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Creating a network of straight allies to support diversity in defence

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A Brilliant Civil Service, A great place to work, Diversity and inclusion

Ross Woodward won the 2017 Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Award for Championing LGB&TI Inclusion.  

My name is Ross. I’ve been a civil servant for three and a half years, having worked in the Home Office and Ministry of Defence for the last two years. In addition to my day job I'm co-chair of Sh..OUT!, the Ministry of Defence’s LGB&TI Network.

I’ve been involved in diversity and inclusion (D&I) for a number of years, so when I joined the MOD I was keen to be an advocate for LGB&TI individuals working in defence.

Many people perceive working for the MOD to be quite a macho environment where diversity isn’t a priority. In reality it is quite the opposite. Since I’ve been working here I have seen a significant amount of positive change, and diversity and inclusion is a priority across our department.

Ross Woodward, co-chair of the Sh..OUT! network

How creating a network of straight allies helps champion inclusion

I was keen to change the image of working in defence to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to consider the fascinating range of career options available. When I was setting up the committee, I was pleasantly surprised to meet two individuals who didn’t identify as LGB&TI but wanted to get involved and support our network. I had met my first two allies!

We discussed creating a specific ally network to have visible individuals across defence championing an inclusive environment where people can feel comfortable to bring their whole self to work. We decided to hold an ally launch event during LGBT History Month in February, to raise awareness of the importance of allies.

A lot of people say, “it’s 2017, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, bi or straight”, but the reality is many LGB&TI individuals are bullied and harassed because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

One of my colleagues spent the first 10 years of his career 'in the closet'. He didn’t feel comfortable and confident enough to come out at work. Through reverse-mentoring he built up the confidence to come out, and has now become a strong advocate of LGB&TI equality and awareness.

We didn’t expect a large turnout, so we were overwhelmed that the room was full, and people stood wanting to hear what we had to say. My colleague spoke about his experiences of not being out at work and how stressful it can be to lie about your private life. The number of people wanting to stand up and speak out for the LGB&TI community was inspiring. We had not expected such a successful event.

Following the event we ran Stonewall’s Allies training programme, and then, because we were so oversubscribed, we ran a second course. Our ally network is continually growing as more people hear what it means to be an ally and how you may already be one without knowing!

Becoming an ally

So what do allies do? Well, as I mentioned, you may already be an ally! Being an ally does not require any training, although the course run by Stonewall is an excellent opportunity to explore your conscious and unconscious biases and make you think about how your behaviour and use of language can make others feel less included.

Being a visible ally is key. You can do this by adding something to your signature block, or having posters, or simply wearing an ally badge. Using inclusive language such as ‘partner’ avoids the awkwardness of someone having to correct you that their other half is actually the same sex. Most of the time, people won’t be offended if you make a mistake using terminology you’re not familiar with but want to understand. Most of all, treat people with respect regardless of what makes them different from yourself.

Ross Woodward won the 2017 Diversity and Inclusion Award for Championing LGB&TI Inclusion for his work setting up Straight Allies at the MOD. He is shortlisted for the 2017 Civil Service Awards (announced on Thursday 23 November).

Find out more about work underway to improve inclusion in the new Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.


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  1. Comment by Ross Woodward posted on

    Thanks Jacqui, I’m very proud to be a Civil Servant and championing diversity and inclusion. Knowing others like yourself who are so passionate and active in making a positive change inspires me to keep going no matter what. Thank you for all your support.

  2. Comment by Jacqui Gavin posted on

    Hi Ross

    Really proud of what you have achieved in MOD and well done

  3. Comment by Karen Fieldhouse posted on

    Hi Ross, this is a really great article and a fantastic opportunity to support the network. Can you let me know just briefly how I can get involved and become an ally or send me details of the Stonewall course dates please?

    Thank you.


  4. Comment by Genny posted on

    Great news Ross; I've been an Ally in HM Land Registry since we set up an Allies group nearly 4 years ago, which has recently merged with our LGBT+ network to become a single group. Now that you've broken the ice I hope you find plenty of support out there and that your group goes from strength to strength.

