Pride in Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality

In this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show I was joined by Christopher Owen who talked to me about his work with Manchester Pride, how inclusion works intersectionally and how business can have a huge impact on the lived experience of LGBTQ+ individuals in today’s society.

Christopher Owen works for Manchester Pride and a lot of the work that he does is complementary to the inclusivity work that we do at Mildon with our clients, where we focus on the broad spectrum of diversity and inclusion. Christopher focuses on LGBT matters, so it was great to sit down with an LGBT expert and understand his experience and how we can apply that to the workplace.

We got started with Christopher telling me a bit more about his background and the work he does at Manchester Pride.

‘Thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I’m really delighted to be here. I have a PhD in intersectional systemic oppression, primarily through a framework of Black feminism. My work has been thinking about the root causes of inequality, discrimination, exclusion, mistreatment and harm, and then thinking about what we can do about tackling those issues at the source.

At Manchester Pride, I am the Inclusivity Development Manager. My job is to support businesses and organisations with developing their inclusivity. Through the All Equals Charter programme, I work with businesses and organisations to identify where they’re at in their inclusion journey and then figure out where they need to go next. I create bespoke action plans with them, especially around intersectional LGBTQ+ inclusion to both support their colleagues, but also their communities in a really meaningful and proactive and productive way.

The All Equals Charter is a membership programme for businesses and organisations. The word charter means a written agreement between different bodies. We ask organisations to sign the charter, agreeing to a set of principles, values and commitments, all of which have to do with meaningfully supporting LGBTQ+ communities. When people hear Manchester Pride they might think about the festival in the summer and the big Pride parade and the big party. But Pride itself isn’t just an event, it’s a global social movement. It’s called the Pride Movement. Social movements aren’t just about celebrating marginalised communities, they’re about creating meaningful change. They’re about organising the liberation of marginalised communities. So, the All Equals Charter works a little bit differently, in the sense that we are very, very connected and engaged with and in conversation with our intersectional marginalised communities here in Greater Manchester and across the UK.

Whether that be through connections with other charities in the same sector, or grassroots organisers or individual activists or artists and performers, we’re having these conversations regularly. We ask, “What is going on, on the ground? What do you need? What does your liberation involve and look like?”

My job is to bring that into organisations and help them understand authentic inclusion and authentic connections with diverse communities. I think people will think about diversity as a statistic, they’ll just be like, “Oh yeah, we have this percentage of people of colour and this percentage of women,” and that’s it. They don’t actually think about it as real-life human beings with real lived experiences. Humans with experiences that are changing on the regular, depending on how legislation might change, what the media is paying attention to right now, or what global politics are currently looking at.

Our job here at Manchester Pride is to keep our finger on the pulse and then the All Equals Charter will be quite thorough in the way that it will support organisations by bringing that authenticity into their inclusivity. We have the membership option, which includes things like accessing resources, connecting with other members and just growing knowledge. But we also have a full accreditation programme which are the little stamps and stickers that people like to put on their website saying things like, “Oh yeah, we’re confident in this,” or “We’re accredited in that.”

We have one of those. And it’s lovely. And I’m all here for the nice, rosy sticker. That’s lovely. But the really valuable thing that our members get from the accreditation process is that bespoke action plan. We look at everything from policies and procedures, decision-making practices, the workforce, everything from recruitment to training and development and retention, to wellbeing and happiness, the service delivery and actually how these organisations are supporting their customers and clients.

The final area is working with partners. So, thinking about networks, contractors, suppliers, connecting with the sector as a whole and now all of these things are coming from a place of thinking about “How do we meaningfully support the liberation of LGBTQ+ communities in an intersectional way and how do we contribute to the modern Pride movement?” Not just come to the party but contribute to the movement meaningfully. That’s the key piece of work that we do.

We also offer something for organisations that maybe aren’t ready for that accreditation sticker who don’t want to be assessed yet because they don’t have the right policies in place. We have a programme called The Getting Started Programme, which is specifically designed for businesses that just want to get started without any judgment or without any assessment. It’s a very thorough consultative service where we ask, “What do you already have? What do you need? What are you missing?” Then we talk about how to implement it for the very first time. No matter where a business or an organisation is at in their inclusion journey, we help our members figure out where they’re at. We provide them with the knowledge and the resources that they need to move forward and then support them in making sure that their action plans and the movement moving forward is authentic and meaningful. That means we’ll actually genuinely bring about the positive changes needed for our marginalised communities.’

