BHA Board Member David Jones: Looking at life through an inclusive lens
To mark Pride Month, BHA Board Member and Diversity & Inclusion Lead, David Jones, writes about how his experience in promoting LGBT+ understanding and equality changed the way he views life – and how everyone in racing can play a part in championing inclusion.
For some, it may seem odd for me – a straight guy – to be writing about LGBT+ equality.
However, my personal experience at a previous employer completely changed my outlook on LGBT+ equality – and life in general – instilling in me a passion for promoting workplace diversity and inclusion.
I spent my whole working life with the John Lewis Partnership. The thing that challenged me, and changed me the most personally, was becoming the Board Ally for the LGBT+ Group there, “Pride in the Partnership”, a role I held for five years.
I consider myself to have a well-developed sensitivity and high emotional intelligence, but I realised I had gone through life with my eyes closed. This experience changed the way I viewed my life, and it is something I now feel very passionate about. I learnt the real importance of seeing the world through the lens of others, and now actively go out of my way to do this.
My penultimate role at John Lewis was as the Waitrose Supply Chain Director. I ran a large 24/7 operation of about 3000 employees who were mostly male, working in the warehouse depots and the transport operations, driving lorries and delivering to shops.
The Partnership’s LGBT+ Group contacted me and asked whether I’d be prepared to be their Board sponsor. I was intrigued and asked, “why me?” They explained the difficulties of being openly gay in Supply Chain because of the alpha male environment, (comparing it to Premiership football) and thought I could change that.
I was horrified that in an operation I led, people couldn’t be themselves and felt nervous about bringing their whole selves to work.
I grew up in the 1970s. I knew no-one who was gay at school and first met people who were openly gay at university.
Working at John Lewis Department Stores, I did notice people who were gay, but not so much in Waitrose. Looking back, I was very closed in my outlook and hopelessly uncurious about this!
Through my role with the Partnership’s LGBT+ Group, I met with lots of people to understand the challenges of what it meant to be gay in the workplace, the challenge of coming out (and coming out every day which I didn’t realise before), and the real issues faced by transgender people at work. It was so powerful hearing people’s stories.
I still vividly remember a trans lorry driver telling me that up to 50% of transgender people consider suicide and I was overwhelmed by her telling me her journey was helped so much by those work colleagues who supported her, whilst others just blanked her. The figures now show that almost half (48 per cent) of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide at least once, while 84 per cent have thought about it.
I went to two Stonewall conferences that I found so inspiring and empowering. What struck me most was how many people were there in uniform. The Armed Forces, for example, had opened up hugely, recognising that “bringing yourself to work” and being yourself was vital in a job that potentially involved life and death decisions.
So different to when I was growing up, where in some professions, opening up about your sexual orientation may mean having to leave the job. Of course, things have changed, but it became clear to me that people were still worried about how their sexuality would be received. It shouldn’t be like that, but unfortunately it still is.
I became a real advocate at John Lewis for the LGBT+ Group, frequently talking about the importance of bringing yourself to work around the board table and throughout the organisation. I learnt that people listen to senior leaders, and you have to role model behaviours if things are going to change.
If it is important to you, it is suddenly important to them! If you are openly supportive, others can be persuaded to be themselves.
On reflection, I realised that looking at life through a different lens is so important. It’s never easy, but I came to realise that I’d been conditioned to see life through my eyes. I was good at that, as I’d lots of experience of doing it!
What I learnt, was that I missed so much because of this. Many people live their lives in a different way to you, but their experiences are as valid as yours. Understanding that has changed the way I view life. It has been a powerful journey and I’ve learnt loads!
The Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda is an important one. It is boundless and is not just about race but ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations.
Equally important is the recognition of differences in education, personalities, skill sets, experiences, and knowledge bases. Everyone should understand how much we all benefit from different thoughts, backgrounds, and perspectives at work.
I think we’ve still a long way to go in racing, but I am pleased to see the progress which is being made within the sport through Racing With Pride and the industry’s continued engagement. I want to be restless in articulating why this is so important in racing’s case. Movements take a while to form, but I know there are huge benefits for all in understanding the wider benefits of diversity, and I want to play my part in that movement!
David will be joining the panel, alongside Liz Ward from Stonewall and Lee Moulson, Racing With Pride member, for the upcoming ‘How to be a good LGBT+ ally?’ Webinar on 16th July 2021, 12-1.30pm. Book your tickets on Eventbrite at racingwithpride.eventbrite.co.uk.