guidance for and about our Trans staff and students. We are planning for more substantial engagement with Reading Pride (2nd September) and other community engagement, including our first annual Wolfenden Lecture to be given by Ruth Hunt, the CEO of Stonewall, in the year that is the 60th anniversary of the Wolfenden report, and the 50th of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and its legalisation of homosexual sex. We have more allies training planned, and are starting to think through work on supporting our staff and students working globally.

But there is much more to do and think about. To drive this work forward we have created a new LGBT+ Action Plan group, with substantial representation from the LGBT Plus staff network, including its Co-Chairs Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith, plus on the student side the RUSU Diversity Officer Sed Joshi and its part-time LGBT+ Officer Nikki Ray, with the first meeting just before Christmas. This group is tasked with developing (and monitoring the implementation of) a programme of actions that ensures that the University is, and is perceived to be, nationally leading in the welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment that it provides for LGBT+ staff and students – and explicitly the action plan developed should also take us to our target of Top 50 in the WEI by 2020.

Across the University we will welcome and need wide support and involvement in the actions we develop, and in the staff and community engagement events that we run. A great way to stay in touch and get involved is to join the LGBT Plus staff network as an LGBT or as an LGBT Ally member, and of course we will blog again here regularly on an LGBT+ theme!

Simon Chandler-Wilde, Dean for Diversity & Inclusion