Stonewall statement on the Diversity Champions programme | Stonewall
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Stonewall statement on the Diversity Champions programme

We are incredibly proud of our Diversity Champions programme.

At Stonewall, we imagine a world where all LGBTQ+ people are free to be themselves and can live their lives to the full. Inclusive workplaces have a huge part to play in this making this world a reality. But inclusion is not a given.

Set up in 2001 to give practical support to employers who wanted to make their workplaces more inclusive, the Diversity Champions programme now counts more than 850 leading employers as members.

The programme gives advice, support and resources to organisations on meeting their statutory requirements under the Equality Act 2010. It also provides support and tools for organisations to improve their practice beyond the legal minimum, to ensure that they are creating a culture where all of their LGBTQ+ colleagues can thrive.

The number of organisations who are part of the programme has grown by 30 in total in the year to 1 June 2021. We are so pleased that more and more organisations are continuing to invest in support for their LGBTQ+ staff in a global pandemic.

As with any membership programme, organisations come and go as their internal approach changes. Over the last twenty years many large employers have developed major internal programmes to promote diversity and inclusion across their staff and make the workplace better for LGBTQ+ people.

Over the last few months there has been some incorrect information in the press about Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme and so we wanted to answer any questions that might have raised.

So what does our Diversity Champions programme do?

The Diversity Champions programme is the leading employers' programme for ensuring all LGBTQ+ staff are free to be themselves in the workplace.

  • We work with more than 850 organisations across the UK.
  • Every one of our Diversity Champions shares our core belief in the power of a workplace that truly welcomes, respects and represents LGBTQ+ employees.
  • Our in-house team provides expertise, evidence and recent best practice to help Diversity Champions meet their goals.
  • Dedicated relationship managers provide training and consultancy, advise on submissions to the Workplace Equality Index and Global Workplace Equality Index, and support the development of LGBTQ+ leaders, role models and allies.

I heard that some organisations have not continued their membership of the Diversity Champions programme. What’s going on?

Stonewall is proud to support more than 850 employers to create an inclusive working environment through our Diversity Champions programme.

All employers need to ensure that their staff, including LGBTQ+ staff, are free from discrimination and prejudice at work, and our Diversity Champions programme is one way for organisations to be supported to meet this requirement.

We are pleased to say that our Diversity Champions programme continues to grow and take on new members with ongoing interest in joining the programme from organisations across a wide range of sectors. This year alone, from 1 June 2020 to 1 June 2021, our membership grew by 30 organisations in total.

As with every membership programme, organisations come and go depending on what works best for them at the time. Since we set up the Diversity Champions programme in 2001, many large employers have developed major internal programmes to promote diversity and inclusion across their staff and make the workplace better for LGBTQ+ people.

Most of the organisations highlighted in the media as not renewing their membership of the Diversity Champions programme did so over a two-year period during a global pandemic.

It is encouraging to see that despite the challenges of living and working through a global pandemic, so many more organisations are committed to ensuring that all of their lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer staff are supported.

Has the Government instructed public sector employers to withdraw from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme?

No.

There were reports in the press based on a ‘source close to [Liz] Truss’ sharing concerns about the programme’s value for money when the civil service has its own in-house workplace diversity programme.

On 2 June an Equalities Minister confirmed that “decisions on engaging with external service providers on diversity and inclusion are delegated to individual departments.”

Campaign groups and some press outlets have misrepresented these reports in template letters to public sector bodies as an ‘instruction’ to withdraw from Stonewall’s programmes.

Is Stonewall’s advice on the Equality Act robust and correct?

Yes it is. Our advice is based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice, which was recently reaffirmed in the High Court.

There have been several reports that suggest we are misinterpreting the Equality Act’s protected characteristic of gender reassignment in our guidance and advice to organisations.

In most contexts, gender identity is an appropriate, inclusive, and well-understood term, so – in line with the UK Government and with international standards – we talk about gender identity in our everyday communications. Similarly, when we describe the Equality Act’s protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’, we refer to ‘gender identity’ to explain who is covered by the law and how they are protected, as the EHRC does in their Code of Practice.

