I’m a part of the Sensitivity Review team here at FCDO Services. To sum up what we do: essentially, there’s a legal requirement on government departments including the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that after twenty years, official archive material has to be handed over to be made public at the National Archives. There’s a process to review that material, to check if any information is exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, because, for example, it involves ongoing legal proceedings or because it might threaten someone’s personal privacy or safety. We’re a small team with wide-ranging diplomatic and international experience, and we review all this material and have to understand where the sensitivities are.
“Everyone’s incredibly inclusive and respectful of one another’s perspective and experience.”
Though we’re a small team, I would say we’re quite diverse in terms of diversity of thinking, mindset and approaches. Everyone’s incredibly inclusive and respectful of one another’s perspective and experience. I was nervous before I joined the team as to what reception I would receive as a trans colleague – but actually, I’ve been treated with nothing but kindness, support, and camaraderie.
That attitude became clear even in the weeks before I joined. It was National Inclusion Week, about two weeks before I started my role here, and I attended one of the events at Hanslope Park; FCDO Services’ office near Milton Keynes. It was great timing, because one of the events happened to be a talk from a transgender civil servant, who came and talked about her life and the roles she’d had. It was very inspiring – and vitally important for me to hear in that particular moment. I was about to start this new role, I was very nervous, and to have that confirmation that I was coming into a supportive and inclusive organisation was a big deal for me.
“I count myself really lucky now to be working in a very supportive, people-focused organisation.”
That’s why I think it’s so important to signal what kind of organisation you are, and FCDO Services works hard to do that – whether it’s through things like events, or by making public commitments. Because, ultimately, you can be wonderful, inclusive and supportive as an organisation, but people need to know what you’re doing. They need to understand the effort you’re making, or they won’t know to come to you. I think that effort comes both through events and communications, and through the policies you publish. All that work really makes a difference, because it gives people the confidence that they’ll be accepted, even before they join.
I count myself really lucky now to be working in a very supportive, people-focused organisation. Trans people and LGBTQ+ people can still face so much discrimination and negativity in the workplace, but I count myself fortunate to be in an organisation where, for a start, I’m not aware of these behaviours happening to me, but just as importantly, I’m confident that if they did occur, I’d have support and the issues would be promptly dealt with.
I also support other colleagues around the organisation too, as the Trans Lead for FCDO FLAGG; the LGTBQ+ staff network covering FCDO and FCDO Services. It means I get to work with colleagues not just in the UK, but across our international network, and engage with FCDO Services on how we can make our teams increasingly inclusive. We’ll look at critical issues that affect a wide range of colleagues; for instance, where there are issues for LGBTQ+ colleagues going to overseas postings, and where there might be invisible barriers for career development. I’ve also been able to engage on HR policy, working with both the FCDO Services and the FCDO HR teams when the new gender identity and transition guidelines were introduced.
When it comes to the organisation’s networks – not just FLAGG, but all our networks here – I think it’s brilliant that we play that advisory role and work collaboratively with the HR team. It means that where there are issues that create barriers; where there’s anything that might be potentially discriminatory for a particular group, we can all be aware of it and have open discussions on how to resolve problems. We open these vital dialogues and it means every group is included: no-one has to face hurdles in their careers and in doing their jobs from day to day.
I think our networks are also empowered now by the technology we use. More and more often, we’re running online international events – and we’ve become more skilled in that because of the 2020 pandemic. It means that culture is less centralised in London or in Milton Keynes: the global network can be much more involved and feel more supported in what we’re doing.
A good example of that is a recent global event we ran for Transgender Day of Remembrance. The trans community are relatively secure in the UK – there’s still hostility and prejudice, of course, but by comparison, some parts of the world are extremely dangerous for trans people. On our day of remembrance, as well as a vigil for trans people who’ve been murdered this year, we also hosted discussions with trans advocates from Mexico and Trinidad, with fifty of our colleagues from across the international network. It meant we could all be connected and raise awareness of issues that affect our colleagues on a global scale.
“I think if you’re thinking about joining FCDO Services, I’d tell you the same thing I constantly tell people: do it, because you won’t regret it.”
At the same time, our networks also provide a personal service across our teams, just by being there to talk. If you’re dealing with something in your personal life, if you need to talk about your sexuality or your gender identity and you’re not ready or comfortable to go through official channels about it, the networks are there for you to speak to. It means you always know there are people you can talk to here, and that means a lot.
I think if you’re thinking about joining FCDO Services, I’d tell you the same thing I constantly tell people: do it, because you won’t regret it. I know people, including those in the transgender and LGBTQ+ community, who’ve had a hard time or dropped out of employment because of discrimination, and I would always recommend coming to an organisation like ours. Whether you’re coming from the public sector or the private sector, if what matters to you is to be in a supportive, respectful working environment, this is a great place to work and find community.”
For more on what we do to create an inclusive team here at FCDO Services, take a look at our Diversity and Inclusion page.