    • Replies to Genny>

      Comment by Ross Woodward posted on

      Thanks for your comment Genny. It’s great to hear HM Land Registry has a thriving LGBT+ network which has incorporated its allies. I have been very impressed with and full of admiration for our ally network which has been very active within a short period of time and has a number of projects they are working on to develop understanding and help address some of the issues faced by staff. One of said projects is looking to develop guidance for parents of LGBT+ children, something which they felt is currently lacking in readily available resources. It would be great to hear more about your success.

  5. Comment by Jamie Byde posted on

    While i feel strongly that everyone should be treated with respect and nobody should be harassed for being who they are, I have found it disturbing to hear of people losing their jobs simply because they have expressed disagreement with ideas like same sex marriage or gay adoption on grounds of faith. It would be ironic if the old intolerence was replaced with a new form of intolerence.

  6. Comment by david posted on

    Well done on making such an impact in a short period of time, Ross. It's never enough for us to simply not participate in the intolerance shown towards the LGBTQ+ community.

    I wonder if you've considered sharing some of this practice with BF. I always felt there was a long way to go there.

  7. Comment by Mark Jackson posted on

    Spot on work there mate; working here in Temple Quay, Bristol and despite the MoD being up the road at Abbey Wood - haven't heard a dickie-bird from them to come in and discuss Inclusion and Diversity work they undertake.
    The point raised about East Africa is particularly apt given our Military Assistance Projects to the region e.g. Kenya & ongoing commitments to the Arabian Peninsula and wider Levant + Afghanistan; would off-duty LGBTQ+ Civil Servants be particularly welcome there with their partners?
    However, sadly, as I discovered only 2 weeks ago - such PoV's aren't contained within this region - I copped some homophobic flak from a pair of idiots walking in work during the middle of the morning commute!
    And given the vitriol the annual Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign attracted on social media then I do fear for the future and the risk of a "tyranny of the majority" - sad times.
    Might drop you a line if that's alright to discuss sharing best practice between MoD and MoJ if that's OK?
    As a side-line: It's odd how many so-called "patriots" moan about "LGBTQ being shoved down their throats" - wonder if they'd be moaning when they found out just how many LGBTQ people were left for dead in Flanders....or Derry....or [insert place after place after place].

  8. Comment by Kevin Oliver posted on

    Well done.
    It's important to be an Ally. I've been saying this for ages ( check my blogs). If there's anything I can do to help, please ask. Good ideas are worthless without good actions. Keep up this important work. It matters.

  9. Comment by Helen Lederer posted on

    Thank you for inspiring me to reach out in Cabinet Office to do the same. Sometimes we need to lead the change we want to see..

  10. Comment by chris clark posted on

    As an Advocate who has spent most of his working life promoting justice I am very proud to have yet another son championing the rights of individuals.There is no room for any prejudice whatsoever in a fair and decent society including the workplace.Well done Ross!
    Chris Clark

  11. Comment by Margaret Clark posted on

    We are proud of Ross and all the hard work he puts into supporting the organisation. Speaking out is the way forward to educate others and help people feel equal in society.

  12. Comment by Phil Stringer posted on

    Keep up the good work Ross. I look forward to attending the Stonewall training next week. Your article is good insight to the impact an ally can have.

  13. Comment by Jig Vadher posted on

    Good stuff Ross & keep up the good work.

  14. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Well done Ross for the fantastic work that you have been doing to support the LGBT+ community. I would also agree with you that the Stonewall Allies course is a great course to attend.

    As someone who attended the course earlier this year, I had been totally unaware of the challenges faced by the the bi-sexual community and in particular the difficult in feeling that they would be accepted by their peers for being authentic.

    Also, having worked in East Africa several years ago, I am very much aware that there are unfortunately places in the world where it is totally unsafe for the LGBT+ community to be visible!

    • Replies to Gavin Thomas>

      Comment by Ross Woodward posted on

      Thank you for your comments and being an ally.

      LGBT+ members of the armed forces and Civil Service often don’t have a choice but to deploy to countries where being LGBT+ is not recognised or indeed illegal and this can place a particular burden on those individuals. If I was selected to go to a number of such countries my husband wouldn’t be allowed to join me as my companion yet if I was heterosexual that wouldn’t be an issue. It’s quite a challenge - on the one hand we are guests in the host nation yet as part of our international engagement we should be promoting the values of British society.

      I long for the day when the LGBT+ community is accepted universally across the world but I fear I may not witness that within my lifetime.