Dawn Starley is a HCPC registered educational psychologist supporting children and young people
Dawn shares her professional and personal experiences and why Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is critical for ensuring all members of society are given a fair chance to be themselves. She also provides some tips for employers on how to support members of the LGBT+ community flourish in the workplace.
What motivated me to become a health and care professional
I’ve been an educational psychologist (EP) for four years and before that my journey towards this career included mental health support worker, 1:1 SEN teaching assistant and EYFS/primary school teacher. My original training was in Forensic Psychology but the personal experience of losing my mum while completing this course changed my focus considerably, with supporting children and young people with ‘big emotions’ becoming my passion.
I was inspired to become a health and care professional after my experiences working in a small, rural, Roman Catholic primary school. Supporting a child with autism was a part of this job I enjoyed very much, however the attitudes of the staff in the school were literally life-changing for me. The archaic attitudes towards the children, including a petition for all staff to sign to try to exempt Catholic schools from teaching about same-sex relationships, motivated me to pursue a role in which I could have a positive influence on the systems around a child, and for staff members too who, like ‘young me’, had felt disempowered and afraid to be themselves.
My professional and personal experiences
My experience working in the health and care sector has been nothing but positive in terms of my sexuality. EPs are such a welcoming, enlightened and inclusive group of people - both personally and professionally - that I have never felt uncomfortable about disclosing who I really am. The diversity of our team is celebrated rather than being part of a toxic culture expecting everyone to be the same.
As a professional, I have felt an integral part of a powerful and effective movement to improve inclusive practice for the LGBTQ+ community, along with other marginalised groups, within schools and other education settings. I experienced being so included that early on in my career I felt able to challenge the Local Authority on the wording within its parent/carer consent paperwork, which was not inclusive of certain family types within the LGBTQ+ community (and delighted to say it was changed immediately).
The health and care professionals I have worked alongside during my role as EP have been equally enlightened and inclusive. It has been a refreshing and rewarding place to be, where I have felt like an equal and able to get on with my job without worrying about revealing my authentic self.
Why EDI is important to me
This has occurred within a professional context, by the education setting described above, but also multiple times in my personal life - sadly by other health and care professionals. On too many occasions in medical appointments for my child I have been mistaken for her aunt or family friend, by someone who ought to be better informed about the diverse make-up of families. The awkward conversation that follows is something I’ve got used to, having worked very hard on reframing the experience as an ‘opportunity to educate someone’ rather than an indirect attack on my identity, but under the surface that anger and fear exists that discrimination is still out there.
Prejudice and discrimination are still sadly very much out there and EDI is critical for ensuring all members of society get a fair chance to be themselves and to flourish.
How employers can support their staff
Based on my own experiences and professional training, here are my ‘top tips’ for employers to help all employees feel safe, supported and included:
- Become aware of your own unconscious biases and things you take for granted (we all have some). There is such a thing as ‘straight privilege’; heterosexual and cisgender people have more rights, power and freedom and the world constantly reinforces ‘heteronormativity’ (the assumption that everyone is straight and cisgender). Start by reading some of the references below (American but also largely applies in the UK) cite a, b
- Consider your language, particularly pronouns. Don’t make assumptions about someone’s gender, or that of their partner; mis-gendering someone can trigger complex feelings. Become comfortable with ‘they’ and ‘partner’. Even better, use their name. Educate yourself in current terminology so as not to cause unintentional offence cite c
- Model inclusion by explicitly challenging straight privilege and LGBTQ phobia. In fact, challenge all discrimination instead of singling out the LGBTQ+ community. See this helpful article on the Equalities Act for employers cite d
- Never ‘out’ someone without their permission. This is a big deal for so many reasons but not least of all relates to data protection.
- Finally, accept you may make mistakes; be open to apologising, learning and committing to get it right next time.
a. 30+ Examples of Heterosexual (Straight) Privileges - ❤ It's Pronounced Metrosexual (itspronouncedmetrosexual.com)
b. 30+ Examples of Cisgender Privileges - ❤ It's Pronounced Metrosexual (itspronouncedmetrosexual.com)
c. LGBTQ Language: A Guide To Sexuality And Gender Words - Dictionary.com
d. The Equality Act 2010: a Guide for Employers and Employees - EW Group (theewgroup.com)
- Learning material
- Information and support