Ben Leitch, Co-chair of the Teach First LGBT+ Affinity Network
Ben Leitch
Co-chair of the Teach First LGBT+ Affinity Network

Teach First’s LGBTQ+ inclusion journey

We’re proud to share we’ve been given a Gold award in this year’s Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and reached the Stonewall Top 100 Employers list, with a rank of 33.  

That makes us one of the top workplaces in the UK for LGBTQ+ inclusion and we couldn’t be happier! For us, LGBTQ+ inclusion at Teach First has been a huge priority over the past few years and this award has given us the confidence to know that our journey is heading in the right direction.

It’s no lie that LGBTQ+ people have been side-lined in the workplace for decades. Whilst many leaders believe there is no longer an issue regarding the inclusion of queer people in their workplace - that we’ve moved on from discrimination based on gender identity, expression or sexual orientation - this is simply not true. Workplaces, like ours, have to work diligently to ensure every single employee, regardless of how they identify, can bring their whole selves to work without fear of prejudice.

Teach First is a Stonewall Gold employer

Rewind to 2020

Nearly two years ago, myself and Shelley (our employee LGBT+ Affinity Network’s executive sponsor) were sat together with our CEO and Director of HR at Stonewall’s offices, hearing feedback on one of our first Stonewall Workplace Equality Index submissions. I had only recently stepped into the role as network chair (and Shelley in her role).

We were disappointed to learn we had placed 325th out of around 500 submissions. Some of our feedback was on how we had responded to the questionnaire, that we had failed to properly evidence some of the more positive aspects of our work in LGBTQ+ inclusion at that point. However, there were also some important pieces of feedback that we were able to build into our approach as an Affinity Network, our collaboration with teammates in Human Resources and in the design and delivery of our programmes.

We immediately went to work, focusing our efforts on three strategic themes - policy, visibility and community - to tackle the shortcomings highlighted by Stonewall.

Policies that reflect the needs of our workforce

Through our Diversity Champion partnership with Stonewall, our dedicated account manager was keen to support the development of our policies. Our HR team showed incredible leadership by updating all our policies to include gender-neutral language, especially in our Family Policies. We also developed a brand-new Transgender and Non-binary Equality Policy and Transitioning at Work Guidance for anyone going through or considering going through the process of transitioning gender. This month, we will also highlight the right to the same bereavement leave whether it is because of the loss of a loved one from a chosen family or a birth/legal family.

Aside from policies, we’ve amended our HR systems to include a range of gender identities as well as created an official space on our email signatures to share our pronouns, which we actively encourage all employees, from apprentice to CEO, to implement.

All of this change has been made to ensure that every person is included in the building blocks that make up a fair and accepting organisation.

Ensuring all LGBTQ+ voices are heard

Our LGBT+ Affinity Network is a community made up of over 200 LGBTQ+ identifying colleagues and allies. The network, led by a Working Group of 14 colleagues from different departments, is composed of reps who speak on behalf of intersectional interest groups, such as ethnic minority or neurodiverse employees, or working families. Each individual dedicates time and resource, on top of their regular jobs, to ensure Teach First demonstrates commitment to diversity and inclusion at work.

The Affinity Network has achieved so much in the past couple of years during what has been tough for many colleagues. We responded to the pandemic by creating a space for all colleagues to interact on online. We also have a talented team that produces an innovative monthly newsletter, which gives every member a bit of joy as it shares good news stories of LGBTQ+ people, events, recommendations and the compulsory bit of drag race gossip. It really has helped raise morale throughout a difficult time.

The network has also created a fantastic range of events for LGBT+ History Month and Pride Month, which has included bringing in outside speakers such as the Mermaids UK, a trans teacher, and external charities such as Just Like Us and the Albert Kennedy Trust. We have an annual book club and an LGBTQ+ film club exploring intersectional issues and experiences such as being a gay Black man, LGBTQ+ families and trans issues. Whilst the pandemic had stopped in-person socialising, we’ve held online craft socials and LGBTQ+ history quizzes.

In 2021, the network also introduced safer spaces for LGBTQ+ people to interact and discuss important intersectional topics such as religion, mental health, ethnic minority identities, bi+ identities, representation in modern culture, and the meaning of pride. Our LGBTQ+ employees were also key to the success of our pilot for Reverse Mentoring with our Executive team, who helped shape and mould our programme so that it can now be offered more widely.

We are so proud that Stonewall has also celebrated the work of our network with a Highly Commended award! We hope our continued work will bring more LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies together and offer support that enables them to perform, grow and contribute in the workplace.

Supporting our internal and external community

A crucial turning point in the charity’s LGBTQ+ inclusion journey was in January 2021 when we formed a new Programme Diversity & Inclusion team to solely focus on implementing innovative D&I changes and methods of support to our trainee teachers and programme members. This team has spearheaded important changes to how we support LGBTQ+ trainees, particularly trans trainees. The team developed a trans-inclusive admissions process, delivered trans inclusion training to all admissions staff, and developed a technological solution ensuring a trainee or programme member’s legal (dead) name is only visible to admissions staff.

We have also worked with a group of ambassadors to set up and lead the TF LGBT+ network which was established in June 2021 and is open to all the Teach First community. The network arranges panel events where speakers share their experiences with trainee teachers to support transition into the profession; community socials; online discussions about leading LGBT+ clubs in schools and making inclusive spaces for pupils; and lots more! We also support LGBTed, a network of LGBT teachers in the UK. We worked with them actively to successfully bid for DfE funding for a second year of mentoring aspiring LGBTQ+ School Leadership Teachers with current ones.

Bringing all our community together, including employees, trainees, programme members and ambassadors, happens annually during Pride season. It’s a great way to end the year on a high, celebrating LGBTQ+ identities in Manchester, London and the Isle of Wight to name but a few. The pandemic has stopped that for the past two years, but that hasn’t meant we’ve not been able to spread the Pride joy online with our community.

Looking forward: what’s next?

Whilst we’ve come a long way over the years, we know we can’t stop now and that we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do to ensure every single LGBTQ+ person feels supported and seen at Teach First.

We’ll be looking at the membership of our affinity network and making it more transparent and easier to join and take part in our events. We’re also introducing online safer spaces where network members can join private discussion boards with people of the same lived experience, for example, a closed group for our LGBTQ+ and ethnic minority identifying colleagues to share, discuss and collaborate or simply arrange a meet up!

Finally, as we write this, we eagerly await our feedback from our most recent Stonewall submission. This will enable us to set priorities to drive our activity ensuring that everyone can do their life’s best work at Teach First, by bringing their full selves to the charity. We’ll share more about these priorities as soon as they are set. In the meantime, we thank everyone for their contributions to our journey. We have come a long way, but there will always be more to do to. 

Teach First is a Stonewall Top 100 employer

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