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What happened at the “Gender diversity matters” event

Shelley Hardman works at the Department for Work and Pensions. She organised an event for civil servants highlighting the experiences of transgender and intersex people in her local area. Here's what happened.

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By Shelley Hardman

Hi. I’m Shelley and I’m the Yorkshire and Humberside regional lead for DWP’s LGBT* network, DWPride. I’m passionate about increasing awareness of diversity and inclusion in DWP and more widely across the Civil Service.

I noticed that a lot of the work we see on LGBT+ issues focus on lesbian and gay people, but that there is comparatively little about the transgender and other minority identities. I wanted to do something about it; so I decided to organise an event where we could talk about the experiences of these communities in Yorkshire and Humber, specifically focusing on transgender and intersex people.

It’s important to me that I help to spread the message that as civil servants, it’s vital that we understand and have empathy with people from a wide range of diversity groups. This includes people who have more than one characteristic to who they are. For example that person could be a lesbian with mental health problems and from an ethnic minority group, or a disabled, transgender man. We are either providing services for, or working with, people like them and we need to meet their needs.

A great event

Working with Jenny Turner from the Department of Health and Social Care, I’d managed to contact most government departments and it wasn’t long before requests to attend the event were coming in thick and fast. I still worried that we’d not get enough interest to justify the effort or fill the room, though. How wrong I was! Seats were ‘sold out’ with every seat filled on the day. This was no mean feat for a Friday at half-term. And I’m delighted to say that it was an outstanding success.

During the event I nervously watched delegates’ reactions to the speakers. Everyone was absolutely captivated by them. Their personal stories were both moving and engaging. It was a real roller-coaster of a ride, with tears of empathy one minute and full-on belly laughs the next. Everyone was totally mesmerised by the way the speakers shared personal details about their lives and the way this brought their challenges and celebrations to life for everyone. And the feedback has been so positive.

What I learnt

The messages I took away from the event include:

  1. These are not life choices – no one would choose to face the challenges trans and intersex people face if it was a ‘choice’.
  2. If someone comes out to you as intersex or trans, ask them what they need from you and how they want to be treated – don’t presume or hide behind process.
  3. It isn’t just the person coming out that we need to remember to support – there are family, loved ones and colleagues who may also need support.

While we have a lot of good guidelines, policies and practices in the Civil Service there is still a lot more we can do. This can vary from designing services and forms that include different gender options, to creating policies that support parents and partners of people transitioning. The list of actions we could take is long so I’ll not go on, but put simply we need to consciously think beyond the binary of male and female in everything we design, build and do.

This post is an editorialised version of a longer blog post featured on the DWP Digital blog on GOV.UK.