Pride in the Public Sector – interview with Leatham Green, Founder of Mindful HR
Our last article on progress on LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the public sector took a broad view.
In our follow up piece, we took some time to talk to Leatham Green about investment in inclusivity in the sector. Leatham has over 30 years of experience managing HR in local government and founded his own HR consultancy, Mindful HR. Read on for his practical experience as a HR OD leader on where he is seeing improvement for LGBTQ+ employees in the public sector, and where there is still progress to be made.
Leatham, where you are seeing progress on diversity, particularly for LGBTQ+ employees, in the public sector?
“I think that the biggest change that I’ve seen is the willingness for people to speak out, particularly around trans issues. Certainly 10 years ago in my life as a HR leader – such issues wouldn’t have come across my desk. Suddenly people are feeling able and comfortable to seek help and support from HR. For me, this seems to stem from people in general society speaking about trans issues more openly. That people are also able to talk about this in a work environment demonstrates progress.
But there is still room for improvement. In any environment you still encounter a proportion of the population who will struggle to embrace the positive ramifications of diversity. HR and leadership teams have a responsibility to respond to negative behaviour.
As ever with the world of public service, it responds visibly and positively from a policy perspective and is able to lay the foundations for change with legislation. A good example of this is the Equality Act. But the sector needs to address the implementation of this more. If policy creation solved problems, we would not still be seeing headlines around equal pay for women. Implementation is just as important as the policy.”
Thanks Leatham, what can leadership and HR can do to support the LGBTQ+ community in the public sector workforce?
“From a HR perspective they need to step out from behind the policy. Get into that space of what is life really like on a day-to-day basis for LGTBQ+ people in your workforce, and advocating more in terms of what people experience and feel. If you have ever experienced bullying, humiliation, being undermined because of who you are, you will know just how destructive it can be – lonely, isolating, desperate.
When people speak up and highlight homophobic behaviour and language, particularly when the perpetrator is in a senior position, these things have to be taken seriously. It takes great courage to speak out in such circumstances and the fear of reprisal is still very strong. This is an area where the profession could improve. In my 30 year career, I observed cases taking too long to resolve, and very rarely saw a satisfactory outcome where senior leaders were involved as the organisation seeks to find a plausible excuse for such unacceptable behaviour.
Change has to start with leadership, there’s no question of that. In particular, the Chief Executive has to set a tone within their organisation. If they want to find an excuse rather than dealing with the issue, that’s always going to be problematic. There is also a responsibility for Directors. This goes for more than just this issue – it relates to performance and cultural change too – something that is a real blight across public services. You just need to look at the high levels of sickness absence, especially related to stress, which have remained unaddressed for decades. Billions of pounds of public monies are lost every year as this is allowed to continue let alone the emotional impact this has on employees, their families, colleagues and the communities they support.
It’s also about handling complaints sensitively. The reality often is that people will still revert to saying their unacceptable comments were ‘only a joke’ and that is deemed to be acceptable. That demonstrates to me that there is still much work to be done.”
Can you highlight instances where you feel there is work left to be done to make the public sector workplace more inclusive?
“More people are open about their sexuality in the public sector than at the start of my career, which is positive, but the impact of bullying and victimisation of any type is still as destructive and crushing for those people on the receiving end. Across sectors, it’s important to feel you can be yourself at work and it’s important to consider your co-workers as people, who have feelings and emotions. Coming into work and being labelled is simply not acceptable. The fact that we’re still having conversations about issues of difference, that is a big problem. We need to look at inclusivity, rather than difference.
There needs to be a shift in behaviour and mindset, particularly from the heterosexual ally community – considering the ramifications of actions and behaviour for people in different groups to you. Taking on that different perspective might mean that there was more action taken on diversity and inclusion. The majority of the public-sector decision-making community are still middle class, white, male and heterosexual. I would say that if more leaders had experienced discrimination, there would be more proactive action on D&I initiatives. Where we have seen women break through into Chief Executive positions, what tangible difference has been made for the future generation of female leaders let alone for people from minority groups? From my experience you see no difference.
If you asked any senior leader whether they see inclusivity as a priority, they would all say yes – after all it’s a no brainer. And yet there is still an imbalance between the amount we are talking about this and the amount of action which has been taken. Forty years after the Equal Pay Act was brought in, we are still addressing the gender pay gap. If you cannot make progress on issues like these, how can we begin to address LGBTQ+ equality, and are we really serious about doing the right thing without always having to legislate?”
If you would like to talk to us about Diversity and Inclusion in your organisation please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3849 2777.
Read more from our Pride series: