By Karen Bush
Karen Bush, head of equality and diversity at the University of Essex, describes how she established a distinctive partnership with organisations from other sectors to help further equality for lesbian, gay, bi- and transgender (LGBT) staff. The initiative won the Advancing Staff Equality category in the Guardian University Awards 2015. She highlights lessons learned from working with partners across a geographical area and the benefits for both LGBT staff and the university’s equality and diversity objectives.
Members of the Essex Alliance
One of the core values of the University of Essex is inclusivity: "sustaining an inclusive and diverse community that is open to all who have the potential to benefit from it, which ensures equality of opportunity for all its members and that treats all its members with equal respect and dignity at all times".
As part of this commitment we joined Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme in 2011 and have been working hard to further lesbian, gay, bi and transgender (LGBT) equality for staff, following in the footsteps of our students who have been at the forefront of this since establishing what may well be the first student LGBT society in the country in 1970-71. Despite this, the university has never had a staff LGBT network, although several attempts to establish one have been made over the years.
Recognising the importance of networks in creating a positive, safe and open working environment for staff, we made a commitment to setting up an LGBT network open to any staff member, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Given our unsuccessful previous attempts we decided to adopt a different approach this time - one which aligns with another of our core values, partnership working. Our vision was to create a network of organisations in our area with values similar to our own, who wanted to work together to further LGBT equality within their own organisations, in the local community and in sectors other than their own.
We thought that if our staff saw that we were working collaboratively with other organisations they would be encouraged to join what had the potential to be a large, supportive network of people bringing a wide range of experiences and perspectives. With this goal in mind we established the Essex LGBT Alliance.
This is the first network of its kind in Essex. It has brought together people working in different sectors and created a number of new, informal networks. This distinctive approach has inspired us to be bold in making our commitment to LGBT equality highly visible and it has already made a positive difference to our staff.
Read on -Establishing the partnerships
Essex's winning team at the Guardian University Awards 2015
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