I especially like Christopher’s point about how organisations keep their finger on the pulse and build those relationships, because we are seeing an incredible amount of transphobia at the moment being reported in the news. We’re seeing the government clamping down on the NHS having LGBT networks. Which is only going to leave LGBTQ+ individuals feeling unseen, unheard, invalidated by not providing that service. It’s being used as a political football in my opinion. I think it’s important that employers understand that these factors are going to be affecting individuals on the shop floor and in the office on a day-to-day basis.

Christopher agreed, ‘Oh, absolutely. The attack on trans rights is really, really dangerous. Really, really frightening and currently having consequences. It’s not theoretical or abstract. The current consequences are a huge spike in hate crime. A huge spike in mental illness and a huge spike in a lack of access to healthcare. A rise in deaths by suicide or attempts of suicide. The consequences are severe and they’re happening right now.

A key thing that I think employers are struggling with is that a lot of transphobia is framed around protecting women and protecting children. A lot of employers will think that they either have to support women or trans people. And as they tend to have more women, like cis women employees, that then becomes their priority area and of course nobody wants to be accused of being a misogynist.

It’s quite popular to be a transphobe right now. Especially if we’re going to delegitimise the identities of trans people and say that they’re not real identities which is something that’s happening quite a lot right now. One of the things that I have to do a lot in my work, is helping people understand that trans inclusion will not harm the inclusion and the support of your women colleagues and staff. In fact, transphobic policies, transphobic legislation, transphobic guidance is deeply, deeply dangerous to cis women and has huge implications for cis women and for LGB populations. Our inclusion and liberation is all interconnected and tied to one another. So often people will implement transphobic policies or legislation, or guidance I mean, because they want to support women not realising that they’re actually hurting women as well.’

I asked Christopher if he could give me some examples of organisations that have successfully implemented the All Equals Charter and the positive impact that that has had on their business.

‘We work with a wide array of sectors and industries, so I can give you some very different examples. For example, one of our member organisations is Tameside Council, a local public body. Thanks to the recommendations made through the All Equals Charter accreditation they achieved our highest level of accreditation at role model standard. They’ve actually changed local byelaws to expand their protections in Tameside beyond the Equality Act. For example, the Equality Act only protects based on gender reassignment for trans communities. Loads of trans and gender diverse communities don’t fit the definition provided in legislation but in Tameside, they brought the protection in for gender identity more broadly, which means that trans communities are safer in Tameside than they’re probably going to be anywhere else in the UK.

That’s specifically thanks to the All Equals Charter and the recommendations. Another example is one of our members called Bruntwood. They own property, commercial property, and they’re a national business. Thanks to the recommendations made by the All Equals Charter, they don’t just think about LGBTQ+ inclusion and safety with their staff, they also think about it with their customers. One of the things that they do is they’ve trained their staff in how to report hate crime. They’ve created a programme for addressing bullying and discrimination with customers and if their customers are doing anything harmful to LGBTQ+ communities, they now have a procedure on how to address that and how to have those conversations. They’re also working with intersectional community groups, so they’re supporting youth programmes and arts programmes specifically to support LGBTQ+ communities as a separate initiative as part of their charitable giving and ESG.

That’s all stuff that’s developed and grown thanks to the All Equals Charter. I could go on and on and on about our members. We’ve seen some brilliant work. The Growth Company, which is a local organisation, have done some amazing work, specifically supporting LGBTQ+ businesses with their development and growth which we’re proud to see.

I think, with all three of those examples, they are connecting the LGBTQ+ inclusion you’re doing internally, with what opportunities you have to influence LGBTQ+ liberation externally. It’s thinking about the communities that you serve, the communities that you work in and supporting them in a way that you have the resources, capabilities and skills to support them and doing that meaningfully and intentionally.’

I know we’re not supposed to have favourite clients, but I was curious if there was one particular organisation that particularly stands out for Christopher in terms of pride in the impact that they’ve made.

‘I’m proud of all of my clients. All of my members are in different parts of their journey and they’re all doing really, really good work. I’ve mentioned three. A fourth one that I can mention is Auto Trader, who I’m sure you’ve heard of – they sell cars online. They’re a great organisation, but what a lot of people probably don’t know but should know is that Auto Trader don’t just drive really incredible LGBTQ+ inclusion internally, but they do important work in their sector.

