‘lesbian leadership’ – The Stonewall Way

About the event

The session was to ‘help you as a lesbian develop your leadership practice’ (screenshots of extensive blurb above). You might think they would want to help leaders (who happen to be lesbian) develop their leadership skills and give lots of top tips on how to manage people, how to set goals, meet targets, etc. There is always a tiny part of me which believes something relevant to the the topic might actually be mentioned.

The event was open to anyone who identified as a lesbian.

The introduction

We were encouraged to add our pronouns to our Zoom profiles and hence there were several they/them and even a couple of he/him (with one actual man attending, who clearly didn’t identify as lesbian, nor was trans-identified). No one has explained to me yet, how a they/them can be a lesbian. Surely this is the point at which you have to say you are pansexual, since you don’t identify as a woman. Even transbians make more sense.

Stonewall/DIVA had employed two BSL interpreters for the event, one of whom was a woman on testosterone. The audience was rather small (perhaps about 80) and it was clear they didn’t know if any of the participants were actually deaf and in need of interpretation. There was also live transcription.

Nancy Kelley’s inspirational talk

Nancy Kelley told us that her pronouns were she/her. Kelley started by reflecting that lesbian leaders who were now in their 60s probably were not able to come out at work and that they were not able to be their ‘full selves at work’ and were forced into a world of ‘white straight cis men’, a mould they didn’t fit. These people were forced into ‘being grateful for always being the only lesbian, bi or trans woman in the room’ and the expectation was that they would not show ‘solidarity for the rest of your community’.

Kelley told us that it was now possible to be an ‘out lesbian leader’ but that such people would always find themselves in the situation of pushback and encountering other people’s ‘discomfort’. She hoped that the next generation would have it easier.

Even early in her career, people used to talk about the ‘queer mafia’ and Kelley made no excuses for not putting LGBT people first, since the system was stacked up against them. She wanted to show solidarity with everyone (except white, straight, older, middle class men, presumably).

Kelley said that we all have a work version of ourselves, which slightly undermined her emphasis on ‘being authentic’. Oh well. She also said that we should all feel loved. I don’t really understand what that means in a leadership context.

Stonewall’s Equality Workforce Index Enforcer’s inspirational talk

In lieu of actually finding a business woman or leader, who happened to be lesbian, to talk about how they developed their leadership skills, Stonewall put forward instead a witless moron (hereafter known as WM). WM is a lesbian woman who has the big job of filling out the Stonewall Equality Workforce Index for a large public sector organisation that she works for in the area of equality and diversity.

WM felt it was a big privilege to be a stooge and told us, like Kelley had, that ‘authenticity’ was very important. She was the lead for equality and diversity and she reported back improvements to Stonewall on the checklist they provided (e.g. transition at work policy, rainbow lanyards), as per how the Stonewall pyramid scheme works. She thanked the two account managers (i.e. Stonewall’s sales team), who were apparently present on the webinar, for their help. It did rather occur to me then that the webinar was simply a sales pitch and not a very good one at that.

WM had held LGBT themed events at work, including one with a trans charity. WM understands her own ‘lived experience’ and had a number issues that she related directly back to identity politics. She described that pretty much her whole life revolved around her own victimhood.

The main innovations that WM spoke about was that she had got black and brown stripes added to the organisation’s rainbow lanyard in support of ‘eliminating racism’ and ‘supporting our QPOC family’. A Progress Flag (i.e. the standard LGB rainbow flag with a chevron to include trans and racism) is flown all year round at head office. There are equality and diversity pinboards all over the organisation.

In conversation

The next section was Kelley and WM having a conversation with each other about the issues of leadership. You’d honestly be better off watching an episode of Dragon’s Den whilst you ate your dinner. People were posting in the chat how inspirational their stories were, which made me feel slightly mad.

Kelley reflected that in her 20s she had been involved in designing a poster for the children charity Barnardo’s. She said Barnardo’s was very ‘queerphobic’ at the time and that branches of Barnardo’s could only get the poster, called Safe Zone, if they had done the training. She said that Barnardo’s now runs its own LGBT ally programme using the Safe Zone idea. I looked into this, and despite some fanfare at its launch in 2018, Barnardo’s appears to have ditched the programme completely. So Kelley once did something which inspired someone to use some words for a programme they ran for a bit. She must be so proud.

WM made the ridiculous claim that diversity and inclusion in the workforce was ‘saving lives’. Also someone had emailed her that they had put a post-it note on their laptop to remind themselves to use pronouns and had emailed her: ‘It’s working now WM!’

What if we had joined the workforce ten years later, pondered Kelley. Well then, WM said, we would have only had Pride parades once a year and no rainbows.

Kelley was keen to let us know that work wasn’t all important (except it is if you are really a true leader) and wanted to know how WM winds down. WM basically has no off switch and when she’s not working, she’s volunteering for an LGBT charity where she can be herself.

Breakout rooms

People discussed ‘being authentic’ and a woman with a beard told us how awful it must be for ‘cis’ women to be perceived as women, as it was something that doesn’t happen to her. People talked about pronouns rather a lot. There was no discussion of leadership whatsoever.

Conclusion from the breakout rooms

MW reflected that there was no current trans-identified person working for her organisation so she had paid a trans person to be a role model instead. She also said ‘we need to move away from tokenism’.

Kelley began to warm up to the topic of managing people just as we were winding down and said that normally if someone is very angry with you about something this often doesn’t last and to trust that people will see things different with time.

Weird ending

The session was closed with the Stonewall hosting bod telling us that Gendered Intelligence and Mermaids were great charities.

Um. Okay.

So that was it. Nothing about leadership, about tactics and tips, or managing people, setting goals, managing budgets, understanding governance and law. They didn’t even have any advice on how to come out at work. Just empty. So so empty.


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