Stef Nienaltowski met Joanne Lockwood at the recent Entrepreneurial Spark programme, which was run in the city last autumn, and was intrigued as to what SEE Change Happen was trying to achieve.
Joanne is passionate about helping businesses understand that each individual is unique, and helps them recognise their individual differences.
With the changes we have all seen in society, and those changes will only continue, the values Joanne holds and the service she offers to businesses is proving valuable.
Stef Nienaltowski: Good afternoon, I'm sat with Joanne Lockwood, the founder of SEE Change Happen. Good afternoon Joanne.
Joanne Lockwood: Hi Stef, how are you?
SN: Very well thank you. Jo, I know we both want to talk about the value that your company, SEE Change Happen, has and wants to have in business, but can we just cover the change you've had in your gender over the past few years, and did that lead you to set up this company?
JL: Sure, that's a good question, and it gives me some sort of basis for my business. I have identified as female for most of my life, and I made the decision two or three years ago to start doing something about that. I got to the point where I felt my old life was past it's sell-by date, and I needed to make a change. It's one of those things, when you have this feeling, it grows and grows inside of you, and over time that feeling gets to a point where you have to do something about it. As I said, over the last couple of years, that feeling has grown. So, it was around about this time last year, I got to the point where I felt that i was definitely needing to do something. It was becoming unsustainable to live two lives, I needed to make sure that things were joined together, one life, one set of friends, and that I was living an authentic life. I was given the opportunity by my previous business partners to buy me out of my previous company, so I took that opportunity last February , and at the same time I took the opportunity to transition.
So, I've effectively been full time in my female role since January this year . And throughout the course of the year, I've become comfortable with that role, so the social transition I guess has been completed this year. It's been a challenge, been interesting, because I spent 20 or 30 years of my life running an IT business, and I sold that, and I looked for something new to do. At the same time, I, having spent 50-odd years of my life living in a male role, I know found myself needing to be authentic with myself, be honest with myself and the people around me, and live in my female gender that I've always felt. So, some might say that was quite a challenge in it's own right. I like to describe it as putting my life in a bit of a blender, pushing the button, the lid comes off, and everything's everywhere and I've got to scrape it back and try to build something of it. So, it's quite a challenge at the beginning of the year, trying to find my voice, trying to work out my identity and who I was, I spent a lot of time being an expert in my field, now I was looking to embark on something new.
So, I toyed around with what I was going to do, and when I met the loads of people, everyone said my passion was around transgender support, and also promoting diversity and inclusion within businesses. So, the more people that told me I had that passion, the more I started to believe it, so I decided to enrol on an NVQ in Equality & Diversity with Vision to Learn, passed that NVQ in the summer, and then I put the bones together for my business model in June/July, built my website, got some business cards printed, got my graphics done, so that all came around into summer, and I then spent lots of time researching, lots of time meeting people really doing this kind of work, building my LinkedIn profile, and then fortunately I got involved with the Entrepreneurial Spark programme, which allowed me to give this fast-track mindset growth and various other services and support that I've had to get me to where I am today. So yes, my gender realignment has been instrumental in my business. I believe it gives me some authenticity to speak in terms of diversity inclusion, and the work I've done in terms of researching and building my knowledge around this topic has also contributed to that being something that I feel very passionate about, working with people.
SN: And when I met you before, that is very evident, and you should be very proud of that passion as well. So, if I have a look at your website, the thing I loved about it was the catchphrase "because the world isn't only black and white" - now that's a great image, but what do you actually want to see change in the workplace, in business?
JL: I'm a great believer that people are people, and that people should be respected for who they are as a person: good people are good people, bad people are bad people, intelligent people are intelligent people, and too often we judge people on first impressions. Our unconscious bias kicks in, and we make these snap decisions that just by looking at somebody, we decide whether they are employable or not employable. We don't see through to the inner person, the inner good in them. Now, I believe that a truly diverse workforce is more productive, it's more loyal, it's more creative, it aligns more closely with customer values, and it also allows a business to embrace that power that a truly diverse workforce can have.
