Impact at its heart
“Why are we still talking about this?” is one of the most common questions I get asked when talking about LGBTQ+ experiences, particularly in HE. The answer is very simple… because students and staff need us to. A year on from the first LGBTQ+ Workshop, we’re proud to have delivered to over 1,000 staff and students at 4 institutions (LSBU, Lambeth College Northampton and Brunel) with demonstrable impact across the board.
When designing the workshop it was important to ensure that added value, tangible impact and replicable good practice were the foundations on which we’d build, and that the content was co-designed and delivered by staff and students. It was vital to provide a safe space for participants to “get it wrong”, feel confident to ask questions and learn something new, whilst having fun in an inclusively engaging way.
The workshop was purposefully designed to ensure that everybody left with something they could do - from the smallest tweak, to huge sweeping change – any impact was welcomed and encouraged no matter the level. This meant the workshops morphed from simple learning exercises into a genuine culture-change activity.
“The workshop really opened my thinking to ways in which I could be an advocate for someone or tackle prejudice or exclusion in a meaningful and powerful way”
It started with a letter…
Inclusivity is part of LSBU’s DNA and it’s a place where all are encouraged to bring their innovation, creativity and diversity of thought to the table. However, it can be easy to be lulled into the sense that “it’s alright now” when it comes to the LGBTQ+ experience but in the academic year 2018/19, our students sought to challenge that narrative by embarking on a letter writing campaign to our then Pro-Vice Chancellor, Shân Wareing. The letters were simple and honest – some things were good, some things were not so good. What was surprising, and really spurred the rollout of the workshops, was the underlying feeling that some LGBTQ+ people were not as supported as they could be. This was especially prevalent amongst Trans* and non-binary student and staff, which is why the workshop spends plenty of time unpacking these identities and experiences in particular.
“There were lots of useful suggestions on how to support LGBT+ people. It definitely increased my understanding of transitioning and how hard it can be.”
Doing LGBTQ+ differently
The letters were our template. Students had told the institution “this is what we need you to know” and so we built a workshop that highlighted their experiences and focused on the behavioural and organisational changes that were needed. We also had input from our LGBTQ+ Staff Network who added the voices of staff. The main topics are:
- LGBTQ+ definitions
- What you can do
- Where you can get support
- Q&A (throughout)
So how did our workshops differ? The tone, making them unavoidable and through co-creation.
Tone –We wanted our workshops to be as accessible as possible, from those who had a lived understanding of the agenda, to those who were just dipping their toes in the subject. We’d heard from those who’d been on other diversity and inclusion training that sometimes they’d felt it had an “I’m right and you’re probably wrong” feel. Topics covered in the D&I field can be uncomfortable for some people, so whilst we included high impact storytelling and learning experiences, we also included a bit of humour (always a sensitive balance), kept the language ‘real’ and continually highlighted the need to ask questions. This empowered participants to ask questions within the session and beyond, laying the groundwork for robust conversations around a topic that typically people feel un-confident about discussing.
“The trainers were incredibly reassuring about not expecting everyone to 'know everything’ about the LGBTQ+ experience from the start.”
Unavoidable – most of the sessions at LSBU were delivered as part of staff’s Town Halls/ Cascades or were folded into students’ timetabled studies. A simple, but effective way if you’re trying to reach as many people as you can. We wanted to reach the sometimes unreachable. Those who may not normally elect to attend D&I workshops. By going directly to staff and students we were able to not simply engage staff and students in the moment, but inspire them to continue making their work and student environments more LGBTQ+ inclusive.
Co-creation – co-creating and co-delivering this with LGBTQ+ students has been one of the most powerful elements. This wasn’t “off the shelf” training, it was bespoke and built from the lived experiences of students and staff. Supporting the student deliverers were staff from the Diversity & Inclusion team and representatives from the LGBT+ Staff Network, which strengthened the students’ messages, while also reminding participants that the experiences were just as applicable to our LGBTQ+ colleagues too.
The impact and findings- confidence is key
Confidence, rather than understanding, was measured to determine impact. We were less interested in how knowledgeable people were, but more how confident they would feel in engaging in a conversation, finding more information or feeling able to ask questions. Knowledge can be learnt at any time, but confidence is an important beginning of any journey.
Below you can see a table of the average increases across the 60-75 mins sessions between participants’ pre and post-workshop confidence levels:
The trick to getting confidence levels boosted was to empower people to make change - what is it that they can do? Every person left the session with at least one action to do. From as small as having a conversation with their team, to overhauling a whole system. Empowerment creates confidence, and confidence fosters sustainable change.
“I've added my pronouns to my signature - hopefully one small change can help contribute to a much more inclusive environment for all.“
I wanted to write this blog to share one of our D&I initiatives that we’ve been undertaking at London South Bank University to advance equality and accelerate the pace of change. We’ve created a workshop that’s not only had demonstrable impact on people’s confidence around the LGBTQ+ agenda, but has also seen a real shift in the “permission” people feel they needed to seek to do things differently. Accountable freedom and encouraging “have-a-go-ness” means that we’re able to respond quickly to the ever changing D&I landscape and to the needs of staff and students. They’re reporting feeling more confident in being their authentic selves and we’ve also seen the positive knock on effect with other employee groups raise their voices and getting engaged in this important agenda, particular around ethnicity, disability and parents/carers.
A piece of the puzzle
Of course, these workshops, alone, are not enough and are part of a programmatic approach that focuses on processes, policies and education as inclusivity and equality continues to be a key priority for LSBU. Whilst we’ve made good progress, not just on this agenda, but on the wider diversity agenda too, we know we’ve got much more to do.
So, if you’d like to know more about our approach, or would like to share your thoughts or best practice, do get in touch as we’d love to share our experiences and learn from yours.
Advance HE has a number of support resources, designed to help your institution understand the common issues in further and higher education to design inclusive support services, develop accessible campus environments and make everyone feel welcome. Click here for more information on our Consultancy and Enhancement Services, which can help develop your institution's policies in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.