Creating an LGBTQ+ friendly workforce

Words by Robyn Quick/ Photo credit: Alexander Grey via Unsplash

Diversity in the workplace is intrinsic to creating a more equal and happy environment. But what can be done by school leaders to make this the norm?

Nobody wants to feel isolated at work, and the education sector is no exception. Just under a third of LGBTQ+ employees in education have experienced bullying because of their identity, according to a survey conducted by the National Education Union in 2022.

This is a troubling statistic, especially considering that there are an estimated 50,000 LGBTQ+ teachers in UK schools. To make matters worse, there are almost no openly LGBTQ+ headteachers or senior leaders. Many workers in education are keen to make the workplace more inclusive to members of the LGBTQ+ community, and to encourage progression for everyone regardless of their identity.

Having a diverse workforce in education is not just positive for staff, but is also a good influence on students both at primary and secondary levels. According to Social Development Direct, when LGBTQ+ adolescents are not given the space to ask questions about different sexualities they are put at increased risk of exploitation by predatory individuals.

Some steps have been made in the area of educating students on LGBTQ+ relationships, but there is still a long way to go. Section 28, a series of laws introduced by Thatcher in the ‘80s to prohibit “the promotion of homosexuality” in schools, was only scrapped in 2000. It meant LGBTQ+ teachers were forced to stay in the closet and avoid helping students who were struggling with their sexuality or gender. More than 20 years on, some say the repercussions of this rule can still be felt.

In positive news, statutory relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) means all children and young people can get the information they need to make informed choices. In 2020, relationship education for primary school age pupils and health education for all pupils in state-funded schools was made compulsory. While it was celebrated by both allies and LGBTQ+ people, there was some pushback against teaching pupils about different family structures.

When announcing the decision, former education secretary Damin Hinds said: “At the heart of preparing children for life in modern Britain is making sure that they understand the world they are growing up in. It is a world that is different from 20 years ago, when this guidance was last updated, and this is a significant step that will help young people to look after themselves and each other.”

This statement is particularly pertinent to encouraging members of the LGBTQ+ community to join the education workforce, as it should be equally welcoming to LGBTQ+ staff as it is to students.

So, what can be done to make education settings more appealing for LGBTQ+ employees? We have gathered some top-notch advice for best practice from The Chartered College of Teaching, as well as hearing from educators who are dedicated to making their workplace LGBTQ+ friendly.

Embed an inclusive culture

Making people feel like part of a community is crucial to continued employee satisfaction, and ultimately means they will feel safer in the workplace.

Whether this involves organising workshops with charities like Stonewall or being supportive if a colleague ‘comes out’ to other staff, there are many ways to embed an inclusive culture into individual workplaces.

The Chartered College of Teaching is one organisation that provides advice for education workplaces to be more inclusive to employees. They are a body of teachers who are dedicated to celebrating, connecting and supporting educators.

Katy Chedzey, head of professional learning and accreditation at the Chartered College of Teaching, said: “We know that having a diverse and inclusive staff team can bring a range of benefits to schools, including impacting on student attainment, improving mental health for students and staff, and improving teacher retention.”

She said that where a staff body is not as diverse or representative as it could be, “there’s an opportunity for schools to critically review practice and identify any barriers or opportunities for improvement.”

For Chedzey, a starting point for this is to review recruitment practices. To take this a step further, however, schools can commit “to the ongoing review of all aspects of school policy and practice [...] by actively working to support progression of staff from under-represented groups into more senior positions.”

These themes are explored further in the Chartered College of Teaching’s online module on ‘Building and Developing an inclusive staff team,’ part of their Leading Inclusive Schools series.

Policy and practice

Bennie Kara, former deputy headteacher and author of ‘A Little Guide for Teachers: Diversity in Schools’ said in a piece for the Chartered College of Teaching that “schools can protect LGBTQ+ [teachers] through policy and practice.” She said this can be done in a variety of ways.

For example, individual schools can ensure the policy for adoption leave looks the same for same-sex couples as it does for opposite-sex couples. She said: “Is it just the LGBTQ+ staff running Pride Clubs and wearing rainbow lanyards or does everyone do it to show their support for LGBTQ+ rights? Is there a policy that states that all teachers should challenge homophobia?”

Asking these kinds of questions regularly ensures that your school’s policy is up to date, as well as showing support for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.

LGBTQ+ teachers can attend workshops, conferences and seminars run by groups like NASUWT where some specialise in LGBTQ+ issues.

Challenge negative attitudes

Finally, it is important for LGBTQ+ educators to be able to see themselves reflected in senior roles as well as more junior ones.

One of the biggest reasons LGBTQ+ teachers are not out at work is that they are worried it will have an impact on the progression of their career. Therefore, school leaders must be sure to show that opening up about one’s identity will not limit their career options.

This can be done by having visible LGBTQ+ role models in management positions, for example. Of course, this kind of progression is much harder than running a workshop. Change like this will come slowly, but it can be done.

Education has come so far since the atrocity of Section 28, with a variety of different organisations pushing for change and championing LGBTQ+ people in education.

Looking to the future, NEU survey creator Joseph Hall said: “A whole school approach to inclusion needs to cover the curriculum - all year round - and making sure negative attitudes and language [from students and teachers] is properly challenged on an ongoing basis.”

 

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