First LSE Email Communication on Leaving Stonewall

Published On: December 8th, 2022

On 8 December 2022, the the LSE School Management Committee (SMC) sent the messages below to members of the LSE LGBTQ+ Steering Committee, which includes a mix of academics, staff, and members of the LSE Student Union, notifying them that the LSE planned to disaffiliate from the Stonewall charity.

This message came after a internal letter from the Steering Committee against this, an open letter from a powerful gender critical lobbying group outside the LSE, and a series of secret meetings with powerful gender critical professors in the School who demand disaffiliation from Stonewall. The SMC’s official statement on Stonewall was released a month later in January.

These internal LSE emails were forwarded to us by an original recipient. Highlights are added.

From: Directorate
Sent: 08 December 2022 14:06
Subject: Update: Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme and Workplace Equality Index

Dear all,

Following discussion across our School community, and after careful consideration of the range of perspectives shared, LSE’s School Management Committee has taken the decision to not renew our institutional membership to Stonewall.

We understand that this will be difficult news for the Steering Group, especially given your thoughtful contributions to conversations on this matter and tireless efforts in our Workplace Equality Index submission. This decision was extensively thought through, and we want to reassure you that it does not detract from LSE’s clear and unwavering commitment to all LGBTQ+ staff and students.

Below we set out how this decision was taken with this commitment in mind, as well as how we propose to continue this critical work through our previous workplace equality action plan, student focused initiatives, and with important additional checks such as external advice embedded into our approach. We also want to stress that we will continue working in dialogue and collaboration with you as the LGBTQ+ Steering Group, to
help shape how we take this forward based on your input and expertise.

School Management Committee decision

This decision is firmly rooted in how to best build on the excellent work already taken — by the Steering Group and others — to meaningfully and tangibly enhance the experiences and inclusion of LGBTQ+ students and staff at LSE.

As outlined previously, after our most recent Workplace Equality Index submission we wanted to review whether we are receiving a good service from Stonewall as part of our annual membership renewal. At the same time, we committed to implementing actions from our 2021-2022 submission to create meaningful change now, broadening our approach to identify student initiatives which our workplace equality submission does not cover as a staff-focused programme of activity.

Engagement with colleagues as part of this review brought forward many varied views on Stonewall from across LSE, including amongst our LGBTQ+ staff community. After extensive and thoughtful reflection upon all perspectives, we believe the best way to ensure ongoing advancement of equity, diversity and inclusion, which includes sustaining LSE as a place for the free exchange of ideas and academic discussion, is through not renewing our membership.

This is because LSE’s role as an institution is to enable us all to come together to discuss, affect change and challenge through education practices, academic research and rigorous debate. This is within a framework of tolerance for different points of view, alongside dedicated work to make sure our policies and practices enhance the experiences of all across our School and support our community.

Our focus must be how we sustain LSE as a place where all these endeavours are realised, rather than taking any stance or implied alignment with external bodies that reflect one position in a complex and sensitive area, which impacts our LSE community. At the same time, we want to take a School-wide approach that considers all experiences from across our institution, in line with our strategic priority to develop LSE for everyone and Ethics Code. Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index is a staff-focused framework that does not cover student and alumni matters.

Next steps

As a leadership team, SMC gave a clear directive that we must build on what we do at our School to create an inclusive environment where every individual, including LGBTQ+ students and staff, can work, study and thrive, all while feeling valued and supported. This must – and will – remain our approach, alongside ensuring freedom of academic enquiry, thought and speech within the law.

SMC have asked that:

  • The Steering Group continue to inform action planning following the Workplace Equality submission and subsequent development work. As outlined previously, recommendations are taken extremely seriously, and your input is essential to help us prioritise what is most important for staff and students.
  • External advice is embedded into LSE’s approach to assist in monitoring progress against delivery of our workplace action plan and LGBTQ+ commitments, ensuring accountability and guidance from both inside and outside LSE so that we are aligned with wider good practice around equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • There is ongoing and enhanced assistance, including additional finances for Spectrum, our LGBTQ+ staff network, and other activities to provide greater opportunities for our LGBTQ+ students and staff to connect with one another. The Steering Group’s assistance here will be essential.

In the open letter sent by members of the Steering Group, colleagues also referenced concerns around staff capacity to fulfil our EDI commitments. We want to assure you that strengthening staffing for equity, diversity and inclusion is a priority, but is a separate matter that will be undertaken independently of the Steering Group.