They’re really connected with the automotive industry and they have created resources and spaces and founded programmes specifically to drive LGBTQ+ inclusion within the automotive industry. They’ve taken a leadership role in that space that I’m really, really impressed by. Then on the side to that, the amount of charitable giving that they’ve done as an organisation is impressive.

They’re one of our sponsors at Manchester Pride. But that’s not why I like them because they don’t sponsor our festival and the parties, they sponsor our year-round community engagement work. They sponsor the stuff that’s specifically tapped into marginalized communities that’s more on the ground, more authentic. Manchester Pride is a charity that runs year-round and we couldn’t do that work without organisations supporting us financially and Auto Trader is one of those organisations. There are several others I haven’t mentioned, but absolutely it’s that kind of meaningfully connecting with communities that we’re proud of as part of the All Equals Charter team.

I always say to my clients that I really want them to get into a position where they are a leading employer and then they’re able to educate and support the rest of their industry as well where people look at them as the leaders in their sector and they’re looking to them for best practice. That’s the ideal situation to be in.

Christopher mentioned in his introduction that he takes an intersectional approach to his work and specialised in with his PhD as well. I asked him if he could define what is meant by intersectional approach and why he takes this approach in his work?

‘Intersectionality was coined by a law scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw, to refer specifically to a road intersection. So, you can think about one road being Black and another road being gay. And so right in the middle of that road is a Black gay person. I love Kimberlé Crenshaw. I think she’s done brilliant work, but I think it’s a disservice to the theory and to the field of Black feminism to only name her. There’s other names that have been really influential in intersectionality, including Audre Lorde and Bell Hooks. But more recent scholars that I really like are Patricia Hill Collins and Emma Dabiri. All really, really good names to be reading up on. But the definition that I like to use for intersectionality actually comes from a Jewish scholar named Nira Yuval-Davis.

‘She defines it as the ways in which different social divisions are concretely enmeshed by one another. And that concept of enmeshment, I think is important for understanding intersectionality. Let’s go back to that road intersection. You’ve got your Black road and your gay road and you’re standing right in the middle of the intersection, which road are you on? Can you say that you’re on the gay road and equally say that you’re not on the Black road? No, you’re on both roads. You’re on this whole new moment. It’s neither road and it’s both roads but the concrete in the ground is all one piece, right? It’s concretely enmeshed. I think that’s what we need to understand about intersectionality is that people’s identities cannot be separated from one another. They all come together.

There are two key ways to understand intersectionality. One is to be thinking about, yeah, the Black road and the gay road and then therefore the Black gay person in the middle. But there’s also the roads of the racism road and the homophobia road and the experience right there in the middle as well. And what does that feel like? What does that look like? What does that involve? And so when we’re thinking about workplaces and organisations and driving inclusion, if you are only tackling the homophobia road, if you’re tearing up the homophobia road to build in the inclusion road, you are going to get to that intersection and there’s going to be bits of hate left over from the racism road that you missed because you were only tearing up the homophobia road. In fact, that middle piece is going to remain fully intact because you couldn’t get at it because it was enmeshed with the racism road.

To make a long story short, and I know it’s too late, our endeavours to drive inclusion have to acknowledge the different systems of oppression are all concretely enmeshed with one another. That they are all interlocked and they’re all interconnected; they all sustain and uphold one another. I talked earlier about how transphobic policy can harm cisgender women and there are loads of examples of that. For example, cutting young people from accessing puberty blockers used in medical transitioning for trans people has meant that cisgender girls who are precocious, who start their puberty early, also now can’t access those puberty blockers because of transphobic legislation. This means that cisgender girls can no longer access the healthcare needs that they have and are having to start menstruating at a very, very young age which has all kinds of social and health implications. So here we have a transphobic policy that impacts cis women. All of our systems of oppression uphold one another, keep each other going and ensure that those who are in power, the super mega wealthy elite are going to keep their power. They are going to keep hold of all of the cards and they’re going to pit us against one another rather than let us remember who’s actually at fault here and who’s actually got the power to make change. We need to recognise that if we don’t dismantle patriarchy, we’ll never dismantle homophobia or transphobia. And if we don’t dismantle White supremacy, we’ll never be able to celebrate and uplift women and so on and so on and so on. It just goes on and on and on. So the approach that I deeply believe and the team at Manchester Pride deeply believes in is, none of us can be free until all of us are free. And that’s just the way that it is.’

