“Imagine someone coming out to you, it hurts, you expose yourself and you anticipate rejection – it still hurts me now,” said Claire Birkenshaw, the first known individual to transition to living as a woman while working as a headteacher.
“By coming out, I have trauma and every time I talk about it I go back to those conversations that people had, I go back to the silence, I go back to the rejection.”
Ms Birkenshaw suffered gender dysphoria from a young age. Then, in 2015, she told her chair of governors at the Ashwell academy in Hull that she was going to live as a woman.
Speaking to a crowded room of delegates at the Diversity Conference in Glasgow yesterday, she told her personal story of coming out to colleagues, friends and family and how their reactions have stayed with her ever since.
“What you say in that moment in time when someone comes out makes or breaks what happens next, because that conversation, I guarantee it, is remembered by that person who comes out forever,” she said.
“You need to then check in on that person’s wellbeing, because you don’t know what else has happened, you don’t know if they’ve been rejected at home.”
In a panel discussion with conference host and broadcaster Rachel McTavish, Ms Birkenshaw said she finds it frustrating when people class LGBT rights as “political correctness gone mad”.
“It’s not political correctness, it’s about being kind to one another, it really, really is,” she said.
Now a lecturer in child studies at Leeds Beckett University after leaving teaching, she explained she doesn’t understand why people now reject her expertise after coming out as trans.
“The way I see it, I contain a black box of information, so when a plane then crashes you don’t discard the black box, what you do is you find out what went wrong.
“I have an insight into prejudice, I have an insight into where it goes wrong and where it doesn’t go wrong. So, we need to then learn from that,” she told The Herald.
“I cannot help being who I am, I can either fight who I am and try to stop myself from being who I am, which makes me profoundly unhappy, or I can just accept who I am and that’s obviously what I’ve done.”
Scotland’s third annual Diversity Conference, hosted by The Herald and GenAnalytics, was an opportunity for people across the business sector to come together and discuss inclusive economic growth.
Panel discussions and breakout sessions with industry leaders gave delegates the chance to discover new ways to embrace changes in society and ensure their workforces are representative.
Audrey Ross, sales and marketing director for Taylor Wimpey, and Annmarie Phillips, operations director for Diageo, took part in a discussion about how they shattered industry norms and became leaders in their field.
“Forget about the female label and think about what you’re there to do,” said Phillips, who is also a mother of two. “Dignity at work does what it says on the tin, it allows you to be your best self.”
The conference also heard from panelists discussing disability and cultural diversity. Sannah Hussain explained that, as a Muslim, she often felt like work social events did not consider her.
“As a Muslim I don’t drink and I remember work parties were arranged where they all just wanted to go drinking, and I would say, why don’t we go out for dinner first and have conversation?” she said.
More than 150 individuals from the public, private and third sector came together for the event, supported by BAE Systems, CIPD, City Building, City of Glasgow College, Diageo, Deloitte, J.P. Morgan, MacRoberts, ScottishPower and Taylor Wimpey West Scotland.
A spokesman for Deloitte said: “The 2019 Diversity Conference drove home the message that diversity and inclusion have to be part of the new reality for business and far more than simply buzz-words.
“Organisations who integrate diversity and quality as a criterion into their business strategy will benefit. Working in this way, promotes better employee engagement, develops innovative work patterns and behaviours, and fosters an environment that supports a variety of skills and experiences. It really does benefit everyone.
“At Deloitte, we want to provide the best service to our clients; this means bringing diversity of thought in order to provide innovative solutions to solve their biggest challenges. We are clear that in order to do this we need to attract people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse characteristics and create an inclusive environment that enables everyone to succeed.”
Lynsey Campbell, Executive Director at J.P. Morgan said: “J.P. Morgan are delighted to sponsor the conference this year and to have the opportunity to share some of the fantastic technology initiatives we run to connect our skilled workforce with NGO’s globally. We believe that a diverse workforce is essential to the longer term success of our business and events such as this enable us to share key messages and connect and learn from others in this space to make Scotland a great place to live and work.”
Katy Weddeburn, Employment Head, MacRoberts LLP said: “We were thrilled to attend and provide our support for the third year at the Diversity Conference for Scotland. Attendees were given the opportunity to hear from a variety of excellent speakers about the opportunities, challenges and successes of Diversity and Inclusion in the modern workplace.”
A spokesman for ScottishPower said: “We’ve enjoyed being part of another fantastic conference. It’s inspired us to keep challenging ourselves and trying new things that will create a better future for our employees, our customers and society as a whole.”
Kirsty McGill, Head of Sales for Taylor Wimpey West Scotland: “We aim to be an inclusive company which values people as individuals and creates a workforce that reflects the diversity of the local communities where we build new homes, and we’re really delighted to have been involved in the third year of The Herald Diversity Conference. This year’s event and break-out sessions have allowed us to engage with a wide range of businesses to exchange ideas and learn more about the wide range of initiatives that are underway to reinforce diversity and inclusion within our respective organisations.”
Lee Ann Panglea, Head of Scotland and Northern Ireland at CIPD said: “People are increasingly thinking differently about how, when and where they work, and we were delighted to participate in a discussion on flexible working which considered how organisations across Scotland, regardless of industry sector and size, can use flexibility as a strategic tool to support individual and business performance.”