Interview: Dawn Butler MP on how to create better workplaces for LGBTQ+ communities


Dawn Butler MP is the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities for the Labour Party and she was the keynote speaker at Stonewall’s Workplace Conference 2018 on 27 April in London about how we can improve workplaces and the world for LGBTQ+ people.

In her speech at the opening event, Dawn said: “I don’t care who you love as long as you love. Love is so much better than hate.” She cited that 12% of trans people have been physically attacked in the workplace. While Dawn said she cannot understand why this happening, she recognises that something must be done.

“We have to change. Everyone single one of us in this room has a role to play.”

We caught up with Dawn following her speech to find out more about what she’s working on to improve workplaces for the LGBTQ+ community.

1. How can accountancy as an industry improve its equality?

I think accountancy firms have to change their image and their policies. Once the LGBTQ+ community understands that an organisation or workplace is open, welcoming, and will not discriminate then you’ll get more people applying.

They have to make an active effort to go out and say “we are an inclusive employer and we will employ you on your skills” rather than like recruiting like and mates recruiting mates which we tend to find in the workplace.

We hear things like “they wouldn’t fit in down the pub” and all that kind of language and rhetoric needs to change. Employers should have a commitment to promoting equality, and equality for everyone, and it shouldn’t be a big deal.

It is a well-known fact that those employers who have diversity at the top of their organisation, on the boards, on average make 15% more profit than other organisations. If organisations want to future-proof themselves, they need to become more diverse.

2. What would you say to an individual who wants to help LGBTQ+ people their workplace but doesn’t know how to go about doing it?

I would say they should talk to the experts in organisations like Stonewall. Go to any organisation that has been doing it and promoting it for years and has templates. Ask them: what’s the best thing that can be done?

Maybe you can give your HR department a template that could be like a mission statement for your employer to put out to everybody. A member of staff might even come out that they might have not been aware of. That’s when an organisation will know they are doing the right thing, and going in the right direction.

3. Trans people in particular are facing horrific things in their personal and professional lives at the moment. What is this about, and how do we stop it?

I wish I could stop it just like that. When you think about the fact that 45% of young, trans people have considered committing suicide, you realise just how serious the situation is.

It needs to stop. People need to understand that fighting for somebody’s rights does not diminish your rights at all. It strengthens your rights. If you fight for somebody that looks different to you, you’re actually strengthening your own rights because you’re making the workplace a safer place for somebody who’s different. You have to try and get that message across.

The abuse that trans communities get is vitriolic, it’s horrible. I get a fraction of it whenever I talk about trans issues and it just stuns me because I think “how can there be so much hate in communities”.

I find it difficult to understand, maybe because, I’m a black woman and have experienced hate on race grounds, or maybe because my gay friends have suffered a lot of hate. I find it so hard to believe but I suppose we have to tackle it if we’re going to change it.

4. What are Labour doing for the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace?

We have the LGBTQ+ Staff Network, which is about creating a safe environment by helping people who may not be out to work colleagues come out if they want to do so.

We have representation at all levels of the Labour party, at the very top of the organisation, and the aim behind this initiative is to create safe places for staff members to meet and talk and just have that safe space amongst themselves.

It’s about the Labour Party being as progressive as we can possibly be because we need to not only be able to talk the talk but walk the walk so that when we’re saying to other organisations “this is what you need to do” we can say we’ve done it and this is what happened as a result.

Individuals can sign up to the LGBTQ+ Staff Network and they can be an active member or they can be a quiet member. It’s up to the individual to do what they want to feel safe in that environment.

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