I asked Christopher, ‘When we talk about oppression, what is it and how does it impact individuals?’

‘There are lots of different kinds of oppression. There’s psychological oppression, economic oppression, political oppression. I like to talk about systemic oppression, which is the holistic combination of all of the other kinds of oppressions, all into one big chunky problem. And systemic oppression is big and it is complicated, but it can be simplified into how easy or difficult it is for people to get opportunities.

Those opportunities can vary. The opportunity might be to get promoted at work and become the CEO. We talk about the glass ceiling and how women have been facing the glass ceiling for years and years and years. We could also talk about the opportunity to be safe and we can talk about the higher rates that people of colour experience police brutality and how it’s more difficult for them to find safety, even from institutions that are designed to keep them safe.

It might also be the opportunity to be respected on the day-to-day. And we can think about trans people and having their pronouns respected and used as an automatic norm in a way that is comfortable for everybody involved. So, there’s loads of different kinds of opportunity, but I really like to use the theory of the matrix of domination developed by Patricia Hill Collins, one of the Black feminists I shared earlier.

She breaks oppression into four key areas that we can think about. So, the first one is the way that institutions interlock to organise oppression. So that might include healthcare, the police, the government and laws, the family, housing, education. These are all different institutions and they all work together to create a working system in our society. They’re the cogs in the machine that keep us going. They organise society and how society is organised and they are all designed to best support and to create opportunities very, very easily for historically privileged groups. Therefore, opportunities are less easy to come by through these institutions for historically marginalised groups. There is a history there and we have to acknowledge that history and uproot the historic structures in place.

One of the problems that we have with oppression is we will say, “Well, it’s always been like this. This is how healthcare is done.” And then we have to say, “Well, it needs to be done differently because it doesn’t work for X community,” for example.

The second area is bureaucracy. We can talk about bureaucracy in workplaces all day you and I, and I’m sure most people can think about the ways that bureaucracy is a headache. The way that you have to fill out the admin forms, you have to do it correctly and you have to get it approved by the right person. All of these annoying, frustrating things that actually just take all of the power out of you because you can’t just make it happen. You’ve got to go through the right channels and the right people and the right processes. And while bureaucracy can have important features for protecting communities, it can also function to protect the status quo and to limit the voice and autonomy and power of populations. Bureaucracy’s job is to manage oppression and to keep populations subservient to the status quo, docile and obedient to the process – a process that benefits those who already have power.

The third area has to do with cultural belief systems and the ways that we justify the harm that we commit to marginalised communities. So, for example, LGBTQ+ people have to come out of the closet, but cisgender and heterosexual people don’t have to come out of the closet. The reason for that isn’t homophobia and hate. The reason for that is the way that our society has automatic assumptions and norms and that therefore justifies erasing LGBTQ+ people. Whilst we might not mean anything hateful, we can still exclude or forget about or leave out LGBTQ+ people because of the way that our culture has belief systems that have these automatic assumptions. One of the reasons that we have inclusivity measures or call out culture or whatever else, is to help create new knowledge for people to realise, “Oh, the way that we think as a society on an unconscious level is actually deeply harmful.”

Then the last area is the way we experience oppression, our interpersonal relationships and interactions in our day-to-day experiences. Whether that be microaggressions or inappropriate questions or outright hate and bigotry and slurs and slanders and violence. Our everyday experiences can vary every day. But they have a real impact on our mental wellbeing, on our physical wellbeing and overall on our happiness in society. So how we treat one another also is part of how we liberate one another.’

I love what Christopher is saying and how he has brought the social domination matrix to life. I’ve developed a workshop called “Being an Equitable Leader” and the need to focus on equity in order for us to create equality within the workplace. I use Patricia Hill’s Collins framework, the Social Domination Matrix and I’m just thinking the audience might be thinking, “That’s really fascinating and interesting, but how on earth do I actually bring this into my organisation in a practical sense?”

I asked Christopher, ‘How does oppression translate into workplaces? What is its effect on the culture of the organisation? And what are some really practical things that people could start to think about implementing in their business?’

‘It’s a really good question and I don’t want to give all of the trade secrets away, right? Maybe step one is, join the All Equals Charter and hire me but here’s where we start. Here are the basics. Take the abstract concept out of your diversity. Who are the people? Where are they in your organisation, are they senior decision-makers? Are they shaping your policies or your procedures? Are they being asked to do too much work to help you shape those things? Or are you treating them like people?

