Business department begins review of Stonewall's 'dubious' scheme

Now the business department begins review of Stonewall’s ‘dubious’ diversity training scheme amid warnings of an ‘exodus’ after the MoJ announced it would sever ties

  • Officials will scrutinise whether participation in the scheme is value for money
  • Comes after criticism of ‘dubious’ training provided by the leading LGBT charity
  • Also concerns it is using LGBT rankings to ‘pressurise’ officials to follow policies 

The business department today became the latest public body to announce a review of its membership of Stonewall’s workplace diversity initiative amid warnings of an ‘exodus’ from the scheme after the Ministry of Justice announced it would sever ties.

Officials will scrutinise the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s participation in the Diversity Champions programme, which offers workplace training and produces a ranking of the 100 most LGBT-friendly employees. 

The scheme – membership of which starts at around £2,500 – has been criticised for its ‘dubious’ training, as well as claims the charity was using the rankings to ‘coerce’ public bodies into lobbying for changes to sex and gender laws. 

Senior figures in Number 10, including Henry Newman, an adviser to Boris Johnson and an ally of his wife, Carrie, are resisting any move to withdraw from the scheme over fears about the message it could send to LGBT people.

Minister Lord Callanan (pictured) will lead a review of Stonewall’s workplace diversity programme 

Officials will scrutinise the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s participation in the Diversity Champions programme, which is run by Stonewall (pictured) 

Stonewall: The controversial LGBT charity which has come under fire in recent weeks 

Just this week, the Equalities Minister Liz Truss said she wanted the Government to quit a diversity scheme run by Stonewall amid a row over trans rights.

Miss Truss is said to be pushing for departments to join the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Acas in dropping the Diversity Champions scheme over fears it is not providing value for money. 

After criticism from the gay former Conservative MP Matthew Parris, Ms Kelley told the BBC: ‘With all beliefs including controversial beliefs there is a right to express those beliefs publicly and where they’re harmful or damaging – whether it’s anti-Semitic beliefs, gender critical beliefs, beliefs about disability – we have legal systems that are put in place for people who are harmed by that.’ 

According to Stonewall there are more than 850 organisations, including 250 government departments and public bodies such as police forces, local councils and NHS trusts, signed up as ‘diversity champions’.

Membership to the scheme starts at around £2,500, which according to the LGBT charity’s website, buys employers access to expert advice and resources to make their workplaces ‘inclusive’. 

However, the charity was embroiled in a new row over transgender rights last week, when its chief executive Nancy Kelley likened ‘gender critical’ beliefs to anti-Semitism as she defended its pro-trans campaigning.

The EHRC, Britain’s equalities watchdog, then cut ties with a Stonewall scheme for ‘woke’ workplaces after claims that it curbs free speech among staff.

Its decision comes amid accusations the scheme is encouraging public bodies and firms to adopt policies that create a ‘culture of fear’ among workers who disagree with transgender ideology.

A letter to the feminist campaign group Sex Matters from new commission chairman Baroness Falkner revealed: ‘We wrote to Stonewall in March to let them know that we would not be renewing our membership, and this has now expired.’

Before that, a former top judge claimed transgender groups such as Stonewall are having too much say over hate crime laws that could cause freedom of speech to ‘suffer’.

Charles Wide, a retired Old Bailey judge, said last month only an ‘limited range’ of views was being sought out to advise on a possible expansion of legislation.

The government currently looking at expanding hate crimes, and the Law Commission is consulting on whether misogyny, age, sex workers, homelessness, and some subcultures should become protected groups.

But the judge fears the Commission’s over reliance on certain campaign groups has seen it move away from its non-political brief to draw on ‘contentious and controversial sociological theories’.

Writing for the think tank Policy Exchange, he said: ‘No adequate thought seems to have been given to the difficulty of reaching beyond a limited range of academics and organisations to the full variety of academic voices, organisations, commentators and members of the public who have no organisation to speak for them.’

He singled out LGBT campaigners Stonewall, saying the Commission was treating them more like ‘a consultant than consultee’. 

