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Civil Service

Equality and fairness... why do I bother?

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Kevin Oliver (head shot)
Kevin Oliver, HM Passport Office

I’ve been an equality and inclusion (or as I prefer to call it 'fairness') campaigner for well over 40 years.

There is one thing most of the groups I stand alongside have in common: I have little in common with them! I’m a ‘straight ally’, have been for ages, yet I don’t identify as any of the LGBT+ communities. I help disabled communities, yet don’t declare any disability. I am secular, yet actively support faith groups. The list goes on.

So, I’m frequently asked, why do I do it? Here’s the answer. I want the world to be better for me. That sounds incredibly selfish, but it isn’t. Here’s why.

Humans are, by nature, a social bunch. They don’t like solitude, they like to have people around them. They feed off each other intellectually and cannot exist alone.

Think about it, logically. You have a burst pipe at home, so you call for the plumber. The reason is that you need someone with skills that you don’t have. It’s a selfish thing, but in a good way. You’re using someone in order to make your life better, but in a mutually beneficial way. You pay the plumber for the work that they do, and they can make a living, put food on the table, pay the bills, and so on. So, an initially self-centred solution benefits everyone.

Warmth and friendliness

Life is like that, and that’s why we need to value people who are different. You get a different viewpoint when you step outside your comfort zone.

I well remember the first time I went into an LGBT centre. I was nervous. I needn’t have been. To this day, I remember the warmth and friendliness with which I was received. I’m now vice-chair of the board there!


I have made great friends just by getting involved in issues that, on the face of it, don’t directly concern me. I have a better appreciation of people, seeing them for who they are, rather than what others think they should be. And through that I know myself a whole lot better.

It’s very easy to try to impose your own values on others, and expect them to be like you. We naturally tend to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. Look at your circle of friends; they probably have the same values, backgrounds and interests. I dare say they look fairly similar to you. But going out into a wider set of communities you meet some inspirational and exceptional people. And, as a result, you become more rounded as an individual, more tolerant of difference, and certainly more at peace with yourself. I know I am.

Minorities of one

So, go on. Try it. Get involved. Help others, even if you don’t have too much in common with them.

Someone said once that when it comes to diversity, we’re all minorities of one. That’s so true, as no two people, even within a close-knit community, are exactly alike. Value the difference.

When it comes to making life better for everyone, remember Gandhi’s words: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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  1. Comment by Emma J. Blair posted on

    Kevin, a beautifully written and beautifully thought out piece that truly shows the world just who you are. Thanks for your reflections on life and please keep on writing! You are truly a role model in more than one way 😉

    As a valued member of the management team of HMPO Carers Group, we came on leaps and bounds with you. So happy you are soaring from strength to strength. Keep on flying, my friend. Remember we are here to support you, should you ever need it.

  2. Comment by Julie posted on

    Kevin, thank you - we need more like you in the Civil Service. Hope that your blog will inspire others!

  3. Comment by Kuldip Dhaliwal posted on

    Socrates - Wisdom can only come from dialogue. We are social for many reasons , that being one of them. So best of luck Kevin, and remember a wise person will defend your right to spoken word irrespective of agreeing with you. So do speak often and we shall defend you. carry on regardless.

  4. Comment by Dean Scurlock posted on

  5. Comment by Heather posted on

    Just reading this, thank you Kevin, what a great blog... and reading the comments there are a couple I would mention:

    I think I disagree with J. Smith but hate to think what the experience she had which made her write those words; I know I have previously felt the same... I really must say that my manager at APHA does not treat me as 'the problem'... I feel really valued and as a result want to work harder for the agency, who are making it possible for me to use my profession after a previous employer refused to make any adjustments and in the end it all went legal/payoff etc; she is open to discuss any reasonable adjustments (VPNs, flexi, home working) and we're on the same wavelength; I have my challenges (have both physical and mental 'invisible' illnesses - such a joy!) and need some support, but I can still be a good vet; how does APHA help me to be the most use I can be for them? we will usually try new things or suggestions and evaluate if they work, then change again if necessary! I do disguise my health conditions as Mr/Mrs/Ms Smith suggests, but this is for my own dignity, and my line manager (who knows the lot) has picked up that I will tend to 'soldier on' so has proper chats with me because she has identified that tendency (to overwork and pretend I'm OK) and feels she can call me out on it, it's really good. I only go into so much detail because the attitude I receive at APHA is so different to previous experience.

