By Nick O’Reilly, Chief Technology Officer at NHSBSA
I was recently challenged by our Head of Wellbeing and Inclusion at the NHSBSA, Jane Miller and CEO, Alistair McDonald to consider what it meant to me to be a member of the NHSBSA Leadership Team and to come from the LGBT community. What a challenge, because the honest answer was despite being out at work as a gay man, I hadn’t really ever thought to combine my leadership role with my LGBT experiences. To some extent I am out yet also partly still in the closet at work; I am certainly not (hopefully soon to be but previously was not) supporting LGBT leadership at work.
Since joining the NHSBSA, I haven’t taken an active part in the Diversity and Inclusion Network (but I’ve had some other challenges to face), and since I was appointed to my first management role in an ICT department back in 2004 I’ve chosen career over community. Until then I was an active member of Unison’s Lesbian and Gay network (it became LGBT slightly later than my active involvement). Yes, I was involved in fighting clause 27/28 and I’ve seen massive progress in LGBT rights in the last 20 years – I never foresaw a time of equal marriage, or when there would be step changes in drugs that can prevent and hopefully soon cure HIV. My early life as a gay man was one dominated by ignorance – from people, from society and from government. Perhaps seeing such change has made me complacent.
All of that said, I know that many of the challenges I’ve already faced will still lie ahead for people who are on their own journey. With age and experience it may get easier to come out as lesbian, gay or bisexual inside and outside the workplace, but that doesn’t mean it is easy at first. I know all of these are very different to choosing to live your life in your own gender and not the gender you were born with.
We all have our own role models and interests; sadly as an avid football fan I’m still waiting for the British football community to find and support the first out and proud gay footballer. In contrast I’m happy to celebrate another first for lesbian women with Casey Stoney (England’s former women’s football captain) who has over 100 caps and can be out and accepted – surely the time is long overdue for men to put right the wrong that Justin Fashanu experienced. I can hear my Technology colleagues groaning – not another football analogy surely. But for me there is an important message; if just one person can feel more confident by seeing openly LGBT people succeeding and achieving then it makes a difference. So as a member of our own Leadership Team the least I need to contribute is to be visible and to be seen as a champion of LGBT colleagues. I can’t claim to be a leader in our NHSBSA LGBT community until I can reconnect with it; but I can and will be more visible and more high profile. I know my own experiences inevitably impact on the way I do my job and manage my services.
To help me (and yes, we all need help) I was lucky to be able to attend a Stonewall Empowering Leadership course, and I’ve made some commitments as a result. There are three important messages I brought back:
- It’s important to be your best self and that means being allowed to be yourself and not having to edit part of your life – which aligns to the NHSBSA goal of bringing your best. One fellow course member told the story of editing his weekend because of the reaction he would get from colleagues.
- People make life-changing decisions when they’re ready, and when the environment they live and work in is supportive – one delegate well into her career in the public sector had made a life-changing decision after years of unhappiness.
- Having visible LGBT role models is important and these aren’t always linked to management positions – just about everyone on the course reflected this and most others were clearly more visible in their workplace as role models than I am in mine.
As the song words go “I am what I am” but perhaps I’m not playing all my cards. What point is there in holding on to the deuces or not dealing myself or my LGBT community any aces. I’d like to acknowledge my thanks to Stonewall and my fellow course delegates for supporting me in this challenge and to also acknowledge Unison for its part in my early LGBT journey.