Dr Christine Rivers is the lead on the Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) in the NHS People Equality and Inclusion team. The WDES is a mandated framework using metrics and insight to improve the working experiences of Disabled NHS people. Christine’s past work has included highlighting the experiences of LGB people in mental health services.
This Pride month, Christine reflects on her own lived experiences and working within the NHS. The NHS Workforce Disability Equalities Standard was launched in 2019, the data and wider programme is supporting new and innovative disability focussed work in trusts, aiming to remove barriers and make the NHS an exemplar employer for Disabled people. From leadership support, investment in grass roots innovation, closing equalities gaps, celebrating core awareness events and particularly championing the voices of LGBTQ+ and Disabled colleagues, Christine’s 30 year NHS career has seen attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community change significantly over that time, for colleagues in the NHS, for patients and in wider society.
Christine says, “When I met my wife 30 years ago, we couldn’t get married or have our relationship formally recognised in a work context. We chose a new surname and both changed ours to ‘Rivers’ so that we could share a surname together. People still ask if we’re sisters! If we get it right for our LGBTQ+ staff, if they feel welcomed, valued and safe, we are much more likely to retain them and get it right for LGBTQ+ people using NHS services. There is greater recognition of NHS LGBTQ+ staff now, and less hesitation in celebrating Pride and the richness that LGBTQ+ staff bring to the NHS and to our diverse workforce.
A significant improvement is the bringing together of sexual orientation with trans, queer and non-binary, so that when we stand together, we are stronger and can be more influential, challenging and redefining gender norms. One of the biggest barriers for me is indifference; a lack of awareness or concern, coupled with silence about the experiences and challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. Data on the experiences of LGBTQ+ staff is poorer than data on other protected characteristics, such as sex, age or ethnic background. As with disability, a lack of evidence and therefore a degree of invisibility can mean that LGBTQ+ lives, our experiences and the barriers and prejudice that we face is easier to ignore. How have I overcome these barriers? I speak my truth, quietly and clearly, and stay with the bigger picture.
My biggest celebrations were when as an equality lead in a trust, I led the organisation’s entry into the top 100 of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, and we reached number 32 – there were celebrations all round, including an evening celebratory event. For LGBTQ+ staff, I would recommend: find as many ways as possible of being yourself and bringing your whole self to work – that may mean finding support from other LGBTQ+ staff through a staff network or gaining support through mentorship or buddying schemes. And, reach out across the diversity spectrum – fight prejudice and discrimination, we can be more effective when we work together to effect change.
For colleagues who do not identify as LGBTQ+: you can be an ally in many ways – support or join the LGBTQ+ network as an ally if you are able, or join an ally programme if one exists in your organisation. There is currently a great deal of prejudice towards trans and non-binary colleagues – speak about your support for trans and non-binary colleagues and give your support to change. Pride means different things to different people; for me it means being myself and bringing the benefits of my lived experience to the workplace and celebrating the visibility of our lives, our diversity and difference, the opportunity to show our unity and our strength and to come together in celebration with our allies. ”