Finally, as part of our work with employers we acknowledge that there has been a lack of clarity around non-binary identities within the current legal framework. However, the recent Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover employment tribunal found that non-binary and gender fluid people could be protected by the Equality Act. For employers who wish to go above and beyond the law in creating inclusive workplaces, we suggest that internal policies could refer to ‘gender identity’ as a term that more clearly includes all trans, non-binary and gender diverse people.

What does the Equality Act actually say about ‘gender reassignment’?

Gender reassignment is one of the nine protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act protects against four main types of conduct: direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. It protects people at work, when using public services, with providers of goods and services, on public transport, in clubs and associations, and when you interact with public bodies. It also requires public bodies to consider how their decisions and policies will impact those with protected characteristics (the Public Sector Equality Duty).

The Equality Act 2010 defines gender reassignment as follows:

1) A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person's sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

2) A reference to a transsexual person is a reference to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

3) In relation to the protected characteristic of gender reassignment—

a) a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a transsexual person;

b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to transsexual persons.

In summary, the Equality Act 2010 states that you should not be discriminated against because you are transsexual (trans), meaning that you should not be discriminated against because your gender identity is different from your gender assigned at birth. You are also protected if you are discriminated against because you are perceived to be trans (discrimination by perception), or because you are connected to someone trans (discrimination by association).

The Equality Act gives an expansive definition of ‘gender reassignment’: it does not require medical and/or surgical interventions, and the protections begin as soon as you ‘propose’ to move away from your birth-assigned gender, regardless of the steps you have taken or are planning to take as part of your transition.

As noted in the EHRC’s Statutory Code of Practice, a broad non-medical definition is particularly important to protect gender-variant children who may be too young to access medical interventions should they want to pursue medical transition but who have “begun a personal process of changing their gender identity” (2.21).

The recent Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover employment tribunal judgment provides an example of judicial interpretation of the Equality Act that includes non-binary, gender fluid, and gender diverse people, as noted in the judges’ conclusions:

“We thought it was very clear that Parliament intended gender reassignment to be a spectrum moving away from birth sex, and that a person could be at any point on that spectrum.” (p.178)

People who have a diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘gender identity disorder’ (also known as ‘gender incongruence’), and those who have a Gender Recognition Certificate are protected under the act, but neither of these are required to have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

Does Stonewall influence public bodies through the Diversity Champions programme?

We are proud to work with a wide range of leading employers from private, public and charity sectors through our Diversity Champions programme. As we have said, our in-house team provides expertise, evidence and recent best practice to help Diversity Champions meet their goals. Dedicated relationship managers provide training and consultancy, advise on submissions to the Workplace Equality Index and Global Workplace Equality Index, and support the development of LGBTQ+ leaders, role models and allies.

Stonewall has extensive experience of engaging with policymakers to represent the needs of LGBTQ+ people and ensure that our community’s needs are taken into account when developing relevant policy. It is completely normal for national charities to engage with national decision-makers. It is also normal for the national charities to separately provide services to public sector organisations to directly help service delivery.

A recent Judicial Review against the Crown Prosecution Service and its membership to our Diversity Champions programme was not granted. Justice Cavanagh said he believed those bringing the case had no arguable claim of success.

‘Far from causing “bias”, our Diversity Champions programme helps organisations like the CPS tackle the prejudice and discrimination LGBT+ staff face in their workplaces. This is vital as more than a third of LGBT staff (35 per cent) hide who they are at work, while one in five (18 per cent) have been the target of negative comments because they’re LGBT.

Is Stonewall trying to silence free speech through its Diversity Champions programme?

No.

Our Diversity Champions programme is simply a tool to help employers embed LGBTQ+ inclusion across their organisation.

The programme and our staff have no sway over any organisation’s wider decision-making.

