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The Growth of LGBT+ Networks in the NHS

Interview by Bernadette Clarke with support from Harriet Young and Alejandra Hernandez

It was great to speak with Daniel Hallen (he/him), Head of Digital Technology, Digital Urgent & Emergency Care Lead at NHS England & Improvement about his insights on how LGBT+ Networks have been growing in the NHS.

Thanks for a great conversation Daniel! The Manchester One HealthTech Hub loves how this additional interview is enriching our Recruitment and Career Progression Campaign. We are sure your reflections contribute to our campaign and wider mission to champion diversity and inclusion in health tech.

With a background in local authority and private sector, Daniel has been at the NHS for the last seven years. He has focused primarily on programme management, transformation and continuous improvement. Daniel just completed his Master’s in Digital Leadership, and his passion is based on his honesty, compassion, integrity and collaboration being at the center of everything he does.

“In IT and Digital, we get accused of being the creatures in the basement. We can put together black boxes and call them computers but if you’re not working with the people and helping them to understand what that black box does it’s all a bit pointless. Translation is the heart of everything we do.”

The NHS LGBT+ Network

Deputy chair of the NHS LGBT+ Network, Daniel was there when the network was just being conceptualised.

“We started looking realistically at this late last summer (2020) and I thought it was very important for me to support ton this, mainly for the staff who might be struggling with their identity or unsure about how people would react at work.”

As a senior figure in the NHS, with many commitments, Daniel thought it was best someone else chaired the network while he remains as deputy – giving support and visibility.

Staff networks aren’t a new construct for the NHS. The BAME network and the (Disability and Wellbeing (DAWN) network are just two examples of a multitude of different networks that exist in the NHS. The significance of these networks can be felt when you consider general levels of empathy those working in the NHS have and also the importance of role models.

“We make assumptions about gender, about sexuality, about ethnicity, age and more. A way of breaking down these assumptions and stereotypes is to uplift and empower role models. These networks are a great way to put those role models on a pedestal.”

Building networks allows those from a minority background feel like they’re amongst friends. People who understand the power of diversity gives individuals the strength to believe that they can be the person they want to be.

“We're not all sheep. We have to be able to identify what makes us tick and what helps us in our careers.”

The Importance of Correct Use of Pronouns

Gender pronouns are words that people use to refer to ourselves and others without using their names. Using a person’s correct pronouns fosters an inclusive environment and affirms a person’s gender identity.

By using a person’s pronouns correctly, other people are showing them respect and forming an inclusive environment.

A 2016 study found that affirming a person’s pronouns — and, in extension, their gender — lowers depression and raises self-esteem. A person affirming another’s pronoun use can help others feel comfortable with their external appearance and their gender identity.

Daniel, who started monitoring his use of pronouns actively about three years ago, has quickly realised how important the correct use of pronouns is.

“It's a way to show respect, it's a way to create an inclusive environment, it can be really offensive to guess and use the wrong pronouns. And it's certainly unacceptable to use the wrong pronouns when you know that that person has identified as a specific pronoun.”

It’s quite shocking how often female doctors are assumed to be nurses and not addressed by their correct salutation. For someone to have gone through medical school for all those years and to have worked that hard to be incorrectly addressed is plain disrespectful.

“Using a correct pronoun validates the person you’re talking to. It shows you’re listening to them and understanding them.”

The importance of correct use of pronouns is only heightened when we consider the levels of hate trans individuals face on a daily basis – having to constantly correct the terms used to address them after going on an incredibly difficult and personal journey of discovery.

The easiest thing to do is to ask them what their pronouns are and how they’d like to be addressed.

“You ask someone what their name is. You ask them to introduce themselves – that's the normal thing to do. Asking for pronouns is no more difficult than that.”

How Can we be Better Allies?

We view allyship as a strategic mechanism used by individuals to become collaborators, accomplices, and co-conspirators who fight injustice and promote equity in the workplace through supportive personal relationships and public acts of sponsorship and advocacy. Allies endeavor to drive systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices, and culture. In a society where customers, employees, and investors increasingly see equity and inclusion as not just a nice-to-have but a must-have, allyship by an organization’s senior leaders has become essential.

But how, exactly, can we be a better ally?

“The key thing is we have to be open; we have to be honest, ask questions. Again, we make assumptions about people that we shouldn't. Having a rainbow flag or lanyard is a great way to show your support and demonstrate that you represent a safe place, but if a member of staff wanted to talk about an LGBT+ matter, then allyship is about being open and willing to listen.”

Innovation is the Heart of what we do

Daniel, who has been very fortunate to be able to mentor a number of different professionals at different stages of their career, places confidence in careers as one of his fundamentals.

“It's very important not just to be able to pass knowledge on and to help people to build their own careers, but also to develop my own answer to learn things. So, you know, I said at the start that continuous learning, continuous improvement is such a key thing for me, that if we don't learn to share our knowledge, then we don't innovate, we don't do things differently. Innovation is the heart of what we do, not just in the NHS, but as a species, from the wheel to the smartphone, it's how we grow and change. Is how we do things better.”

Respecting people and the challenges they’ve been through is key to the continued and consistent development of innovative ideas. If we don’t have diverse teams, how can we have diverse ideas?

“Helping people to understand that they can be their fullest self in a role and bring all their individuality is key because they will give us so much back in return.”


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