NHS Voices blogs

Get over it: how speaking up and listening well supports equality, diversity and inclusion

On International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia, Russell Parkinson recommends a healthy speaking up culture to enable positive change.
Russell Parkinson

17 May 2021

On International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Russell Parkinson recommends a healthy speaking up culture to enable positive change in the workplace

May 17 marks International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.  It's a time when we remind ourselves that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people experience violence, discrimination, and repression.  

Speaking from the privileged position I now hold, that isn’t something that I face every day, but growing up in a steel town in the north of England in the 70s and 80s, I did. And that has had a lasting impact.

Working in the National Guardian’s Office, my time is dedicated to supporting workers to speak up, supporting the growing network of freedom to speak up guardians, and supporting the National Guardian as she shines a light on speaking up, its importance, what gets in the way of it, and the benefits it brings.

What is speaking up?

Speaking up boils down to a transaction between two people and that transaction needs to happen well. Someone needs to express a concern, complaint, or a suggestion for improvement. Someone needs to thank them for doing so, take action, give feedback on what happens, and offer them the opportunity to feedback on the experience.

However, a thousand and one things make that transaction harder than it might appear. Sexuality, gender, professional background, ethnicity, seniority, and a plethora of other factors play a significant part in this. 

As a gay person, how might I feel about speaking up to a straight person when, on one level, my life experience tells me to be fearful? How would a straight person feel about speaking up to me? My upbringing and experience tell me that my sexuality would put straight people off from approaching me even if that might not even flicker across a straight person’s mind. That is something I’m conscious of and crosses my mind more regularly than my colleagues would think.

Don’t be afraid to talk about it

So, where is the link between homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and the problems that people encounter when they speak up in the workplace? The link is that they arise from a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’. But we can change this.

When it comes to homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, I think everyone can do five things:

1. Be aware that we may embody things that others might not relate to and some may even be fearful of.

2. Don’t be afraid to talk about it – challenge misconceptions and encourage everyone to look at where any sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’ might come from.

3. Get over it.

4. Help others get over it.

Until everyone can get over it, be responsible for doing everything you can to stop it – speaking up whenever and wherever it occurs.

When it comes to speaking up, speakers and listeners should:

  • reflect on those barriers that we present to each other
  • do something about them, if we can; if we can’t, we should encourage people to speak up to us anyway.
  • still speak up, even if we can’t see past those barriers ourselves; if you feel you can’t do that through other routes, many organisations have a freedom to speak up guardian to facilitate this.

The National Guardian’s Office has recently published training that any worker can undertake. This is designed to both encourage anyone to speak up and to help those they speak up to understand those potential barriers and ‘listen up’ effectively. You can find that training here: Freedom to Speak Up - e-Learning for Healthcare (e-lfh.org.uk)