In the latest Bristol Distinguished Address Speaker Series at the University of the West of England, Ruth Hunt, the Chief Executive of LGBT equality charity, Stonewall, gave a lecture on her experiences of lobbying change within the business community.
Ruth talked about her early campaigning career at school and university, and her experiences as leader at Stonewall. As both a woman and a lesbian, Ruth has unique experiences of leadership and building relationships based on humanity, compassion and empathy.
The LGBT rights campaigner has been with the charity since 2005 and has risen through the ranks, through years of drastic change within the community.
In just over four years, Ruth has overseen a 50% increase in the charity’s income and the steady growth of its structure, taking the team from 70 to 160 employees and securing Stonewall’s place as the leading lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality charity.
Ruth has redefined Stonewall’s role as a charity, from one that enables change to one that empowers others to make change happen. Under her leadership, Stonewall’s programmes and the way they are delivered, have been refined to ensure they create sustainable, powerful grassroots activism, both in the UK and abroad.
The charity is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, after it initially began as a movement to help gay people have a voice.
Hunt began her presentation with a history of homosexuality within the wider community, and how they have been unfairly persecuted over the last few decades.
She then continued to tell the audience about her own journey of discovery, growing up in Cardiff in the 1990s and getting an understanding of her sexuality.
The growth of the movement from the 1950s where homosexuality was condemned, through the 1980s during the HIV pandemic and thought to 2014 where the UK has a world-leading rights for the LGBT community.
When Hunt took over the company in 2014, she moved forward with assimilation campaigns to help the wider reaches of the LGBT+ community.
This was done through 750 different employers across the company, to help teach them about how to work within the community.
This was their business model of making money, as they had received no public funding – their service helped people and businesses become a more modern outfit through Stonewall’s teachings.
Changing the mindsets of business leaders can be difficult, but Stonewall’s work has helped changed a generation of gay people within the workforce.
Despite the progress that has been made, Hunt went on to talk about how there is discrimination, not just within business, but within the LGBT+ community itself – and that is their big challenge in addressing that in the years to come.
At every legislative change, there have been more discussions and more people being provoked to talk about the issues that come out of it.
She commented: “The Equality Act of 2010, has elements where it tells people what they are not supposed to do – don’t say this, don’t do that. There was a heavy focus on recruitment, where bosses looked at their employees and forced businesses to become more diverse. This provokes old views on ‘diversity’, rather than progress.”
Different genders have become ever present in the community and at Stonewall they have been educating and promoting change.
Hunt then took the audience through her visit to Buckingham Palace, where she had her own existential crisis of not knowing how to present herself or what to wear – showing that more needs to be done to be accepted in the wider community.
However, through days like this, Hunt learnt how to be a leader within her community.
Privilege and power come hand in hand. Sharing power as a leader can help inclusion in business. Through understanding the wider needs of people, Hunt believes profound change can happen.
Hunt believes that diversity is not achieved by having many different backgrounds and people within a workplace. Diversity is a mindset that brings in different perspectives on achieving success, rather than the orientation background of a person.
Hunt’s final point was about the generational issues and what people have to go through to be seen or heard. People don’t put up with the issues of the a past, and expect for a business to move with true progress.
She concluded: “A miraculous change had happened in the United Kingdom. We have the best rights for lesbian and gay people – but it is a particular type of right – it is a legal right. However, it is vulnerable, that can always be taken away – and the respect we hold for each other can be quite tenuous.”
Stonewall for decades have been a driving force or equality and progression within business and the wider community, and with Stone at the helm, this looks set to continue for years to come.