Representation and safe spaces for the LGBT+ community have never been more vital, particularly in the workplace. In our first “Chat with” of 2021, we caught up with Donna Callaghan (she/her) from the Response Drug and Alcohol Team at Wirral Council to find out about the organisation’s recently-established LGBTQ+ staff network.
So Donna, can you tell us a little bit about Wirral Council’s LGBTQ+ staff network and how/why it was formed?
Initially our Chief Executive, Paul Satoor mentioned staff network groups in one of his newsletters and specifically mentioned there was an LGBTQ+ group already, which was looking for new members.
The group launched in September 2020 and it now has 16 active members. I came on board about two meetings in. One of the group members reached out to me to talk about pronouns and they recommended that I join the group. I’m so glad I did, everyone is so friendly, diverse and accepting and the support within the group makes it a great thing to be a part of.
The group is confidential too, so for staff who haven’t come out to work colleagues or family, there is no fear that this will be compromised. One of the most interesting things for me has been how attitudes across the Council differ, and how our group can help change that.
I work in Schools and Communities as an Alcohol and Substance Youth Worker, and so my workmates are familiar with the appreciation of pronouns, different sexualities and gender expressions. However, within the staff network group some members work in places where these things aren’t common knowledge and this can make it difficult for them to be their authentic selves in work. To our knowledge, we are one of only a few groups of this kind in the Liverpool City Region and are excited to link up with other groups as and when they are developed!
What are the aims/objectives for the group?
The group has several different aims, the first one is to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ staff members, a place where people can come that is non-judgemental and where they have a voice. This is followed closely by our collective desire to impact change in the authority. Our Chair, Max, does an amazing job of keeping us focused on tasks that can impact LGBTQ+ staff across the workforce, and we are able to bring our opinions together to work out the best way to approach things. Who knows what the future holds for us but we are ready to work together to effect change and support our fellow workers to develop an inclusive and safe working environment.
What does the group do, in practical terms?
We meet once a month on Microsoft Teams and discuss issues that are affecting LGBTQ+ workers across the Council, we also speak in between meetings too on our Teams Chat, sharing thoughts and articles that are relevant to us. We even had a Christmas Quiz hosted by Max and although we weren’t as clever as we thought (maybe that was just me) it was all good fun! We haven’t met face to face as a group yet, but are all looking forward to when this can happen this year.
The group recently launched an internal campaign around pronouns, on International Pronouns Day, can you tell us more about that?
International Pronouns Day gave us a great opportunity to raise the awareness of pronouns in the workplace and across the Borough. In the general population pronouns are not discussed or considered on a day to day basis, but for someone whose pronouns are not in line with how they feel, e.g. for transgender or non-binary folk, they play a major role in their authentic identity.
We thought about how best to introduce the idea of pronouns and found a great article from Pink News, which explained this perfectly to people who do not know much beyond he/she pronouns. We shared this article on our staff intranet to highlight the importance of pronouns, encouraging everyone who works for the council to include their pronouns in email signatures, and the Chief Executive also included this in his staff newsletter. A member of the group creates content for and monitors the council’s corporate social media channels, so they were able to get approval for this to be shared externally using these channels, allowing us to share our solidarity with all pronouns that may be used by residents in Wirral.
One of the best things to happen as a result of this was one of our group being able to tell us that they were non-binary, allowing us to use their correct pronouns and not the ones we assumed they went by.
How has this discussion of pronouns been received internally?
On the whole it was received well and made space for conversations that wasn’t available before. There were some negative comments from people outside the council on social media but they were handled brilliantly by the communications team. That’s one of the reasons the group exists, to educate and support change.
This piece on pronouns was the first in a long line of things we hope to work on, to create a more inclusive place to work and live. Something really positive that has come from this, is that my service lead asked me to talk to our workforce under Schools and Communities about pronouns and as a result we have seen lots of people adding their pronouns to their email signatures!
Diane Hollis (she/her), Head of Service for Schools and Communities at Wirral Council has embraced the importance of pronouns by bringing it to the forefront of the service and has been encouraging her team to add their pronouns to email signatures. She said: “Silence serves no purpose, we must speak out about the things that matter. Speak out to as many people as you can and create a culture that respects the identity of the individual. I love my name, I own my name, it’s important to me. The same emotional feeling is attached to the correct use of pronouns, in my opinion there is no difference.”
She suggested that every leader should ask themselves three questions:
- Do I mean what I say about the importance of using the correct pronoun?
- Can I back what I say with evidence?
- Do I say it with love when I talk about the use of pronouns?
She then continued to say: “If the answer to all three questions is YES, then speak out and create a movement. By doing something simple like changing your signature to include pronouns, you can set the standard for others to follow. Lead by example.”
Do you have any other activities or campaigns planned at the moment?
Obviously it’s difficult at the moment to put on events but we are planning to do some comms campaigns for LGBT history month in February where members of the staff network group will write an article on a theme close to their hearts. We hope to put on some live teams events too this year so watch this space!
We are also developing a style guide to ensure inclusive terminology and gender neutral language and images are used where possible across our social media platforms, online forms, internal documents and branding. This is a huge piece of work that we’re very proud to have played a part in.
Do you have any external activities planned?
Well….given that we have just headed into our third lockdown, we haven’t been able to plan any external activities yet, however as soon as we are able to we will be. At the very least, our first social supporting our fab local gay bars after a very difficult time will be on our agenda!
What are your intentions for the group’s development?
The group hopes to grow in numbers, to continue to be a safe space for staff members, and we are also looking at ways that we can support colleagues who have LGBTQ+ friends or family members, not by having them directly in the group, but by creating a smaller safe space for them to attend to air any concerns they have or to ask for advice.
If other LCR councils – and perhaps councils further afield – had similar groups, would you want to work collaboratively, to share ideas/experiences?
This is something we have already explored across LCR and have offered to lead on, we’re hoping this will come to fruition soon, as collaborating with other organisations who have similar groups is something we are looking forward to doing as soon as possible. We have learned so much just sharing ideas and opinions through our group that it will be incredible to do that on a bigger scale.
This year our theme is ‘Young At Heart’, which promotes the right for LGBT+ people to live happy, healthy and carefree lives, regardless of how they identify. What does this statement mean to the group?
This song and the statement align perfectly with our group’s ethics. Our group is filled with people of all different gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations – and regardless of how people identify, whether they have come out, or aren’t quite there yet, we believe that living life to your fullest shouldn’t be limited by how you identify or who you love!
How can Wirral Council Staff get involved with the group?
Any Wirral Council employee who fits the LGBTQ+ criteria and would like to get involved can email our lovely Chair and super ally, Maxine Joynson via [email protected]