We are incredibly proud at WorldSkills UK to be supporting IDAHOBIT: the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia. As we reflect on the good progress we have made in this country in recent years in ensuring equal rights for all, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, we need to keep at the forefront of our minds all those people in many countries around the world who are denied these same rights. And nor should we take our foot off the gas at home: we still have further to go to ensure that gender identity and sexual orientation are not barriers to anyone’s success in work and life.

In the workplace, Out Now research has shown that there is a greater than 25% productivity gain to be realised when LGBT+ employees feel able to be open with all their colleagues. If we are to realise these benefits, we need to put the building blocks in place at an early stage. That’s why it’s a concern that, according to the National Society of Apprentices, many young LGBT+ people are not considering apprenticeships as they are worried about how employers will react to them. In this context, we shouldn’t underestimate the role that LGBT+ and ally leaders have to play in creating the right kind of environments to welcome the full diversity of talent into the workplace. Seeing that an organisation embraces LGBT+ identities, or hearing from an LGBT+ or ally leader that diversity is something to take pride in, can make all the difference to young people’s life chances.

I’m therefore incredibly pleased with the progress that the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (a UK Department for Education initiative to promote greater diversity within apprenticeships) is making to improve LGBT+ inclusion. I have worked with the ADCN’s Chair, Helen Grant MP, to get more employers to see the benefits of making workplaces more inclusive and in which LGBT+ apprentices feel their identities are seen as positives and where their input is really valued. One of the initiatives that Helen has supported as an ally was a recent roundtable event we organised focusing specifically on LGBT+ issues within further education. At the roundtable we heard from a broad range of FE leaders and others about both the challenges and opportunities facing LGBT+ equality; and we left the discussion brimming with ideas about how to move the agenda forward and these are contained in our recently published report.

Our broad conclusion was the need for more partnership to achieve what we are all looking to see. And I’m very optimistic that with the commitment from partner organisations like AoC, Collab Group, Stonewall, Pink News and TES, we can head in the right direction. Of course, any partnership is only as strong as the combined weight of its individual members, and that’s why I’m passionate about WorldSkills UK’s own responsibility to make the right moves forward when it comes to LGBT+ diversity. I’m confident we’re doing that in a number of respects as WorldSkills UK is taking a much more holistic approach to diversity and inclusion than it has ever done before.

We are currently rolling out an organisation-wide diversity and inclusion programme which is going to cover every aspect of our internal and external operations. It will only be through the successful embedding of this programme of deep change that we will start to achieve the results we desire more broadly. The centrepiece is a new research project with The Social Innovation Partnership. We want to understand how all young people – including those identifying as LGBT+ but also BAME young people, those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, young women and men with special educational needs and young women studying STEM subjects – access, progress and perform in our programme of skills competitions. It will form the basis from which we can develop a plan to increase diversity and inclusion in our skills competitions at all levels and contribute to the success of young people from all backgrounds in technical education and apprenticeships more broadly. This research is currently in-field and will be keeping you posted with our progress!

We are excited about what we can achieve in the coming months and years. Already, our stronger focus on diversity and inclusion is delivering results; and it’s often the small, subtle changes that can drive the biggest change. For instance, this year, our skills competitions registrants, the young people who could be representing the UK at the Skills Olympics in China in 2021, are the first cohort being asked if they would like to include their sexual orientation or gender identity as part of the registration process. We’ve never previously asked for this, and it’s wholly optional, but it’s a change that has been given a big thumbs up by our existing network of role model Skills Champions.

In future years, we want to see a strong and vibrant community of young LGBT+ Skills Champions who feel empowered to celebrate their identities and welcome the next generation of competitors into our programme. Our ambition is for young LGBT+ people from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to see visible role models in our skills competitions who they can identify with and be inspired to emulate.

The small change we’ve made this year can help make our broader vision a reality – and working with our partners, we know we can achieve a lot more – so watch out, we are just getting started!

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