    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world" from Fatima - too true!! well said and my favourite motto! If you think it is unfair and are well enough to do so, make a noise about it and change it! Thank you Kevin for standing up for those who can't or aren't able to do so.

    David's comment about quieter personality types is true too - I find it tiring hotdesking in a busy office for that reason, it takes more out of me than an equivalently difficult day working in a quieter environment.

    Very best wishes to all and well done Kevin and APHA 🙂 xx

  6. Comment by Lynsey posted on

    Great job, Kevin. I am a straight ally and I have been involved in disability campaigning in the past and I remember feeling as nervous as you did.

    Civil Service Award for this man, please?

  7. Comment by David Beavers posted on

    Well said, well done.

  8. Comment by Mark J posted on

    I readily agree that "we are all in a minority of one" and everyone has a life-story not always obvious to colleagues. I was initially just going to express my opinion on how we should shelve this focus on diversity and simply get on with our work, but the comments above to Kevin's blog were so warm and fuzzy that now I feel somewhat churlish.

  9. Comment by John Norcliffe posted on

    Brilliant article - well written, and thanks so much for helping me understand me! I was one of the lucky winners of the Diversity and Inclusion Awards at this year's Civil Service Awards, and enjoyed a great reception at the Palace on the 12th November. Having "won" (I never entered anything actually), the overall award, I was terrified in case the Queen asked my why I (a typical middle-aged white bloke) got involved in the EmbRace development programme that led to my award. Having read your article, I'd now be able to articulate why - thank you!!!

  10. Comment by Tracey Birch-Powell posted on

    Hi Kevin

    Wise words well spoken. We need more people like you in the world.

  11. Comment by john posted on

    Kevin celebrates difference in the realms of sexuality, religious belief and disability, but how about poiitics? Would Kevin advocate campaigning on behalf of political groups that he has little in common with?

  12. Comment by stephen mcmorrow posted on

    Hi Kevin, i like your message. You see it as a campaign for 'fairness' where i see it as a campaign for 'respect'. People may treat others fairly, perhaps because the law demands it, but not always respectfully. Treating someone with genuine respect will ensure your are doing right in all circumstances.
    My humble respect to you x.

  13. Comment by Lindsay Smith posted on

    Wise and thought provoking words - Well done Kevin

  14. Comment by Amy Farrah-Fowler posted on

    Kevin makes some great points, but I might take issue with one point he makes. "Humans are, by nature, a social bunch. They don’t like solitude". These two aren't the same thing. Living in society, recognising that the plumber has professional skills I don't have, and can contribute to making my life happier, is one thing. Liking solitude is another. Try reading Susan Cain's "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" to appreciate the difference.

    Kevin also says that we're all "a minority of one". We need to remember that as an able-bodied, heterosexual, white male, Kevin is in a bigger minority - about 37% of the UK population on my analysis of ONS' figures - even though most people probably think of that group as the majority, since they're the reference group against which others are judged to be minorities. Just by being a man, Kevin is in a minority!

  15. Comment by Jamil Ahmed posted on

    Thank you for writing this 🙂

  16. Comment by Suzanne Bilbrough posted on

    You are spot on. We are all different and that difference should be celebrated not feared. Don't understand why a number of people just don't get it!

  17. Comment by Rowena Morgan posted on

    First time I have read anything that I feel so enthused about I need to respond, thank you for your blog Kevin. Agree completely....Maybe its time for us all to think its not enough JUST to set a good example and challenge others, what can we do to influence change.......

