I'm a lesbian and I work for HM Land Registry. I’ve potentially already caused a raised eyebrow. I’m feeling a little exposed. Someone is maybe feeling uncomfortable. Someone else doesn’t care or isn’t interested. Someone might even be offended. #awkward
Instead then, I’ll write a blog about inclusive and authentic leadership; my reflections since participating in the Stonewall Leadership Programme. I’ll give you some insight into my experiences, my learning and how important I think that learning is. All I ask is that you keep reading. Perhaps by the end we’ll both know whether my first sentence is relevant.
Stonewall’s flagship Leadership Programme, sponsored by IBM, is described by them as “a unique opportunity for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] professionals to explore what it means to be an authentic leader”. HM Land Registry’s Head of Diversity wanted to secure a place for a senior leader – the hard part was being selected.
The application process was rigorous. I had to complete an application form that demanded self-reflection on issues I hadn’t given extensive thought to previously. Happily I made the cut (around 40 delegates from hundreds of applicants across the public and private sectors) and was invited for a telephone interview.
Describing the programme in its entirety wouldn’t do it justice (2.5 day residential in November 2015 and reunion meeting on 9 June 2016) so I’m going to try and describe the three key areas that I have taken from the experience and hope to continue to benefit from.
- The value of diversity in collaborative (or any) working.
- Authentic leadership.
- Doing “little big things” (I’ll elaborate on these below).
These are key areas I want to bring to my role as an Operations Manager within HM Land Registry. The programme was fast paced, intensely professional and challenging. At the start of the first day I had a real crisis of confidence. As each delegate introduced themselves and their role I started to feel daunted. A barrister from the Royal Navy. CEOs and entrepreneurs. A Church of England vicar. Directors from the NHS. Leaders from corporate giants in the private sector. Civil Service leads. The camaraderie that grew within the group so organically quickly made me feel included and empowered.
The richness within the group was palpable. I was humbled and privileged to hear such personal honesty from others. I recognised that my own bias (conscious or otherwise) was holding me back. These were LGBT people and their stories were about their life journeys and experiences. These included instances of extreme discrimination, constant bullying, personal tragedies, mental health issues and truly inspiring courage. Every story was unique. And while the umbrella term of LGBT gave us a common ground, what really united us was our roles as leaders. Our desire to help people. The programme creates a safe space, permission and support to feel uncertain, yet share. Push the boundaries and give your whole self.
For me it brought home just how hard I have tried in the past to hide parts of myself (largely through a feeling of it not being relevant) but hiding takes energy. All that time thinking about what you say to whom, how, where you were at the weekend who you were with. All filling your head with conflict and squashing the space for the important stuff. It can be exhausting.
That brings me on to authenticity. My agenda has never really been to shout about my sexual orientation. I have however always been interested in being true to myself and honest with those I work with. I come out every day. Every time I meet someone new. In many ways it never gets any easier but it’s important to me. I want people to understand me. I don’t want to omit key things about myself. I want people to see all of me. I think this builds empathy and trust and is something I’m committed to continuing. I also want to try and help others to feel they can be safely authentic. I want my teams and the whole HM Land Registry team to be able to give their whole selves.
The programme also taught me that I am a role model. I didn’t believe them - at first. I am though, and I have to embrace that responsibility. Our HM Land Registry values demand it. The Civil Service competences demand it. More than that, I want and believe it. I want to be consistent. I want to be my whole self every day. I want everyone reading this to trust that I am my whole self every day and that means I can always invest fully in my role and in HM Land Registry.
I want to finish with the three words that have really stuck with me since November and June’s programme days: “little big things”. We are all really busy every day yet across the whole organisation we’re nudging things forward, often out of hours. Our LGBT&Allies Network has been shortlisted for an Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion award. Our health and wellbeing, and charity committees are running events and fundraising, our sports and social committees, the Diversity Working Group (including our Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Network and our Disabled Employee Network) – all working tirelessly. All examples of “little big things”; small things that accumulate to have big impact.
My challenge to myself since completing the programme is to hit the big things and have big impact but not all at once. Not by bulldozing, circumventing or damaging. More evolution than revolution. Keeping the conversation going. Little steps. Little big things.
I want to be, and hope I am, an authentic and inclusive leader. Stonewall’s Leadership Programme has given me the confidence, tools and, more crucially, the support network to believe that. It was a life-changing experience that I still feel emotional about. It helped challenge me in a way no other development course or programme has. I love that the programme exists and will continue to propel LGBT leaders, who may well have been cautious or reserved on day one, into visible confident role models. I’m also proud to work for an organisation that recognises the power of this programme and wants to support and encourage its leaders to attend.
I will continue with little big things. I am a lesbian and I work for HM Land Registry. That’s feeling pretty relevant to me.