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‘Safe spaces are a way to create tangible progress on the inclusion journey’

In partnership with myGwork.

Trans Flag
Trans Flag (Image: WikiCommons)

Trans rights in both the UK and abroad are currently under attack, and unwavering allyship has never been more important. The trans community needs our support – because kindness and empathy must win out – but our support must start with listening to the trans community and asking them what they need from us. 

It is exactly this approach that Pearson is taking with their new programme: The Trans Safe Space Project. The trailblazing project will be invaluable to the ongoing journey towards equality in the workplace and myGwork spoke to Kevin Lyons, Senior HR Manager at Pearson, about what we can all learn from the approach they’ve taken.

The project started by talking directly to the trans community – it has been vital since the very beginning that this was trans-led, with their voices molding what it would look like. This is when you realise how invaluable an LGBT+ network is, explains Kevin, as they had already been able to create a community that allowed a starting point to begin in-person conversations, reaching out and finding out who would want to be involved in a trans-safe space group.

The project has been led by Kevin and Florida Starks – Pearson’s Chief Diversity Officer – and the trans community, and ties into the wider work Pearson is doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We’re on a journey and as you go down that journey, you refine and develop your approach,” says Kevin. “And what we’re focusing on is understanding the lived experience of our employees, and then translating that into tangible programmes of action.”

By speaking directly to the trans community they were able to ask what exactly it was that they needed from Pearson to feel safe and supported in the workplace and to fulfill their talent. From this came several key actions: a gender transition guide, written by trans people, for trans people; plans for further trans inclusion policy; and advice on what needed to be improved within their medical insurance and conversations with providers.

This spring boarded Kevin and his team into action, leading to a partnership with the trans organisation, Gendered Intelligence. After speaking directly to the trans community within Pearson, it was vital that they brought in external trans expertise to make sure these needs were met. Pearson has also commenced discussions with Trans in the City and Global Butterflies, two further trans organisations, regarding future collaboration.

“I really believe that safe spaces are a way to create tangible progress on the inclusion journey. There are some areas of inclusion that we must accept are more challenging and therefore need attention. We believe passionately in trans inclusion, and by involving safe spaces and bringing that forward into tangible action, we can make significant changes. This then has the potential to significantly change the lives of trans people within Pearson and serve as a beacon to trans people in other workplaces to see that there are organisations that are taking on the baton.”

There is power within visibility and Pride events – but without tangible action, Kevin is wary of how far-reaching these awareness activities on their own can really be. That’s why he is intent on ensuring alongside this that there is the ongoing design of tangible programmes of action – such as this one.

The group formed not only shared advice on how they can improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, but highlighted what Pearson is currently doing well. “I remember one trans person saying to me that Pearson is the one place where they can be truly authentic and safe,” shares Kevin. “Now, I think that’s absolutely beautiful.”

Creating a safe space where their trans employees feel they can be candidly honest is an ongoing journey, explains Kevin, and one that started long before the project was born. To be able to do this they have to consistently show that you can be trusted and are credible. This takes time and commitment, to prove you are a workplace that is showing up for the trans community, and that their voices are valued and respected.

“You have to keep in mind many trans people have often been through very difficult experiences. And therefore, there is also a certain amount of work that needs to create that safe environment, to help them to be in a place where they can positively engage with such an activity.

I think what all organisations must understand is that within their community of employees, there are going to be LGBTQ+ people, there are going to be people that are non-binary, and trans. If you don’t champion those people, if you don’t understand their lived experience, you cannot expect to get the full talent and potential from your workforce.”

Kevin is also hopeful that they can use the learnings from this programme to impact others across the industry – and in turn, learn from what other organisations are doing themselves. 

“It’s so important to network and speak to other organisations. I’d be very happy to speak to any organisation that was thinking of embarking on such a programme or underway with initiatives, and to give them my full support and advice. I would like to see more companies coming together to share what they’re doing when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. None of us have all the answers – but we all have ideas. And when we stand together, we are stronger.”

The work within this project will continue to impact the way that Pearson approaches diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Kevin is eager for them to use this approach to tackle other challenges in the workplace – for example supporting women who have suffered from domestic violence. With a framework that centres listening to the lived experiences of employees, you can then create policies and change led by their voices. Clearly understanding the needs of your employees, is invaluable, and no one knows these needs better than the people they impact.

When done authentically and thoughtfully, Kevin strongly believes organisations hold great power in pushing for trans inclusion. When they set a precedent inside the workplace, this ricochets outside to the rest of society. This is of particular importance when transphobia is rife across society, as companies can lead by example, creating havens of safety within the workplace, and speaking out publicly in an unwavering manner in their support for the trans community.

“Organisations can act as beacons; they can stand between the trans person and these external elements that are opposed to them, and they can provide this safe space, where they can feel recognised and authentic. They also help society to understand, through awareness and education, and I think that when organisations stand strong in their allyship they can help society to make progress on a journey to a more equal and safer world.”

Pearson is a proud partner of myGwork, the LGBTQ+ business community. Find out more about job opportunities at Pearson.