  18. Comment by G.C posted on

    Great stuff Kevin, well done!! It's so nice to hear of postitivity in the workplace.
    I would love to be involved in something like this It's a shame we don't get many opportunities in my area for things like this.
    Sadly, I agree with others on the Mental Health issues, as someone who suffers from it I know how hard getting on at work can be sometimes especially after time off.
    There is still a massive stigma and lack of understanding attached to Mental Health issues in society and the work place and it is not spoken out about enough. I would love to this to be addressed and see/hear of managers actively championing it.

  19. Comment by Beryl Harris posted on

    A most insightful piece from Kevin.It is about getting to know someone without prejudgement.Just see what they can "bring to the table",regardless of who they are.Sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised.Think about it,we all have to survive in this one world which does not only belong to any one group of people.

  20. Comment by Alasdair Grant posted on

    I agree with Kelvin, that I know quite a few LGBT people, and they are often the most compassionate and caring people that I know. My interpreter at church is a member of the LGBT community and I very much appreciate the support that she has given me in accessing Church services. She is a fantastic British Sign Language interpreter as well as an American sign Language Interpreter. I am a bit disappointed that the church is not as welcoming of LGBT people as it could be. She is a very devout Christian. The growth of my Christian faith depends on her interpreting. I know of many LGBT people who are christians. Jesus touches so many people from all different walks of life, gives us hope, heals our spiritual life, and relationship with God.

  21. Comment by Alasdair Grant posted on

    I agree with Kelvin, that I know quite a few LGBT people, and they often the most compassionate and caring people that I know. My interpreter at church is a member of the LGBT community and I very much appreciate the support that she has given me in accessing Church services. She is a fantastic British Sign Language interpreter as well as an American sign Language Interpreter. I am a bit disappointed that the church is not as welcoming of LGBT people as it could be. She is a very devout Christian. The growth of my Christian faith depends on her interpreting. I know of many LGBT people who are christians. Jesus touches so many people from all different walks of life, gives us hope, heals our spiritual life, and relationship with God.

  22. Comment by Alasdair Grant posted on

    I found it very interesting given that I am a member of a cultural and lingustic minority, the Deaf Community. However, we do tend to feel very strongly that our groups should be led by Deaf people themselves supporting other Deaf people in an accessible enivronment to demonstrate to the wider hearing world that we are just as capable, but have a different way of doing this, and a different set of behaviours. Deafness can alter one's behaviours to accommodate the isolating effects that being deaf can bring. However, we do welcome hearing people who wish to learn about our culture, but in the end, it is the Deaf people who should make the decisions that affect ourselves rather then the hearing community making decisions for us. The hearing support would then become an advisory role rather than one of leading our own communities.

  23. Comment by Julie Anderson posted on

    Love the attitude. Maybe we need colleagues as Champions of their differences - including how their work impacts there life and how their life impacts the work.
    As someone with a couple of hidden health issues, it's a struggle trying to get managers to understand the day to day issues which crop up to affect attendence and work. In one breath the government wants to decrease the number of days taken off sick; and yet there are projects running to try and get people with health issues and disabilities back into work! Too many contrary policies are the major problem in the departments...

  24. Comment by Dave Mason posted on

    It is great to see someone like Kevin getting involved with these minority groups, when as he states he has little in common personally with any of them. If more people got similarly involved it would ultimately lead to them no longer existing. It is commendable that Kevin has been campaigning for 40 years but that is a damning indictment on society as a whole that there is still a need for such groups to exist to campaign for fairness in the workplace.

  25. Comment by Sallie Mogford posted on

    Very wise words Kevin.

  26. Comment by Barry Snelgrove posted on

    Just imagine the amazing world we would live in if more people had your values and openly practised and evidenced their commitment to them. I would support much more of your kind of 'selfishness' if this were but the case! Thanks!

  27. Comment by S. Channer posted on

    Kevin, Wonderful! It is refreshing to learn how you activate your personal conviction not only for your benefit, but to understand other diversities and learn from them. I agree with Gavin you should acknowledge that you are helping to make a difference and we are proud of you.