If you're employing people of all ages, they will feel secure. If a person joins the company they'll see the company as welcoming, not just within LGBT but if they're young, they're old, they're in the early stages of their lives, just starting to start a family, they'll believe that the company will be there to support them. So, the change I want to see occur, is where people have confidence in their employer, to provide a supportive, nurturing, respectful environment where they don't feel they're going to be intimidated or harassed, they can just come in, be very productive, do a great day's work, knowing their employer is behind them.
SN: And so far, how has that been received by the people you've met and worked with?
JL: I've found often I'm pushing against an open door. I believe that the workforce and employers are generally keen to respect their employees. They do recognise the fact that their customers are diverse, their suppliers are diverse, and therefore their employees are diverse. There's still some change that needs to occur, I don't think everybody in all businesses is fully embracing of that just yet, most people will tolerate or accept people who are different. I still think there's some work to be done on recruitment in terms of bias when they see people's names on CVs, they may not look ethnically British, and they may be looking for someone who is maybe more aligned with the person they were expecting. Certainly, foreign names don't help CVs. Tattoos, people with disability, people in the LGBT spectrum, certainly trans people are also discriminated and prejudiced against, and some of it's very subtle. Nobody is blatantly discriminatory often. I've had some instances in personal life, but very rarely in business.
SN: So, is it easier for a larger business to adopt and adapt and welcome the changes that you are promoting, or is it as easy for any size of business to adapt the philosophy that you're supporting?
JL: I think it's most, what I would call large corporate, organisations already have a strong diversity and inclusion policy. Under the Equality Act (2010) it's incumbent on all businesses and organisations to respect the law and implement those processes. I think when you have large budgets you can afford to set up departments, invoke training courses, e-learning, and devolve that out amongst your team and your staff. Whether at board level organisation are truly diverse, at board level and pushing that down, I think is open to question. There's a lot of gender inequality still: women's pay gaps are still quite large, and the presence of disabled people within business and boards is also quite low.
So, I think there's a lot of work still to do, and yes to some extent larger organisations have more money, more budget, but then the actual complication of pushing that message down to all of their staff is harder. And what may be corporate policy in the ivory tower, it doesn't necessarily filter down directly to the shop floor. In a small business, where you may be employing between 10, 20, 30 employees, everybody knows everybody, so it's much easier to implement change and be more agile to take on this sort of thing. So, I think if businesses are diverse of core, in a small business, they're more in touch with their customers, they've more need to be diverse. I think the impact on getting it wrong for a small business is far greater, because they could easily fall foul of a wrongful dismissal or a constructive dismissal type charge, and HR policies could kick in, and most small businesses probably aren't that mature in their HR. And now the law's changed, there's no barrier to employees taking their employers to employment tribunal, they can do that much easier now without the financial penalties, so employers need to be careful that they are mindful about respecting and looking after their staff.
SN: Which leads me to my last question. If I come back, when i come back, and when we sit down in 6 or 12 months' time and meet again, what would you like to see the landscape start to look like? I appreciate this doesn't change overnight, but what would be the first signs of change that you'd like to see?
JL: I think it's fair to say that society is evolving and moving on all the time. We have four generations of employees in the workplace currently, and that's the most generations we've ever had, from people in their 70s right through to 16-year-olds. And I think as each new generation they are more diverse at core; people are far more tolerant and accepting because, just because, the message and education is getting down there. I think in time, when today's Millennials or today's Gen Y are 10, 20, 30 years older, they become the captains of industry, I think diversity and inclusion will be at core. Ok, there'll still be challenges. So, in a few years’ time, what would I hope to see, I'd like to see evolution, I'd like to see slow steady progress amongst all sectors of business, where people can be people. In terms of my own physical characteristic, trans inclusion.
I think we need to turn it from being the minority where people don't understand us, to being in a situation where trans people are trans people. There's visible role models, people understand that we are not unusual, we're just people. You'll see trans people on television, you'll see trans people driving the bus, and we'll just become a non-entity, we'll just be like anyone else. And ok, we may look a bit taller, a bit shorter, a bit bigger here, a bit bigger there, but whatever! At the end of the day we're just people, if we're smiling we're happy, and we shouldn't need to treat people specially, we just need to treat people equally and fairly.
SN: I look forward to coming back Joanne and reviewing the landscape with you in a few months’ time. Thanks for your time today.
JL: That'll be great Stef, thank you very much.