It feels hard to put into words my experience last month of attending Stonewall’s Leadership programme. Without wishing to sound too grand, I think it has changed me in a very profound way; changed the way I see myself, my past and what my role is now.
The programme is billed as “An intensive and inspirational two-day residential for highly motivated and talented LGBT professionals” and when Touchstone encouraged me to apply I read the details and thought my usual… ‘yep, that’s definitely not for me. OK I fit the criteria, I am gay, I am (on my good days) a motivated and talented professional, but really, what does one have to do with the other?’
I’ve never been ‘scene-y’, never joined any network, in fact I have probably spent my whole life feeling as though I did not need to seek out the sole company of other LGBT people. I remember avoiding the LGB group at uni and thinking why do you need a group, why pigeon-hole, label and isolate yourselves even more than we already are? Having spent until now telling myself and others that being gay does not define me, I have only just learnt and finally accepted that… of course it does!
There was something very different and very special about sharing a space with this group of 36 professionals. We were all strangers, from completely different backgrounds; we all had different journeys but almost immediately there was a bond, a very real connection. There was this palpable sense of us all having a shared experience and a shared understanding. We were able to create this amazingly safe and comfortable space that enabled us to tackle some really challenging and personal stuff.
Huge credit to the Stonewall team; they really are exceptional in how they plan and facilitate this programme. So many of us said that despite being part of leadership development programmes before, this one is just in a completely different league. I can’t thank Alison Lowe and Jim Leyland enough for offering me the opportunity in the first place and then helping me overcome my reluctance.
Having spent day one reflecting on my own story and my journey to where I am now, day two concentrated more on inclusive leadership, authenticity in the workplace and what I can bring back to Touchstone. Throughout the programme we shared a lot of information and experiences and Stonewall continually asked us to consider “what am I struck by?” I am proud to say that my own reflections often focused on how advanced Touchstone already is in our approach to diversity and inclusivity. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement and I’ve already booked in with SMT to share my learning and talk about what else we can do to make things even better.
At the end of a very emotional final session on Friday evening, we each wrote and shared a programme declaration; here is mine…
“As an inclusive LGBT leader I am… a powerful and influential voice in my organisation and my wider networks. The one thing I commit to is… to stop hiding from LGBT networks, open myself up to the opportunities they can offer me and explore what I can offer them.