  28. Comment by Karen P posted on

    J. Smith if it was the majority displaying the hostility and prejudice those of us who acknowledge our disabilities wouldn't have a job in the first place.
    I have to say it is the minority who are still living in the dark ages with the majority on the whole supportive and welcoming and recognising our disabilities don't define us, the same as your choice of football team doesn't define you (if you like football!)

  29. Comment by Anthony posted on

    hidden illness does not just include Depression & Mental Health, I've been diagnosed with artritis in my left knee and high blood pressure, Both are hidden illnesses.

  30. Comment by Tracey Scott posted on

    Having read this article I have actually been moved to tears, why cannot more of us be like Kevin. The world might become a better place. Thank you Kevin.

  31. Comment by Robert posted on

    What a good, honest and wise word. As mentioned, we are all different with different skills and abilities. If these skills are combined, within the environment, we will see an improvement amongst teams and a more pleasant workplace. Unfortunately, unconscious bias, which still plays a large part in the workplace, is like a spanner in the works. Until this is addressed, which may result in the need of training on unconscious bias, and people are accepted equally, regardless of their abilities we will forever be going around in circles. Let’s all take a leaf from Kevin’s example and attitude and strive to make a difference and a better place for everyone.

  32. Comment by Alex. Paterson posted on

    Kevin, only known you briefly through Carers Group and know how dedicated you have been to that Group.
    I fully appreciate and agree with all you say. I find that ignorance of the needs of others by some managerial staff is more fear of the unknown. Only by highlighting the problems of Mental Health and Depression suffered by staff who may be Carers or sufferers themselves, through Presentations and direct contact will this problem be taken even more seriously than at present.
    The Home Office/HMPO are trying to spread the word but until more people open their minds and listen, this "stigma" of being a "Problem" member of staff will continue.

  33. Comment by malcolm posted on

    always be the first to do a good deed the rewards tend to come thick and fast

  34. Comment by Lena posted on

    Nice read and kind words.

  35. Comment by Teresa Lawson posted on

    Kevin, I think your words are well said and it would be great if we could all have a look at ourselves and hopefully learn something from you.
    I myself however, have an invisible illnes, I have terminal cancer, and I for one can honestly say that my boss has not let that get in the way of me doing my job and he does not treat me any differently from anyone else in the office. I would hate to think that I could be treated differently from anyone else because of my illness, however I must admit that you are actually right in some instances, but not in all situations. It depends on the person and their personality. I feel very lucky that my boss is treating me as an equal regardless.

  36. Comment by Steve B posted on

    Well said, sir!
    Difference is the new equality, but then it always was.

  37. Comment by David posted on

    As we are talking about valuing differences, and in some of the comments "invisible" health conditions, let's not forget the quiet ones who actually like solitude at times, who aren't anti-social but nevertheless can be quite uncomfortable in large, open plan offices and also in large gatherings of people that they don't really know. Research in the USA suggests that up to 30% of the population could fall into this category, but of course they go unnoticed, and ways of working and expectations that conflict with their core personalities are placed upon them without a thought. Some might flourish despite this, some will surely flounder, most of us simply "cope".

  38. Comment by Stoner posted on

    I see you profess 'no faith'. But that is a faith in itself. Maybe you should let us know what your view is of religions who profess to be the one true faith, who may have very strong views about members of LGBT. According to some faiths, your 'I don't believe in anything' stance makes you an apostate and worthy of execution.

  39. Comment by Dot Burke posted on

    If only there were more people with Kevin's views the world would be a much better place

  40. Comment by Andy Kerslake posted on

    Thank you Kevin, you speak for so many of us in the Civil Service. Like you I have no disability, no faith and am a straight ally. I do what I can to support the local diversity groups and am sure there are many other like minded people out there and your blog, along with the many comments accruing on it show how worthwhile your (our [all of us]) cause is.

    Thank you.