A recent report on free speech at University of Essex referenced Stonewall’s membership of the Diversity Champions programme, suggesting that our advice on the Equality Act was incorrect, and recommended that University of Essex review their membership of the Diversity Champions programme.

These claims have no basis. Stonewall staff had no involvement at all in the decision that was reviewed by the report. We have addressed above how our advice on the Equality Act is aligned with EHRC’s Statutory Code of Practice. This is not linked to the decision reviewed by the report.

Is Stonewall trying to erase the words mother/father in HR policies?

No. We know how important those words are to people.

There are a lot of different ways to form a family. Lesbian, gay, bi and trans parents can be excluded from support if HR policies don't acknowledge that employees might be, for example, in same-sex relationships or going through adoption. Lesbian, gay, bi and trans parents deserve to feel supported as parents by their employer. That is why we advocate for language that is inclusive of the wonderful diversity of our families.

Our advice to employers follows two simple principles:

  • workplace policies should apply to all employees regardless of their gender or the gender of their partner.
  • they should use language that makes it clear to LGBTQ+ employees that they are included.

We recommend gender-neutral language to ensure that organisations can use one policy to cover all their employees and avoid the risk of LGBTQ+ employees not being covered.

This means using words that are inclusive by default, for instance changing references from ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ to ‘partner’.

When it comes to designing inclusive family policies, we recommend language that reflects the purpose of the policy rather than using gendered language which may exclude some employees who need the policy.

For instance, in a parental leave policy, solely using the word ‘mother’ can create uncertainty for female employees in same-sex relationships who have not given birth and are also mothers, as well as pregnant trans men and non-binary people. Therefore, we recommend language like ‘mother and other pregnant employees/birth parents’ to ensure that the policy is both clear and inclusive of all LGBTQ+ parents.

The words we use to describe ourselves and our relationships will always be more complex than the language of an HR policy. Mothers, fathers, and parents of all genders deserve to be supported however their family is formed.

What does the fee for Stonewall’s Diversity Champion programme cover?

The fee for Stonewall Diversity Champion's programme covers the following services for member organisations:

  • Trained Client Account Managers who provide tailored support and guidance to members (including facilitated introductions to other organisations, catch-up calls, best practice sharing, policy reviews and feedback meetings for the WEI)
  • A suite of resources and webinars which are researched and developed by Stonewall staff for Diversity Champion members to use
  • An online memberships hub located on the Stonewall website which allows Diversity Champion members to easily access resources
  • Developing and effectively managing submission for our yearly Workplace Equality Index, including a team dedicated to Index development and submission platform maintenance, marking and reviewing submissions, delivering two-hour feedback meetings to clients who have taken part, and running associated award events
  • The fee covers staffing costs to provide these services and organisational running costs

Stonewall is a registered charity and, like all national charities, is required to work in a balanced, non-partisan way to support its goals. Stonewall operates in compliance with the Charity Commission's guidance on campaigning.

I’ve been seeing a lot of attacks on Stonewall and its partners in the media. What’s going on?

Stonewall and other supporters of LGBTQ+ equality have been facing attack for a number of years for taking a trans-inclusive approach to fighting for equality.

These have come from campaign groups, online activists and sections of the UK media. These attacks are designed to undermine organisations’ confidence in supporting LGBTQ+ equality in their work.

In the first four months of 2021 there were more than 900 template Freedom of Information requests sent to public sector bodies about their work with Stonewall.

A number of groups have launched legal challenges to public sector organisations regarding their work with Stonewall. Many of these cases have already been thrown out by judges as ‘unarguable’.

The weekend of 22/23 May saw a coordinated attack on our Diversity Champions programme launched across some parts of the media. This has been followed by three weeks of coordinated stories in the media, carried by the same outlets all detailing the same stories based on old information and reprinting unsubstantiated claims.

A number of campaign groups are currently encouraging their supporters to send template letters out to members of our Diversity Champions programme, schools across the country, and threatening other public sector bodies with legal action.