We talked about bureaucracy for example. Does your organisation have any monitoring forms? Are you checking if that form is trans-inclusive? If non-binary people can answer that form accurately and fairly? Have you checked through your policies to make sure that they work for all LGBTQ+ people? For example, do you have a uniform policy that, again, would exclude non-binary people or parental and maternal leave policies that would exclude same-sex couples, for example? Just stop and think about real people and what their real lived experiences would look like.

Can they access the same opportunities just as readily and easily within your organisation as your cisgender and heterosexual staff? And where that’s not going to be true, where they’re not senior decision-makers or they don’t fit within policy or anything else, that’s where you have space to create some real change quite meaningfully. So that’s where I would start. Think about your people, be authentic and honest about it.

Next is going to be thinking about your communities. Thinking about who you might be recruiting, who you might be working with as customers, clients, etc. That’s something that the team at Manchester Pride could absolutely support with.’

Christopher has reminded me that I was working in an organisation where a colleague, and forgive me if I get the language wrong here, they are gender fluid, so they presented differently on different days. One practical thing was whether our ID badges reflected how they wanted to present and we had double-sided ID badges so they could have different photos for how they wanted to present on the day. I was quite surprised it was very easy for the security team to produce these double-sided ID badges, which remove that bureaucracy, because I have spoken to clients that say, “Oh, it’s impossible to have double-sided ID badges,” You’ve got one photo and that’s it. Or you’re only allowed one badge. You can’t have more than one badge. It just adds that extra layer of bureaucracy as Christopher described so well.

Christopher replied, ‘My easy advice is to take all of those things that you say, “Oh, well, sorry, that’s policy. We can’t do that.” Or “Oh, it’s always been done this way, we can’t do it.” Everything that you want to wash your hands of and say, “Not my responsibility. I can’t help this. There’s nothing we can do about it.” It’s not true. You probably can do something. Try and get a little bit innovative. Try and think outside the box. Try and put your foot down and make some change because, yeah, it’s easy to say, “Sorry, we can’t have double-sided ID badges. That’s not how it works.” Instead go, “We’ll make it work.”

Change it. You can change it. I think a lot of people don’t know that they have the power to make a change, “It’s this way and it’s always been this way, therefore it has to continue to be that way.” No. Real inclusion is about looking at what we can change and then changing it. And there are more opportunities than people realise.’

I know when I work with leaders around inclusive leadership behaviours, one of the things that I talk about is challenging the status quo. They question, they ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” “Okay, we have been doing it this way for 10 years, but why are we continuing to do it this way? Surely there is a better way or a different way to be doing things.” Inclusive leaders are bold. They’re not afraid to rock the boat.

‘One of the things that I would hate for an organisation is to be outdated and to fall behind. Customers and clients are looking for organisations that are the best, who are on top of things. Who are the most up-to-date. To sit back and say like, “Oh, that’s just the way it is,” is allowing yourself to fall behind. And that’s just not good business sense.’

We then turned to the question I ask everybody when they come on this podcast, ‘Christopher, what does inclusive growth mean to you?’

‘Let’s think about what growth means for a plant, right? For a tree, how are you going to help a tree grow? Well, you’re going to make sure it gets sunlight. It’s got to be outside and you’ve got to water the roots specifically. It’s lovely to get the leaves wet, but actually the roots are where the water is needed. Inclusive growth is the same. You’ve got to get outside. You’ve got to go and get to know those communities and real people. And you’ve got to tackle the issues at the root. What is causing exclusion? What is causing inequality? Go and solve those problems first and then the rest of the tree will grow.’

My final question for Christopher was to find out what one thing he would like people listening to the podcast of reading this article to do right now as a result the things we’ve discussed in our conversation?

‘I would love them to get in touch with me so that we can have a conversation about where they’re at in their LGBTQ+ inclusion journey. I’d like to hear what issues they’re facing, what their goals are, how I can help and how the All Equals Charter team can help. So, if they want to go to the Manchester Pride website, they can find the All Equals Charter there. Or they can go to the All Equals Charter page and hopefully we can have a conversation to see what they need and try to get them going on tackling those root causes of the problems, connecting authentically with communities and making real meaningful change to support the modern Pride Movement.’

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Pride in Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality - Mildon