  41. Comment by Peter Williams posted on

    Thanks for your piece, Kevin.

    I agree that opening up our mind to different points of view is good.

    It can help us to understand why others do things in a certain way and helps us to adapt to different situations. Maybe we can even find a benefit in doing something differently, it also keeps things interesting and challenging.

    Best of all, it helps to rid ourselves of prejudicial bias.

    Best of luck with your continuing efforts and well done for championing 'fairness'.

  42. Comment by Fatima posted on

    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Excellent blog - thank you, we need more of you.

  43. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Kevin, Great blog. Your postive attitiude and willingness to make a difference is something which I feel that you should be proud of and that you should acknowledge that you are helping to make a difference. I would agree J Smith that it is the invisible health conditions such as Depression and Mental Health that Employers and Managers are still unclear how to deal with issue and that it ends up impacting on the future career prospects for many members of staff. Unconcious Bias is still a commom problem and until we address this, then will will continue to have issues around diversity.

    • Replies to Gavin Thomas>

      Comment by Nancy posted on

      Well spoken Gavin.
      J. Smith, I am there (2nd paragraph). When trying to defend your issues, its always "try harder". Reasonable adjustment in place; but what has it really adjusted, not attitudes!
      I just try to fit in, but often feel like I'm on an island.
      Back to the blog in question, brilliant Kevin, I wish more were like you.

    • Replies to Gavin Thomas>

      Comment by Kevin Oliver posted on

      Thanks for the comments so far.
      I believe that when you get involved with people, then you're being political, albeit with a small "p". I'd say that one way of making "invisible" issues more visible is to talk openly about them and in this way they become visible. I suppose a yardstick to use is "how would I feel if it happened to me". Not foolproof, I accept, but it puts you in the right area. I suppose what I would want anyone who read the blog to take away with them is that we all live on a really tiny speck of dust in a vast universe. We owe it to each other to respect and be fair to each other. I see respect and fairness as things which go together.

  44. Comment by J.Smith posted on

    The fact remains that disabled employees (especially those with invisible health conditions) are regarded as "the problem" by so many managers.

    Performance Management (without reasonable adjustments) invariably acts to persecute disabled workers, far too many of whom disguise their health conditions for fear of being labelled, over-looked for promotion or simply scape-goated into the worst performing groups.

    Kind words and intentions of the few do not overcome the hostility and prejudice of the majority

    • Replies to J.Smith>

      Comment by Tracey Robinson posted on

      Hi Kevin, I much enjoyed your blog. I found the analogy of the plumber rather interesting, and may even use that myself!
      J Smith, although I agree with your comments to some extent (having suffered with depression for a good few years now) I must disagree with your last comment. I openly discuss depression, anxiety, etc in the workplace, and it has never caused me any undue hostility or prejudice. There are the odd few who don't understand it, and don't want to, but in the main I have found that it creates discussion and people begin to understand how it feels. I wonder (playing devils advocate as I do) how many people keep quiet because they think that it will cause them more issues - whereas I have found the exact opposite.

      • Replies to Tracey Robinson>

        Comment by Kevin Oliver posted on

        Thanks for the comment. Please feel free to steal any or all of the comments.

  45. Comment by David Burdus posted on

    Eminently sensible.

    • Replies to David Burdus>

      Comment by Suki posted on

      He's a hero to us all.

  46. Comment by Liz posted on

    excellent great words spoken here

  47. Comment by Helen Lederer posted on

    A great blog with a sentiment I whole heartedly support. I have got to know some amazing people that I very likely would not have. Champion Difference indeed!

    • Replies to Helen Lederer>

      Comment by Michael Gordon posted on

      As a man of faith I would applaud all these sentiments and sum it up with words from the Bible, as they remind me who I am and how try to live, which says, "Love your neighbour as yourself." If we could all do that then truly the world would be a better place. Of course I remember the verse before, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul," and if we do that then we would love our neighbour, our fellow man(kind). We all have faith, it is just what we put our faith in.