Minister Lord Callanan will analyse whether the programme is value for money for both the business department and the quangos it oversees, including HM Land Registry and the Competition and Markets Authority, The Times reported.

Should it break ties, it will follow the Ministry of Justice, which announced it was withdrawing this month, as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Channel 4 and Acas, the employment dispute service.

Other departments are expected to follow suit, after Equalities Minister Liz Truss suggested that government bodies should withdraw from the scheme over growing concerns about its value for money.

Sources at the MoJ told the Sunday Telegraph that the decision to withdraw from the scheme was also based on concerns about Stonewall’s approach to free speech and what they called its ‘dubious’ training. 

One session involved prison and probation staff closing their eyes to imagine walking through a park where they come across different people, after which they are challenged to say if everyone they “saw” was white, able-bodied or in a heterosexual relationship.

Campaigners have accused the controversial equality charity of encouraging public bodies and firms to adopt policies that create a ‘culture of fear’ among workers who disagree with transgender ideology. 

Amid growing criticism of Stonewall, a report in The Times on Saturday suggested the charity is using its LGBT rankings to ‘lobby on their behalf’ – rewarding those who follow its gender policies and punishing those who do not.

Former founding member of the group Simon Fanshawe said: ‘[The index] started out as a way of helping employers ensure their lesbian and gay staff were well looked after.

‘But what it has turned into now sounds more like coercion – a way of coercing employers in their language and structure, instead of encouraging them to embrace the different needs of their LGBT staff.’

Stonewall says its rankings – which use the Workplace Equality Index referred to as the UK’s ‘leading benchmark tool for LGBT inclusion’ – provide a list of the ‘best employers for LGBT people’.

More than 500 public bodies, from NHS trusts to the Scottish government, applied to be listed on the charity’s exclusive index last year.

These bodies must complete a 31-page form that questions social media use, HR policies and inclusion measures which can take months to complete. 

But new documents reveal the lengths these organisations go to in order to satisfy Stonewall’s rigid requirements – including offering screenshots of employees social media posts and promising changes to internal inclusion policies.

Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government is one of many high profile diversity applicants – who are said to have sent details of Pride events attended by the First Minister and examples of dissenting colleagues being muzzled in internal communications.

Legal changes to the Gender Recognition Act were also mooted as part of earlier applications, although Holyrood plummeted out of the top 100 rankings in Stonewall’s 2020 index. 

Outspoken critics have also slammed Stonewall’s attempt to impose its own interpretations of sex and gender on employers.

Kate Lee, a former Stonewall volunteer who lobbied MPs for gay marriage rights, told the Times: ‘It [the index] is a Ponzi scheme.

‘They have invented an idea [gender identity] which they are imposing on others without their consent. You don’t get acceptance by demanding compliance. Gay people are getting sick of it.’



The diversity charity is accused of using its rankings to ‘lobby on their behalf’ – rewarding those who follow Stonewall’s gender policies and punishing those who do not. [Stock image]

The Scottish Government is said to have been encouraged to campaign for sex and gender law changes in return for a higher Stonewall ranking. Above: Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, pictured at Pride Glasgow

The public bodies that have been ‘coerced’ by Stonewall’s workplace diversity scheme 

Stonewall has been accused of ‘coercing’ employers by using its Top 100 Employers index to lobby for new sex and gender law in the UK. 

So who are some of the public bodies who have applied to be part of the charity’s exclusive rankings?

The Scottish Government 

Nicola Sturgeon’s administration offered up elected ministers’ social media activity, as well as mooting possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 as part of its previous applications.

Nicola Sturgeon poses at Glasgow Pride

It failed to crack the top 100 rankings in 2020, placing 127th. 

Central London Community Heathcare Trust 

The NHS body, which cares for more than 2million people in the capital, was told by Stonewall to remove references to ‘mother’ and replace it with ‘pregnant employee’ or ‘birthing parent’.

Intellectual Property Office

The IPO soared 80 places in the index to 13th after appearing in a 2018 Stonewall advert that urged people to fill in self-identification forms as part of a government consultation.

