Baroness Ruth Hunt, member of the House of Lords and former Stonewall CEO, took us on a journey through her career in this Pride Month Q&A. The popular LGBT speaker uses her platform, both in business, Government and on the speaking circuit, to spread her message of inclusion. Today, Ruth continues her work with Deeds and Words, an organisation that inspires sustainable positive change in business. Find out more in this exciting Q&A.
During your role as the CEO of Stonewall, what is your proudest achievement?
“I started at Stonewall when I was 24, I became CEO when I was 34. So, that was quite a decade of significant change for lesbian, gay and [bisexual] people, lots of legal and social changes. My role as a junior member of staff was to change hearts and minds. Changing the law was one thing; how do you change hearts and minds? But what I was acutely aware of when I took over as CEO in 2004 was that there were parts of our communities that were left behind.
“Stonewall didn’t cover [issues faced by the transgender community] in the early days and that changed when I came in. But also, how we talked about people of colour, how we talked about people from lower income backgrounds, how we supported people in other countries, and how we could use Britain’s power and soft diplomacy to help activists in those countries.
“So, I think my proudest achievement was broadening out Stonewall and looking beyond our peripheral vision to really help organisations think differently. During my time, we worked with over 800 companies, organisations, businesses, and public sector bodies. Helping them start the journey of understanding [the transgender community] and understanding the way in which they could make provision for transgender and non-binary staff.
“It was just inspiring and wonderful. I do think that employers have such a key role to play in creating an inclusive environment for marginalised communities, but also sending a signal to wider society and communities about acceptance without exception.”
What does your role in the House of Lords entail?
“Well, I’m Baroness Hunt of Bethnal Green, and I was genuinely humbled! I know the word humbled is used a lot on LinkedIn, but I was genuinely humbled to be asked by the then Prime Minister Theresa May to join the House of Lords as a crossbench peer.
“As a crossbench peer, I don’t have any political allegiance, and the thing about the Lords is our role is quite specific. It is to scrutinise legislation that is coming through, but crucially to take the long view, to look at the impact it’s going to have in the long term.
“But I’m very young for the Lords, I’m very new. I’m definitely one of the handful of lesbians in the House of Lords, so sometimes I get a bit scared about how to navigate that space. I think impostor syndrome is real, and I guess that my contribution is twofold.
“First, I do a lot of work with the steering group for culture change, looking at how staff and members of the House of Lords can work more effectively together. So, really looking at how power and deference and hierarchy can disrupt the working of the House of Lords and stop us from doing our best work.
“On the other hand, I’m doing my best to support all members of the House of Lords to understand more about particularly trans issues, LGBT issues and look at how legislation might improve the lives of LGBT people and certainly not detract from their lives and experiences. But it’s a life peerage, so I’m there for life. I feel like I’ve got plenty of time to really learn how to influence in the most effective way.”
What was your experience of coming out like, and how has it impacted your life?
“I came out at a very young age. I was 13 when I came out in 1993, in Cardiff. My mum and dad were certainly very keen to ensure that I didn’t throw away my shot; I was a bright kid. I think throughout my life, I’ve really tried to draw on that experience of being such a profound outsider and the courage it takes to go against the norm, go against what’s expected of you and me. I’ve had to draw on that resilience at various stages in my life.
“Going to Oxford when my mum and dad had done university at night school, that was a big thing and working my way through Stonewall as a very young woman, getting to that position as CEO at 34, and now in the House of Lords. It’s the ethical resilience it’s given me to always be true to my convictions and always do my best, even when it’s tough.
“It’s something that I’ve had to actively navigate and work on, and I think it makes me a better leader today and has made me more determined to make the world a better place for those who struggle to find their voice.”