Q&A: Karen Beardsell, HR director, Stonewall

Written by
Mary Appleton

12 Aug 2016

12 Aug 2016 • by Mary Appleton

Tell us about your career background how did you get to where you are now?

My earlier career was concentrated around recruitment for the NHS, where I gained my CIPD qualification, and for Saudi hospital management companies. I took a role in in high street recruitment while studying and Diabetes UK, who were a client, offered me a three month contract in a generalist HR role, and I ended up staying for six years. I immediately loved working in the sector as it allows me to practice HR in line with my values. My next role was head of HR at Contact a Family, then I joined Stonewall almost two years ago.  

And Stonewall?

We have just over 100 employees. We're here to let all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, here and abroad, know they're not alone.

We believe we're stronger united, so we partner with organisations that help us create real change for the better. We have laid deep foundations across Britain - in some of our greatest institutions - so our communities can continue to find ways to flourish, and individuals can reach their full potential. We’re here to support those who can’t yet be themselves.

But our work is not finished yet. Not until everyone feels free to be who they are, wherever they are.

Diversity and inclusion is often talked about but what does this mean in its truest sense?

Diversity at work is about your staff reflecting the society that they are part of, and recognising and celebrating that difference. Inclusion is about making sure that every one of those members of staff feels valued for who they are, and that they feel that the organisation and their colleagues are committed to supporting them to be their very best selves. Removing barriers to inclusion creates a virtuous circle where people are more engaged and perform better.  

How important is it for Stonewall to be diverse and inclusive, given the broader mission of the organisation itself?

To me having a diverse range of people, experiences and opinions means we make better decisions and are more relevant to all of the communities where we want to make an impact. When networking with HR colleagues, I get a sense that most people want to do the right thing but still don’t feel confident to tackle some of the issues. We always reassure organisations that we will work with them whatever stage they are at and I am happy to admit that we still have work to do, but are consistently working towards best practice.     

How do you measure / monitor D&I within Stonewall?

We currently monitor our existing staff annually as part of our staff survey. We also monitor at the recruitment stage to make sure we are attracting and recruiting fairly. I am hoping to implement an HR information system this year which will allow us to do real time monitoring and look at access to promotion and training opportunities. 

Do you have any initiatives to increase the diversity profile of certain groups within Stonewall?

We offer internships at London Living Wage to open up entry level positions to everyone regardless of their economic circumstances. We are planning to target some graduate positions at underrepresented groups and are frequently looking at how we advertise to attract a more diverse candidate pool. We are also hoping to make a ‘Why I work at Stonewall’ video of staff to reflect our current diversity to potential applicants. The work we do also has an impact in terms of the candidates we attract. When we announced our commitment to become trans inclusive in 2015, the number of applications from trans people increased significantly. Similarly when we partnered with Regard recently, to explore the issues faced by LGBT people with disabilities, we were told by disabled applicants that they had been encouraged to apply.  

As an HR team what steps can you take to ensure no one feels ostracised within an office environment because of their identity?

The work we have done on mental health at Stonewall is a great example. What made it successful was the buy in at a senior level and the commitment of a group of staff. 

We celebrated World Mental Health Day and Time to Talk Day using their resources. Our CEO launched the day and members of staff at all levels volunteered to share their lived experiences. We had lunches, meditation sessions, referred people to a range of resources including our Employee Assistance Programme and shared all our activities on social media. They seem like small steps but together have made a large difference in how people talk about their mental wellbeing – it’s now part of everyday conversation and 86 of our employees said they had experienced poor mental health.

It’s important to have a strong policies to prevent bullying and discrimination and also to make sure that all policies are fully inclusive. However, I think that the best way to include everyone is to keep listening and talking to your employees about the issues that are important to them. That way they can concentrate on the great work that they do.