The organisation denied influencing the consultation and said it does not take part in ‘lobbying activity’. 

Welsh council Rhondda Cynon Taf

South Wales council Rhondda Cynon Taf was praised and moved into the Top 100 rankings after the public body removed gendered language from its HR policies.

Hackney Council

The London council, whose Labour mayor Philip Glanville was the first in the borough to convert a same-sex civil partnership in 2014, was penalised in its ‘role models’ section in its application.

Stonewall told MailOnline that organisations on their Top 100 Employers list are rewarded for their ‘impressive work towards becoming a more inclusive workplace.’

A spokesperson for the charity said: 

 ‘Our Workplace Equality Index is a robust benchmarking tool which offers a free and voluntary way for all organisations to reflect on their own LGBTQ+ inclusion journey. 

‘All of the organisations who place on our Top 100 Employers list gain their ranking based on their impressive work towards becoming a more inclusive workplace, which is marked against thorough and standardised criteria. 

‘It is completely normal and appropriate for national charities to engage with public sector organisations to support them in making their workplaces inclusive for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer staff, and we’re proud to help over 850 organisations in this work through our Diversity Champions programme. 

‘We’re confident that the advice that we give to organisations is robust and helps to create inclusive and safe environments for everyone. 

‘All our guidance on the Equality Act is based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice, which was recently reaffirmed in the High Court.’  

Government bodies and NHS organisations have also tried to place among the Top 100 in recent years.

Central London Community Health NHS Trust was reportedly asked to replace the word ‘mother’ with ‘birthing parent’ or ‘pregnant employee’ in order to receive a better ranking.

The body, which cares for more than two million patients across the capital, was also told to ensure its social media accounts ‘clearly shows support for LGBT equality’. 

The Trust ranked 339th in the charity’s Top 100 employers of 2020. 

In 2018, the Intellectual Property Office faced a barrage of questions after appearing in a Stonewall advert that urged people to complete gender self-identification forms as part of a Government consultation. 

Members of the public pondered why the IPO, a government body, was taking a stance on a politicised debate.

When Stonewall revealed its Top 100 employers of 2019, the IPO had soared up to 13th place in its rankings – moving up 80 positions on the previous year.

The charity reportedly reserved special praise for the IPO’s very ‘public support for reform to the Gender Recognition Act’ and its social media use that showed a ‘commitment to LGBT equality’. 

Central London Community Health NHS Trust was asked to replace the word ‘mother’ with ‘birthing parent’ or ‘pregnant employee’ in its application. The Trust ranked 339th last year

The top 10 employers on Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index

1 – Newcastle City Council

2 – Gentoo Group

3 – Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service

4 – Pinsent Masons (Top Northern Ireland Employer)

5 – Ministry of Justice

6 – GSK

7 – Citi

8 – National Assembly for Wales (Top Welsh Employer)

9 – Welsh Government

10 – Cardiff University

A spokesperson for the IPO denied influencing the consultation and said it does not take part in ‘lobbying activity’. 

Councils across England and Wales have also clamoured to be a part of Stonewall’s list, with some going as far as removing all gendered language from its policies.

Rhondda Cynon Taf, the only Welsh council to make the top 100 last year, was praised for removing ‘gendered pronouns’ such as ‘mother’ on its application.

Hackney Council, whose Labour mayor Philip Glanville was the first in the borough to convert a same-sex civil partnership in 2014, was penalised in its ‘role models’ section and told to include transgender leaders.

Chair of Sex Matters and barrister Naomi Cunningham, told The Times: ‘Stonewall sells its Workplace Equality Index as a scheme to help organisations comply with equality law. 

‘But what it offers is lobbying — it presents its own highly contentious understanding of what the law should be presented as ‘training’ on what the law is.

‘It tells organisations to treat anyone who identifies as the opposite sex as if they have changed sex, and are therefore automatically entitled to use spaces such as toilets, changing rooms and showers that others rely on for privacy. 

‘That’s not the law.’

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