Rights, respect and recognition for people who identify as LGBT+ have come an incredibly long way in the UK over the past 50 years.
However, we cannot be complacent, there is still much more that we still need to achieve. That is why I am calling on the skills sector, governments, and industry to use this month – which is LGBT History Month – to shine a spotlight on apprenticeships and look at what more we can do together to make the programme more welcoming for young LGBT+ people.
There is a real need to make progress on this front. The National Society of Apprentices (NSOA) has said that many young people who identify as LGBT+ are not considering apprenticeships because they are worried about how their employers will react to them coming out
The ability to celebrate who you are in the workplace is something that young people today expect, and it is something that we should all be working hard to achieve because the stats speak for themselves.
Research by Out Now shows that in most countries there is greater than 25 per cent productivity gain achieved when LGBT+ workers feel able to be open with all their work colleagues. For me, one of the most powerful ways to create inclusive workplaces is through role modelling.
LGBT History Month is a powerful reminder of the need for more and more visible LGBT+ role models for young people. One of the stories that struck me most during last year’s LGBT History Month, was the story of a trainee teacher who was determined to change attitudes in the North London School he was teaching at by being open with his pupils.
He recounted that as a “gay teacher, he wanted to be the role model for his students that he had never had”. This is so important when you consider that Stonewall’s School Report, published in 2017, identified that just one in four LGBT+ pupils know of an openly gay member of staff.
Sadly, the heroic efforts of the trainee teacher to bring about change in his school is in the minority. And worryingly, there is very little debate about any of this in the skills sector.
Indeed speaking with those working in FE, it is clear that there is very little opportunity to discuss the challenges and benefits of authentic leadership for those who identify as LGBT+, particularly in leadership roles.
Confidence in authentic leadership drives performance and productivity gains. The current absence of discussion about this from LGBT+ leaders and straight allies means the sector is missing a big trick at a time when leadership performance is under the spotlight.
We need to work better together to champion all forms of diversity that make our sector so rich, creating confident role models and showing young people that you can succeed whatever their background, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Motivated to start a meaningful discussion about the benefits of authentic leadership and role modelling in the sector, we are convening this week leading organisations across FE, industry and government, in partnership with Tes and PinkNews, to discuss how the skills sector can create a culture where leaders who identify as LGBT+ can come out, and how straight allies can help play a vital role in creating inclusive learning and working environments for all.
'Real desire for change'
By creating inspirational role models for young people who identify as LGBT+, we can encourage more to consider taking an apprenticeship or technical training route, ensuring we are creating a new generation of confident high flyers that can help drive UK businesses forward.
Joining the discussion will be Helen Grant MP, who in her role as chair of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champion Network (ADCN) in England, is working tirelessly to look at what more education and industry can do to make apprenticeships more welcoming for young LGBT+ people. We will also hear from ADCN members’ BAE Systems and Lloyds Banking Group on their approaches to equality in the workplace.
Conversations I have had with leading bodies – including the Association of Colleges, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Collab Group, Stonewall and others – has shown me that there is a real desire to bring about change.
I am confident that by working together we can create a more inclusive environment where more LGBT+ young people have direct access to LGBT+ role models who can inspire them to pursue apprenticeships and technical career routes. Let’s make this LGBT History count as the beginning of a new conversation in the skills sector around the benefits of authenticity for leadership and the next generation of LGBT+ young people.
Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann is chief executive of WorldSkills UK