We also very much appreciate that the timing of this message near the end of term may be challenging. Our aim in writing to you now is to let you know as early as possible and offer discussions before School closure, all whilst recognising that there must be ongoing and open engagement after the break. We are available to meet with you personally, and we understand this work must be on the agenda at the next Steering Group meeting.

We will also shortly communicate this decision with Spectrum, with members also strongly encouraged to come along and meet with Ben and Andrew Young, Chief Operating Officer, to discuss in more detail.

Finally, we want to thank everyone in the Steering Group for your ongoing assistance in helping shape LSE for the better. That we have achieved so much as an institution in recent years is because of the Steering Group and School community’s dedication and hard work. Ben was so energised by the first meeting of the term and we look forward to working with you all in the future.

Thank you.

Ben Plummer-Powell, Chief Philanthropy and Global Engagement Officer and SMC sponsor of Spectrum
Susana Mourato, Pro-Director (Research)
Charles Stafford, Pro-Director (Faculty Development)
Andrew Young, Chief Operating Officer

This message was immediately followed with a request for clarification from two of the recipients, including a member of the Student Union. The next morning, two of the senior managers replied with the following clarification.

From: Plummer-Powell,B
Date: Fri, 9 Dec 2022 at 16:50
Subject: RE: Update: Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme and Workplace Equality Index

Dear ABCDEFGHIJK,

Thank you for your thoughtful message.

As a newer member of the Steering Group, you may not be aware that SMC have been reviewing our membership of Stonewall over the past year, consulting a wide range of very different views across the School and across our LGBTQ+ community. A year ago Stonewall was criticised considerably by many HEIs and the sector for infringing on academic freedom, freedom of speech and to allow debate – something that underpins institutional learning, research and public engagement. They have also come under significant criticism for offering unlawful advice and that does not consider wider EDIB needs and other minority groups, something we are committed to supporting at LSE. This also highlights the difference between other bodies and charter marks such as Athena Swan, which have been created by the university sector for the university sector, and Stonewall which is a political and activist campaigner with very specific views. Many HEIs did not renew their membership or withdrew immediately. Our approach was to consult considerably, recognising a decision was significant.

It is worth noting, and something we have shared with the Steering Group previously, whilst we have benefitted historically from Stonewall membership, in more recent years the advice and feedback we have had is poor. In addition, the Employer index is not designed for universities – it’s designed for all organisations, and does not factor in students and alumni. Furthermore, the index takes extraordinary amounts of work to complete and we feel this time and resource would be best placed to focus on delivering to the needs of our LGBTQ+ community. This involves LGBTQ+ leadership and EDI staff at LSE. We believe having external advice and benchmarking alongside other universities, in particular our peer institutions in London, is very important and will ensure we have a better like for like, but it will also be incredibly helpful to learn from others and ensure innovation and creativity , alongside collective endeavour (including training), to bring together our LGBTQ+ networks and best practice which is fit for purpose and provides real value, whilst also drawing upon their wider EDIB work and support of all minority groups, will be most welcome.

We cannot reiterate enough our SMC commitment to continue to advance our work and support of our LGBTQ+ community, recognising the many diverse views and needs, alongside all minority and associated staff, student and alumni groups at LSE. We are willing to commit funding that meets such goals, including the new inclusion space in Saw Swee Hock (which we look forward to hearing from SU officer representatives on Monday the programmatic support and associated funding they propose to facilitate this), creating greater awareness and training across the School, recognising intersectionality and broader EDIB awareness and training needs, and how we utilise programming activity across students, staff and alumni, working with peer institutions and to particularly utilise Pride Week next year.

We recognise there are vacancies within the EDI team at the moment and we have just advertised a number of roles – please do share with your networks – and we are also providing additional resource to have an individual within the EDI team exploring LGBTQ+ best practice at peer institutions and to support our associated priorities and action plan in 2023. As noted previously, strengthening staffing for equity, diversity and inclusion is a priority but is a separate matter that will be undertaken independently of the Steering Group’s work.

We appreciate in providing a broad and transparent response to the points you raise, this is likely to raise many more questions and responses, which reinforces the importance of ongoing dialogue and discussion. May we reiterate our commitment to meeting next week, in the new year and on a regular basis to listen to your concerns and advice, and also ensure we bring together different views and perspectives (including external advice and accountability) to continue to deliver on a School that is welcoming, inclusive and supportive, whilst allowing appropriate debate and learning, in our commitment to our founding mission.

With thanks, on behalf of SMC,

Andrew and Ben

Ben Plummer-Powell
Chief Philanthropy & Global Engagement Officer