North Wales health bosses have been praised for their approach to gay rights following a survey by a national equality charity.
Stonewall Cymru has named Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board as its most improved employer, in the Top 100 list for 2016.
More than 400 companies across Britain took part in the benchmarking survey compiled by the charity, which campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people (LGBT) across Britain.
Government security department M15 came top, with Lloyds Banking Group second and the National Assembly for Wales third.
The survey revealed that BCUHB last year provided staff with quality employment policies, training, career development opportunities, and especially support for LGBT employees.
It rose an incredible 127 places compared to 2015, coming in at 72 in the rankings – up from 199 the previous year.
The Stonewall award was presented at a ceremony in Cardiff and among those representing BCUHB was Wrexham Maelor Hospital nurse Billy Nichols.
Billy, who is gay, is a steward for the RCN nursing union, chair of the health board’s Celtic Pride LGBT Staff Support Network and an official Stonewall Role Model.
He said: “Diversity is important, as it recognises the communities that we provide services for, and also to ensure that we retain the best and most skilled staff
“My work with BCUHB’s Celtic Pride Network offers a vital communication facility to all my LGBT colleagues. They know there is always someone here they can turn to if in need of help or advice.
“That fact in itself makes them feel more secure at work, confident, happier, and with a greater sense of job satisfaction. Convert that into business terms and it means their job performance levels are also likely to be a whole lot more impressive.”
The Stonewall award has also welcomed by BCUHB Senior Equalities Manager Mike Townson.
He said: “It is very pleasing to have this kind of recognition for the great strides we have made in equality in the workplace.
“We are proud not just to have gained the award for being most improved employer, but to also have broken into the top 100 organisations in the UK. This year is the first time we have done this and it is testimony to the hard work and dedication that everyone here has put in.
“I must admit our equalities team was disappointed with our 199th position last year despite having made strenuous efforts to promote inclusion across the board. But the result made us even more determined to do better, as we wanted the survey to reflect and recognise the work and progress that has been taking place.
“We worked very hard to improve but even we did not expect such a fantastic achievement as this – more than 100 places above where we were last year. It is a tremendous feat.”
He stressed there is still more work to be done, with the survey showing there are areas in which LGBT staff feel further progress can be made.
He said: “Anyone who takes part in the Workplace Equality Index agrees it is a lot of work. It is not just a form filling exercise, or a number, it has to properly reflect the way an organisation treats its minority groups and that means in all areas from pay and promotion prospects to communications policies, fair-minded working practices and zero tolerance of bullying or abuse. Our award shows we are going in the right direction, but there are also areas in which we could improve even further and that is what we will be working on in the future.”
Billy said BCUHB has progressed in its approach to LGBT staff – something he has experienced at first hand.
He said: “I grew up on the Wirral, and in my early career I trained and worked in London, where I was openly ‘out’ as a gay man and was comfortable in my own skin.
“However as my parents got older I decided to move back to live nearer to them and found a job in North Wales. It was a promotion for me and I was looking forward to the challenges of a new role. However the cultural change was oppressive. Attitudes were different and, having been used to the openness of life in London, the change on coming home was like night and day. I retrenched back into the closet. I was unhappy and it affected my performance at work.”
Billy was lucky; he was eventually transferred to another department where coincidentally the charge nurse was gay.
He said: “My boss was a real inspiration to me. I became more confident, I was accepted by my colleagues and all that feeling of negativity was gone. Since then I have worked hard to promote equality issues, not just for myself but for all minorities.”
Stonewall UK’s chief executive Ruth Hunt said: “At Stonewall we know that people perform better when they can be themselves. Creating an environment where lesbian, gay, bi and trans staff can be themselves is not only the right thing to do, but makes perfect business sense.”
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is the largest health organisation in Wales, employing around 16,100 staff. It provides a full range of primary, community, mental health and acute hospital services for a population of around 676,000 people across North Wales as well as some parts of mid Wales, Cheshire and Shropshire.
It runs Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan and Wrexham Maelor Hospital as well as 18 other acute and community hospitals and a network of over 90 health centres, clinics, community health team bases and mental health units. The Health Board also coordinates the work of 115 GP practices and NHS services provided by North Wales dentists, opticians and pharmacies.
BCUHB’s new chief executive is Gary Doherty, currently Chief Executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and previously Deputy Chief Executive of Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.